This is not about ‘freedom of speech.’ It is about proper tactics for confronting an enormous evil.
It is a mistake to shout down Trump and disrupt his rallies. Outside the rallies, anything goes: as we used to chant, “The streets belong to the people.” But inside, opposition to the horrific specter of Trumpism is best served by silent protest.
Trump is no longer just a “threat.” He has transformed the political landscape by galvanizing a massive national constituency that thrives on racial hatred, sham phobias, and nationalistic mania. Of course, confronting Trump’s neofascist tidal wave is a moral imperative, but his ascendancy also creates the opportunity for an even greater groundswell for a progressive forward-seeking alternative. The attractiveness of that alternative runs the risk of being undermined by protest actions that alienate the average American or in any way play into the aspiring Fuhrer’s hand.
Comparisons to early Hitler rallies are not far-fetched. There is no difference. The passionate compulsion to engage in mortal combat with Trumpism is natural and understandable. But shouting matches and scuffles at Trump rallies are not the way to win the hearts and minds of America’s great middle. On the contrary, they disserve the competing and exciting promise of leading this country in a new and better direction. Indeed, violence by Trump worshippers has already been contorted into a vilification of MoveOn.org, Black Lives Matter, and the Sanders campaign.
Occupying Trump in silent protest rather than disruptiveness is now a matter of utmost urgency.
Occupying Trump in silent protest rather than disruptiveness is now a matter of utmost urgency. Events are unfolding on an hourly basis and anti-Trump activists of all persuasions need to unite around strategies that are reasoned, intelligent, and not counterproductive. There are several reasons that the confines of Trump rallies are not the place to duke it out:
- Anti-protest cops and Trumpite goons have no ground whatsoever for removing protesters; they have no choice but to grin and bear every imaginable sign, written slogan, or gesture directed at the podium.
- Not engaging in physical interactions with volatile Trumpies insulates protesters from the blame game over who is responsible for violent confrontations.
- Silent protest defuses the tendency to condemn the protesters for interfering with “the rights” of Trumpies who, however misguidedly, stood in line for hours to listen to hateful demagoguery.
- Disruptive tactics invite and legitimize the same conduct by Trump supporters at the rallies of other candidates.
As a child of the 60’s protest era, I understand the passion that motivates us to put our bodies on the line and tempts us to incite violent overreaction. Violence by police and racists has often served to advance the cause of protesters — from firehoses and snarling dogs to angry men in “Make America Great Again” hats. In 1968, as a high school senior I demonstrated outside Madison Square Garden during a George Wallace rally and was chased by baton-waving NYPD on horses. The police bore the brunt of adverse publicity. But I differentiate taking to the streets from trying to shut down an opposition event.
This is not about “freedom of speech.” It is about proper tactics for confronting an enormous evil and, at the same time, moving the country in a progressive direction. True, the First Amendment does not regulate private conduct. It prohibits the government from suppressing free expression, in particular speech that is critical of the government or perceived by it as a threat. Trump and his followers have no constitutional right not to be shouted down and protesters have every “right” to do the shouting.
For now, there are many vehicles for fighting the Trump scourge in the media, the streets, and inside his rallies. For now, mass silent protest at his rallies is the heroism that is called for. But when and if, God forbid, Trump ever holds public office, I will be there shouting at him at the top of my lungs.
[Jimmy Lohman is a musician and human rights lawyer in Austin.]