I was disappointed that the Trump rally on Friday here in Chicago was cancelled. It’s not that I was planning to go, but it was disappointing the way it happened. And I’m disappointed that folks on the left are applauding it or taking credit for it.
To be sure, Trump brought it on himself. The aphorisms are plentiful: You reap what you sow. Live by the sword, die by the sword. What goes around, comes around. Trump applauded and even encouraged violence at his rallies. He set the rules of the contest, and now he’s complaining that his opponents are playing by them.
It’s actually kind of a law of nature: Trump’s embrace of violence unsurprisingly drives away the peaceful protesters, which leaves behind the kinds of protesters who aren’t afraid to mix it up, and probably even attracts protesters who look forward to busting some Trumpkin heads. So it’s not surprising that things eventually blew up. Trump and his supporters got the response that they created. Thugs begat thugs.
Even Donald Trump has the right to free speech. I’m not talking about the legal First Amendment right, which doesn’t really apply to private action. I’m talking about the basic moral premise that underlies the First Amendment: Within some very broad limits, people have a right to say what they want. Whatever they want. Even if other people don’t like it. Even if they themselves have no respect for freedom of speech.
And perhaps even more important than Donald Trump’s right to speak is the right of other people to hear what he has to say. People who come to his rallies ought to be allowed to hear him speak, and the rest of us should respect that right. That doesn’t mean opponents can’t protest his speech. There’s a difference between speaking out against Trump and blocking Trump from speaking. When Donald Trump is speaking to cheering supporters and crowds of protesters are shouting in the streets and the police are keeping the peace rather than taking sides, that’s American free speech at, well…perhaps not at its finest, but certainly at its most exuberant.
On the other hand, if anyone violently attacked Trump supporters, I fully support arresting them for it. (And vice versa, of course.) Similarly, if protesters disrupt Trump’s speech, I have no problem with them being escorted from the premises. They have a right to speak, but they don’t have the right to prevent Trump from speaking in a forum assembled for that purpose, nor do they have the right to prevent others from hearing what he’s saying.
Granted, I’m not entirely convinced that anyone other than Donald Trump was responsible for shutting down the Donald Trump rally. At the time he called it off, there hadn’t been any injuries or arrests in Chicago. I think it’s possible he saw a chance to skip a rally and blame it on the opposition, and so he took it, and now he’s using it to play the victim card. But as Donald Trump might have said, I like Presidential candidates who don’t cancel their rallies. Who’s the pussy now, Donald?
When the cancellation of the rally was announced, the only proper response from any protest organizers who really respect free speech should have been either (1) an apology for letting things get out of hand, (2) criticism of the rally organizers for not providing enough security for Trump to feel safe, or (3) calling Trump out for cancelling his own rally and blaming it on the free speech of others. Depending on what you believe caused the rally to be cancelled, any one of these might be appropriate.
Some of the protesting organizations, however, are taking credit for stopping Trump from speaking. That’s nothing to be proud of. Even if he quit for reasons of his own, claiming credit shows they have little respect for free speech. And if they actually did shut him down from fear of violence, that’s even worse.
In our open society, the remedy for bad speech is supposed to be good speech, not violence. Trump doesn’t understand that. “Freedom of speech” is just a buzz phrase he uses when he senses it might help him. The rest of us should try to be better than that.