Should Donald Trump Have First Amendment Rights?

Scott McConnell writes: On Sunday’s “Face the Nation,” host John Dickerson asked his press panel what the Democrats’ reaction would have been to large-scale efforts to block roads and disrupt traffic for those attending a Barack Obama rally during the 2008 campaign. While no one replied directly, Ruth Marcus said, “We know what it would be.” The understood answer was the road-blockers would encounter a nationwide crescendo of denunciation, and would be shamed as despicable racists seeking to disrupt the American democratic process.

By contrast, those seeking to disrupt Trump rallies face nothing of the sort. Instead, Trump and his supporters are denounced over and over again for their verbal, or in two or three instances physical, lashings out against those who have repeatedly sought to wreak havoc on their events.

The possibility of widespread violence, instead of the now-routine disruptions, prompted Trump to cancel a Chicago rally on the evening of March 10. The cancellation, and the TV coverage of altercations outside the arena which followed, sparked debates between liberals and leftists over whether creating mayhem around Trump events is politically prudent, morally justified, and tactically effective. No one who scans these debates is likely to come away greatly reassured about the bedrock solidity of the shared commitment to the democratic rules of the game in American politics; one could easily conclude that America is beginning to veer towards a state where political disruption and civil violence will become a kind of norm, as it is in much of the Third World.

After the cancellation, the news networks played in continuing loops footage of confrontations between outnumbered Trump supporters and anti-Trump demonstrators outside the University of Illinois at Chicago venue. The latter sometimes waved Mexican flags or banners flouting their undocumented status, defiantly expressing the belief, newly ascendant on the left, that the United States has no right to enforce its immigration laws.

The essayist Michael Tomasky tweeted, “It’s surreal, but if you think this hurts Trump and not the protesters, I fear you are mistaken.” This seemingly innocuous tweet was quickly set upon by some of Tomasky’s Twitter followers, one of whom labeled him a “tone-policing white liberal.” In a podcast debate between millennial writer-activists Ali Gharib and Jesse Myerson over whether it was a good idea for the left to shut down Trump rallies, Tomasky was singled out for disdain along with Damon Linker, who had written the left’s proper response to Trump’s events was not to disrupt them. Myerson used the word “cowardice” before adding he didn’t actually know Linker personally. The former Occupy Wall Street activist, who had created a small splash by publishing a kind of communist manifesto for millennials in 2014, argued that almost any action which prevented Trump from speaking was justified, so long as it succeeded. The important thing was to show strength, not weakness. Forcing Trump to cancel a rally showed the demonstrators’ strength. Chicago was thus an unambiguous victory.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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