Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted on March 12 about his already-infamous rally cancellation, complaining that protestors he referred to as “thugs” had “shut down our first amendment rights in Chicago.”
Ted Cruz, Trump’s main rival for the GOP nomination, condemned him on statements made to reporters in Illinois.
“When you have a campaign that affirmatively encourages violence, you create an environment that only encourages that sort of nasty discourse,” he said.
Despite the incendiary and divisive rhetoric Trump has employed this election season and despite my general discomfort regarding him and his entire campaign thus far, I found myself taking his side. Trump has indeed been denied the right to speak freely.
If it came as a result of peaceful protest, I would have no qualms. Opponents of Trump have as much right to protest his speech as his supports have to listen to it. Both the way he kicks silent protesters out of his rallies and how he subtly condones violence by offering to pay for the legal fees of a 78-year-old supporter who sucker-punched a protester during a Fayetteville rally are objectionable. But the issue of infringed rights goes well beyond these incidents.
The issue arises when a rally is cancelled because of fears of violent protest.
Some skirmishes still broke out despite the Chicago rally’s cancellation due to security concerns.
When silenced as a result of violent protest, not only were Trump’s First Amendment rights “shut down,” but they were also in danger of being eliminated entirely. He may be disgustingly divisive, but he cannot be denied basic freedoms in this manner. Violence perpetuates violence. When used to suppress speech, it turns political fights into physical fights. The triumphant party is whichever shows greater force, and that’s no way to win an election.
What’s important to note is that neither side is free from blame in this increasingly belligerent election season.
Just a few weeks ago, five Ku Klux Klan members were in the midst of a walking protest when they were violently beaten by counter- protesters. Although the group propagates hate and can hardly be called noble by any standards, they did not deserve the violence inflicted on them.
“It’s a disgrace,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, in a statement to OC Weekly. “This is precisely what the Klan wants. Does violence elevate us better than the Klan? I loathe the Klan. But these loathsome people can use their First Amendment rights in the free markets of ideas. Let them sit where they are for 20 minutes, hand out their drivel, and leave.”
If we blame Trump for cultivating violence, we must condemn others who perpetuate it as well. We cannot choose sides in the fight against political violence. Otherwise, we hold those we agree with to different standards and show that we’re not really against the violence itself at all.