The rise of Donald Trump has exposed the frightening underbelly of America's foulest tendencies. Our racism, nativism, xenophobia, misogyny, Islamophobia, ableism, and propensity toward authoritarianism have been laid bare. Reactions from those who stand opposed to these manifestations of oppression have varied from calm condemnation and routine peaceful protests, to blockades of roads and borderline riotous outbursts, including sporadic violence in various cities.
This isn't a coincidence.
There are so many examples of Trump inciting violence the New York Times put together this video documenting some of them. A powerful video juxtaposing his longing for the violence against protestors from the "good ol' days" with images from the Civil Rights Era recently went viral. There's been an upswing in anti-Muslim hate crimes that correlates with his candidacy--including several offenders who cite him as their inspiration. Another of his supporters beat an unhoused Latino man. Yet another sucker punched a demonstrator at a rally and then, more alarmingly, went on to say, "The next time we see him, we might have to kill him." Trump has not just flagrantly violated the typical boundaries of political discourse, his candidacy is linked to multiple instances of violence. It shouldn't be a surprise that opposition to him has responded in kind. Yet, a lot of people seem shocked and appalled at this perfectly logical reaction. In the face of media, politicians, and GOP primary voters normalizing Trump as a presidential candidate--whatever your personal beliefs regarding violent resistance--there's an inherent value in forestalling Trump's normalization. Violent resistance accomplishes this. In spite of this, such resistance is apparently more offensive and unacceptable to societal norms and liberal sensibilities than the nastiness being resisted in the first place.
As a result, a litany of think-pieces and condemnations from liberal media and politicians are making their rounds to make it clear how unacceptable and counterproductive any violence or rioting is, urging people to "listen to the other side," and to use "legitimate means" to fight Trump's rise--ignoring the possibility of fascism in the US rising with it. Those who stray from this nonviolent narrative, like Emmet Rensin, an editor at Vox who tweeted that people should riot when Trump comes to town, face swift and punitive redress, urging them to fall back in line. Amidst the hot takes and denunciations from liberals, they all seem to miss a few key points. First, they misplace the blame. Second, they misunderstand the desired outcome from violent resistance and those protesting Trump in general. And third, they ignore the history of successful violent insurrection in the US, instead favoring the elementary school version of history in which nonviolence is the only means of struggle that's ever achieved a thing.
Let's go point by point.
Point one. These denunciations of violence from anti-Trump protestors rest on the misguided view that the divide Trump's exposed is a typical political disagreement between partisans, and should be handled as such. This couldn't be further from the truth. Trump might not be a fascist in the 20th century European sense of the term--though many of his supporters are--but he might represent its 21st century US version. There's no doubt he's expanded the Overton Window to include rhetoric previously well outside its bounds. His calls for a "deportation force" to expel 11+ million people from the country, his claims that most Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals, his calls to keep databases of Muslims and to enact a total ban on Muslims entering the country, his rampant sexism, his mocking people with disabilities, and his propensity for lying have brought the already pathetic state of US political discourse to astoundingly precarious lows. Treating this like politics as usual allows it to become politics as usual, and those who do so risk complicity ushering in a new era of fascist politics in the United States. Violence that takes place at Trump rallies--in support or opposition--is a reaction to the tone he's set, and the blame for it should land primarily on his shoulders. As awful as Ted Cruz is, and he's genuinely terrible, like there's no way to overemphasize how terribly awful Ted Cruz is--politically, personally, as a colleague, a roommate, a presidential candidate... I mean he's really the worst. But if he was the presumptive GOP nominee things wouldn't look this way.