The rule of law is the only way to fight the bacillus Trump and Trumpism represents in this campaign. Trump introduced the violence and eliminationism into the campaign. His enemies are now following suit, indeed in significant ways expanding it. That’s not protest; it’s mob violence. The one saving grace of last night’s free-for-all and earlier ones is the sheer prevalence of social media. We’re seeing smartphone videos mainly from journalists who were on the scene. But if you look in the background of these videos, almost everyone who isn’t hitting, getting hit or actively taunting is holding up a hand cam of some sort. Everyone involved is readily identifiable, from multiple angles. They should all be identified, tracked down and prosecuted, not primarily as punishment but as deterrence.
Trumpism is a wave of disinhibition. Everybody gets caught up in it. What I wrote back in March during the height of the protester beatings seems even more apropos today …
What we have seen over the last two weeks isn’t just an escalation of chaos and low level violence but a progressive normalization of unacceptable behavior – more racist verbal attacks, more violence. This is in turn clearly attracting more people who want trouble – on both sides. If you’re an angry racist who wants to act out on his anger, can you imagine any better place to go than a Trump rally? If you hate Trump, his supporters and all he stands for and want to get physical about it, where best to go?
All groups have people looking for trouble. Trump events are the best place to find it. Are the folks who got violent more angry, more anti-racist or more righteous in their grievance than the folks who didn’t? Highly doubtful. They’re just more violent.
Local police authorities, perhaps with some federal coordination or encouragement, need to make clear that violence at political events will lead to prosecution and punishment. That’s the only way to keep this genie, this bacillus in the bottle.
Public violence is almost always wrong and criminal. But it’s substantially worse when it crosses wires with the political process because then it creates not simply a danger of individual physical injuries but the dismemberment and breakdown of the political process itself. When norms buckle they need to be reinforced and backstopped by law enforcement. That is no more that the state and civil order defending itself.