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The Ethics of Political Violence

As some of you all may be aware, the protests of a Trump rally in San Jose turned violent:

Donald Trump supporters were mobbed and assaulted by protesters on Thursday night after the candidate’s campaign rally in California.

The violence broke out after the event in San Jose wrapped up just before 8 p.m. local time (11 p.m. ET). Some Trump supporters were punched. One woman wearing a “Trump” jersey was cornered, spit at, and pelted with eggs and water bottles.

Police held back at first but eventually moved in. San Jose Police Sgt. Enrique Garcia told NBC News that several protesters were arrested and one officer was assaulted in the melee.

By and large, the response was largely condemnatory, crossing the ideological spectrum. It turns out, violence against attendees of a rally doesn’t go over especially well. For the most part, the main conflict occurred not in whether it was wrong, but why it was wrong. Liberal Chris Hayes and conservative Becket Adams objected to a large number of people framing it as a matter of counterproductivity, saying that it’s not wrong because it’s likely to backfire but it’s wrong because it’s wrong to be violent. Others stuck mostly to tactics. Some, however, objected to the objections:

This was itself a common refrain, from several quarters. Epoch Times’s Jonathan Zhou (a Trump sympathizer) used it to blame the media for the violence in a Sarah-Palin-crosshairs-manner. Vice’s Michael Tracey (who seems to support Bernie but also hate people who hate Trump) argued that people need to decide whether Trump is a threat to liberal democracy or whether violence is unjustified because you can’t hold both positions together. This is a refrain I’ve heard quite a bit of in other contexts, mostly from liberals who seem to doubt people like me really oppose Trump: If Trump is so bad, why don’t you take even more extreme measures in your opposition to him? If Trump is a threat to this country, then isn’t anyone who supports him also such a threat?

There is some logic to this. Can we really say that political violence is never morally justified? That’s not a very tenable position in a world where others are quite willing to be violent. War is itself a form of political violence, and most would agree that war is not always wrong. Perhaps it could even be a sort of self-defense. If not personal, then societal. Our ideals aren’t a suicide pact, are they? We can make a somewhat obvious exception in the case of “they started it” or “they were threatening to.” For the most part we grant a pass to the former, though the latter gets trickier. It’s true that most of the circumstances in which violence can be justified will start from one of those two places, but the latter is always tricky and the former tricky once we get past self-defense.

I cite Emmett Rensin above in defending the violence, but just last week he wrote a good argument for why punching fascists is morally problematic from a left-wing perspective:

But Marxism and its intellectual heirs reject this notion: People are not autonomous. They do not behave rationally, or freely. There are no wholly culpable autonomous actors, only the expressions of culpable systems. The violence of capitalism, for example, is not the violence of particularly corrupt individuals but the inevitable product of a material structure. Some individuals may resist or relish their role, may err on the side of restraint or of excess, but their choices are not truly their own. One can imagine a Bastille Governor who did not order his troops to slaughter peasants, but this only reflects the routine imperfection of all systems. Such a choice would be an aberration: the historical force of the Ancien Regime was designed to open fire.

It has always seemed to me that collective theories of politics would therefore resist political violence. It is easy enough to justify the occasional murder of an actor if you believe his crimes begin and end with his own choices. But if entire classes are the engine of any political crime, then a politics that justifies the killing of those responsible does not end with an execution. It ends with a holocaust. I have always hoped that this inevitability would make collectivists wary of political violence, the ends of its logic too horrifying and too clear. But history contradicts my hope. When the left has seized power, it has always found kulaks to liquidate, great leaps to take forward. It has taken precisely the nightmare that arises from Robespierre’s excuse and applied it on a grand scale. Of course no individual is wholly responsible for its crimes, it says. That’s why we have to liquidate all the kulaks.

From a personal standpoint, and quite selfishly, I cringe at the violence in part because I don’t know the extent to which the actors recognize the difference between a real fascist and someone who supports policies that some people would argue are “fascist.” The Trumpers have argued that these protests aren’t about Trump but are about disagreement, and implicit in that is “If they weren’t aiming at us, they’d be aiming at you.” If political violence becomes normalized when disagreement becomes facism, communism, or whatever, then really nobody is safe. A willingness to allow people to air their views is one part idealism, and one part non-aggression pact.

So we’re left balancing both the acknowledgement that sometimes violence is necessary, but also that it’s really hard to justify. So the question becomes, “When is political violence justified?” I would argue that there are three main criteria: Whether the threat is sufficiently certain and dire, whether violence helps lower the odds or mitigate the damage, and whether there are alternative means to that same end. Before I go through them one by one, it’s important that we establish the moral case against punching people with bad politics. It might be easy for someone to convince themselves, for instance, that if they support violent policies then we too should be able to be violent!

How big of a threat is this, really?

One of the perennial philosophical debates is whether or not one would kill (or kidnap) Baby Hitler to prevent the Holocaust and World War II. Different people come to different conclusions, but all of them rely on foreknowledge of just how dangerous Hitler became. We have no such knowledge of any current figures. We’re all guessing. They’re not guesses in the dark, to be sure, but they nonetheless require a lot of caution. This is especially true when it comes to Trump, whose political philosophy is inconsistent and ill-determined. I look at him and I see someone who sees nothing beyond himself, and his conception of self is with indifference to – or more accurately hostility towards the rules and constraints that keep our demons at bay.

Others, however, don’t see that at all. They see someone who talks spit and likes to stir things up. Or they see him as a weapon against something more nefarious. Or they view the rules and constraints as not keeping our demons at bay, but leaving us vulnerable to bigger and badder demons that would do us harm. I believe all of this is wrong, but I do not know it to be the case. He has, after all, been a functioning member of the business community for decades and has sufficiently conformed to their norms to still be a figure. As such, I have to at least leave room for people who see him differently and also believe that they do not deserve to have their faces punched in.

There is, ultimately, a difference between the fear that Trump is a demagogue who will destroy everything and the knowledge that he is. Likewise, there is a fear of something as a remote possibility and a fear of something as a likelihood. Trump represents something of a low-probability, catastrophic-consequence scenario. The worst scenario makes a lot of very vocal opposition and heated rhetoric justifiable. However, it also falls short of violence to his supporters in good part due to probabilities. There needs to be more certainty.

Is political violence here productive or counterproductive?

Political violence can be effective in a real-life revolution. It can be effective if you have sufficient strength to instill fear one way or another. This will often require you having the implicit or explicit support of the authorities though, or that you are one of the authorities. You need to be able to credibly present a threat going forward, and one that can’t or won’t be responded to with sufficient force to prevent it. It can also be effective if you can provoke the other side into becoming even more violent, though that might be bad for your health.

To the consternation of Hayes and Adams, a lot of people have skipped straight past the morality of the question straight to this one. But it’s an important question and one that, if successfully argued, makes the moral question moot. Because even if we agree that violence can be justified, and even if we believe that Trump’s supporters warrant it, if it’s not productive then sure we can condemn it, right? And while the zeroth question, the morality of violence, requires a moral consensus, and the first question is a matter of speculation, certainly people can see how this is going to go over, right?

In my view, they should be able to see it. The horror people feel may be pearl-clutching to some, but it’s pretty real. Overwhelmingly, people don’t want to see it. It’s bad optics. It feeds into Trump’s and Trumpers’ perceptions of Who The Enemy Is. It takes the worst things Trump has said about violence at his rallies and puts them in a grayer context.

But more than that, though, this is breaking a lot of eggs without so much as an omelette recipe. If violence can be justified along tactical lines, what is the plan really? Do Trumpers stop showing up to rallies, or do they start showing up armed? The best tactical argument I can think of is that eventually a Trumper will literally shoot somebody and it will make Trump look bad. I would be surprised if that’s what they want though. I believe they have convinced themselves that these conflicts hurt Trump, and I believe that’s wrong. If you’re going to try to bait them, try to bait them into hitting you. Don’t hit them to try to bait them into shooting you.

Though I suppose if you’re willing to do that, you pass the threshold of the first question.

Is this necessary? Is there a better way?

During the primary, I advocated quite forcefully for denying Trump the nomination if he got a plurality, and even blowing everything up if he got a majority. My support for the latter ebbed once it started to look like he was doomed in the general because there was no need to wreck the process if the process would itself remove the threat. Playing convention games, though, isn’t advocating violence. The thresholds for the latter are significantly greater.

In our system, there are all sorts of intermediate measures to do our part to combat Trump, if you are inclined to want to. The lowest-threshold item is to simply vote against him, or you can vote for Hillary Clinton. You can also donate your time or money to seeing him defeated. You can register your opposition by holding out a protest sign outside of one of his rallies. You can write a blog. If it’s really dire, you can stop traffic or even damage property. There’s a spectrum with varying degrees of severity.

One seduction of violence is that it is a high-impact maneuver. Our vote is one upon a hundred millions or so and we have neither the time nor energy to have a substantial impact on a national level. Punch a guy, though, and your statement is heard across the world. People will know not only that Trump is opposed, but that you oppose him. I get the allure. But with the alternatives available, it raises questions about whether it’s about Trump or about you. That’s something to mull over, anyway.

Democracy, as they say, is the worst system except all others. One of the things that makes it less bad, though, is that it allows us a means to resolve issues without resorting to violence. There are scenarios where violence is the only way, but rarely is that true in a democracy. If it is true in a democracy, it involves drawing attention to a threat that people are unaware of. Whatever else we might say about Trump, people are aware of him.

This ties into the second factor: effectiveness If Trump is going to win the presidency, then you are likely emboldening the majority. If his is a minority, then democracy is there to handle that. And if it’s counterproductive, then literally doing nothing is more effective.

Image by nathanmac87 The Ethics of Political Violence

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Will Truman is a former para-IT professional who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He is also on Twitter. ...more →

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122 thoughts on “The Ethics of Political Violence

  1. Good piece.

    Violence is usually bad, but violence in the service of subverting the democrat process is always bad, even if you’re on the side of angels. I agree with others who say that, like the old dude who sucker0punched the black guy in cuffs, all of these people need to be identified and prosecuted.

    But also, there is this:

    Romney wasn’t exactly popular with the left, and neither was McCain. And even they weren’t portrayed as the monsters that W., Cheney, Cruz, Palin, Bachmann, and even Buchanan are. But all of those people have one thing in common: People don’t show up to their rallies with the express purpose of committing violence. The violence seems to primarily happen at the rallies of the one guy who encourages his followers to beat up protesters, and brags that he’s pay their legal bills if they seriously hurt those protesters. That’s not a coincidence.

    None of that is to absolve people who show up to commit violence. As I said, they need to be prosecuted.

    But sooner or later, we need to stop pretending that the things Trump tells his supporters to do aren’t all just media-master high-jinx. Or that one of the two major parties giving Trump a platform to say those things isn’t doing serious damage to the democratic process.


    • On the one hand, I admit I’m pretty wary of the general thrust of this argument (it seems to echo a lot of victim blaming arguments), but I also admit this does seem to be heavily focused on Trump alone.

      OTOH, Sanders supporters seemed to have gotten more than a little out of hand (if they weren’t being violent, they were certainly threatening a lot of it) a few weeks ago, so it’s perhaps not so Trump-centric as it sounds.

      On the gripping hand, Trump IS actually encouraging violence straight up. Live by the sword, as it were.

      I dunno. I’m still firmly on the belief that “Political violence? Either armed rebellion against oppressors or NO, NEVER”. If you’re throwing punches, it better be pretty close to “violent insurrection against our political overlords” and less “I want my guy to get more votes than that other guy”.


      • I don’t think it’s victim blaming. The people who get attacked at Trump rallies are victims, no matter whether they support him, oppose him or are neutral. The people who attack them are malefactors.

        Trump is not a victim of the violence. Criticizing for contributing to an atmosphere where violence is acceptable is, thus, not victim blaming. It’s possible to argue that protestors directing violence at Trump supporters at his rallies are “playing into his hands”, but more importantly they aren’t defending the norms of liberal democracy that he’s threatening, they’re attacking them even more directly than he is.

        What they’re doing cannot possibly work, any more than copulating for virginity can.


    • I agree with this. A concern going forward is that now that things are revved up, it may not take a Donald Trump to do it next time. The next candidate, even if representing a “course correction” of sorts, may run into opponents for whom this is the political environment, and supporters figuratively and maybe literally armed and ready for it.

      There are a lot of assumptions that this will be easier to come back from than I fear it will be.


    • People don’t show up to their rallies with the express purpose of committing violence.

      Buchanan rallies were know for violence committed by his supporters. There’s not much of a fig leaf when your campaign slogan is “Lock and load”.


  2. I say civilization is a thing worth fighting for, but turning a democratic election into a riotous free-for-all isn’t exactly fighting for civilization. It’s doing the opposite.

    Entropy always wins, of course, but we can slow it down. After all, evolution was neg-entropic. We can build lovely pockets of order.

    Except order is not the natural state, and we cannot forget that. Does Trump stand for civilization? Do his supporters? How tenuous is this democracy thing?

    What about the pigs at Stonewall? What about the rioters?


    If you see some asshole charging down the subway platform, full of swagger, literally shoving people out of the way — I’ve seen this; people like this exist — if you see him get punched, do you cry about it?

    I wouldn’t get violent at a Trump rally — not that I’d ever attend in the first place, but whatever — the point is, I wouldn’t get violent there, not for the dignity of the system, nor for any considerations of Trump. Instead, I wouldn’t get violent because what it says about me, my dignity. Trump, you see, has none. If someone else wants to throw rocks at the fucker, whatevs. He’s a human-shaped turd. I don’t really care.

    It’s not like our system can become more of a mockery than it already is. This election!

    Oh wait, there was that Libertarian guy who did a striptease at their convention — or whatever happened. I saw the video with the sound off. It looked … odd.

    So yeah, I guess there is always one more step down the path of mockery. I wonder what is next.


    It’s kinda funny when you realize that (first order) questions about morality don’t actually have answers.

    “When is the right time for political violence?”



    All the same, civilization is a darn nice thing to have.


    • Well now with Stonewall it is important to remember that these folks were in a neighborhood that was getting shaken down/beat down on account of them being glbt. These people were being attacked and they responded. If the people at Stonewall had instead bided their time, gone to a Republican Senate campaign rally in 1970 and beat the hell out of the attendees there Stonewall would -not- be remembered as a turning point in gay rights (or at least not a positive one).


  3. Nice summary. There are certainly times when violence is warranted. However for every 100 times people think its warranted i bet 99 of those times they are wrong. There isn’t a direct threat to them or they arent’ being oppressed. The riots are counter productive but wrong in principle. His Trumpness is a threat to some people but there is a clear democratic road to stopping him. So use the Big D to defeat him. Self Righteousness, even when you are really correct, is one of the most deluding substances.


    • Agreed… I honestly can’t even comprehend what those protesters were thinking.

      Edit… well maybe someone yowled “respectability politics” which is just… I can’t even.


      • I’m guessing they weren’t thinking, they were caught up in their emotions. And lord knows intense emotions never lead to doing unwise things.


        • Truth there. But that means that the organizers of those protests should be doing some serious thinking about how to prevent that in the future -NOT- trying to defend it.


      • I suppose that, in the protester’s defense, politics will probably affect their lives far more than, say, soccer scores.

        Mob mentality, more than anything, i suspect. Peer pressure working to channel passion into violence, instead of restrict it.


          • It’s all about what’s socially acceptable. Which is where Trump comes in as a problem. He’s normalizing it, claiming it’s okay.

            That doesn’t just touch his supporters. One of the two “real” candidates for President of the United States seems to feel political violence is okay, as long as his side wins.

            You don’t get a lot more social approval than that. Pushing back on that requires more than candidate’s denouncing it, you’d need pretty much everyone else to stop and yell “WHAT THE F*CK?” back at him.

            Which you didn’t get. Politicians did, but the media in general approached it more as “Trump says another crazy thing!”, like he’d said every poodle should get a free ice cream cone on Tuesdays.


  4. The most important thing you have to do is crush your enemies in such a way that you are the sympathetic ones and your enemies are exceptionally unsympathetic as they respond defensively.

    If you don’t pull that off just right, you can look like a bully. So don’t do that. Destroy them but look like the victim as you crush them under your heel.


    • Or: “The most important thing is to make your enemies look like stoopid morans. If you don’t do that, people may think they have an actual argument. So don’t do that.”


      • Absolutely! This is why having a sympathetic media is very important. If you’re covering something like a War, for example, find the guy at the War protest who is in blackface while burning an effigy of the Queen of England.

        “The protesters are very passionate, wouldn’t you say, Walt?”

        “Thanks for your coverage of that important anti-war demonstration, Kate! Now we’ll interview the Secretary of State to see what she has to say.”


    • I am almost in agreement with this point. It seems that if you think you are in the right, and thus violence will be used in the aid of your cause, it seems like you should push to crush your opponents completely. What would be the point in just using some violence? I have answers to this rhetorical question but I am interested to see what others say on the matter.


      • Jay’s original point was that utterly crushing one’s enemies is the goal. To clarify the most utter crushing of ones enemies one can accomplish is by making them admit you were in the right all alone. The most effective means of accomplishing this ultimate crushing generally requires eschewing violence, not resorting to it. Thus if crushing your enemies is your goal then resorting to violence is generally an abandonment of it.


      • What would be the point in just using some violence?

        Pearl Harbor was not enough.

        Hiroshima was not enough.

        Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Right about enough.

        But have Pearl Harbor happen after Hiroshima and you have a different story altogether.


  5. I can only fall back on a variation of the Just War theory, asking if political violence meets any of the tests, and in today’s America, it doesn’t.

    It might come close in some circumstances, but I’m not willing to go over that line, sorely tempted though I may be.

    Because we always like to fantasize that when violence breaks out, it somehow assumes a surgical precision where only the truly wicked get harmed, while the bystanders and innocents are magically spared.


  6. I’ve been seeing a lot of Rensin’s argument and I feel like I’m not a different planet from these people. It seems completely obvious that a leader can be:

    A: Fascist with no power, deserving of condemnation
    B: Fascist with power, but violence is not an effective response
    C: Fascist with power, and violence is the most effective response
    D: Fascist with power, and violence is the only response

    Seems to me like a lot of people are purposefully conflating A and D to score some cheap street cred points.


  7. The Trump San Jose event came up at lunch today, and while political violence is not a common element in American politics, I had to push back against some coworkers that thought Trump/Anti-Trump people have brought in something new to our political process. Radical left/right -wingers have used violence against their opponents almost constantly since French Revolution; I can attest to far worse political street fights in the last 20 years than what I saw in San Jose. What might be different in this case is that it was directed at individuals who came out for an event from a major political candidate.


  8. Social constructs will insure constant violence. As soon as constructs have authority invested, the violence flows from there. It is only a matter of time. Perpetual war is the cost of construction. Faction against faction, authority against authority. There are no by standards or innocents, it’s social, it damages all it touches, no opting out.


  9. People keep telling me that Trump is a facist, but the only facists I am seeing are the blue shirts.

    If you have to tell people you are “punchin up”, you probably aren’t.


      • Here’s Trump’s “condemnation”:

        Great evening in San Jose other than the thugs. My supporters are far tougher if they want to be, but fortunately they are not hostile.



      • Well, I am glad they are rejecting the violence of the protesters, but what are they doing to STOP it? This isn’t the first time they have shown up at Trump events, so, other than the words of the campaing directors(?) what is going on with them? Right now, people are looking at this, people who will vote, and they aren’t seeing the Trump peeople go to Bernie or Hillary events. If they had, it would be all over the news. As far as I can see, Bernie and Hillary aren’t starting speaches and rallies with a loud and firm STOP. They don’t seem to be doing anything, except issuing press releases and wringing hands. If they think the media is going to make a difference, they are seriously mistaken.

        So, from the outside, yes, it looks like the media is doing its normal “worse than Hitler” dance. Maybe he is, but they have cried wolf too many times…


          • “They have every right to show up at Trump rallies and protest. They don’t have a right to assault, but they do have a right not to be assaulted if not assaulting.”

            I agree with this, but they are showing up and being violent. And neither Hillary nor Bernie is making moves to stop them. While at the same time Trump followers aren’t showing up at either of the D nominees rallies, as that would be all over the news.

            I know we don’t agree on this , but I am just not seeing it. The facism on the right that is, I see it all over the left, and have been for a while. Maybe that is why I am dispossed to seeing it on that one side. That and I consider Hillary soooooo much worse.


            • Remind me, what has Trump done about the terrorizing of Jewish reporters? Did he ever stop retweeting whit supremacists? I forget, what’s his current position on David Duke? What, if anything, has he said about the Trumper pepper spraying in San Diego? What again was his position about the legal fees when his supporters assault an interloper?

              But yeah, Hillary and Bernie haven’t stopped some out of control protesters, so clearly that’s where the problem is?


                  • That is a good question and not one that really gets discussed. First, they need to be the ones starting out a speech condeming it, not a tweet from a campaign director or flunky. Second, they need their people to be there, counter demonstrating, acting as a steady hand. Right now, it looks like they are kinda OK with it. At least from these eyes.


                      • Thats a start, but it really does need to go much, much further. She needs to be blasting it at every single opportunity possible, along with Bernie. And yes, I know that was put out today, and we are talking about recent events. She really needs to be the one driving the conversation, making it be a point in her campaign cap. And while I think she is the lesser of the candidates, she has a place to rise, to convince me otherwise. Indeed, to show everyone that she can do the job. If she wants to be presidential, she has to be presidential.

                        In other words, she needs to convince me that she can be trusted and lead the country. And here is that opportunity.


                        • OOC, is this a thing you are demanding of Gary Johnson as well?

                          IOW, is this more a case of, whatever she does, it’s going to be lacking because there’s just too much damage between you and the left right now?


                          • It’s not that she needs to hippy punch, its that she needs to Be presidential. If she can start to act like a leader, for the whole country, I might be disuaded from thinking, that even as bad as Trump is (and he is that bad) that she is worse. Yes, it is a long row to hoe, but this is the opportunity. So far she has only talked to those who were always going to vote for her. She needs to get out there and get people to believe that she is the right one.

                            Does that make sense @north? I know I am walking a fine line, but that really is the best I can do to explain. Look, I am under no illusions that Trump is good, that he isn’t wholy awful. I just think that she is a worse choise. Right now she has an opportunity to actually lead, and a really perfect opportunity to look presidential. But it isn’t just going to break her way, she will need to work for it and work hard. Right now the country is pretty badly messed up, politically. She has a chance to run with the ball on this, run in a way that shows that she could be president. And that could clear up a lot of my fears about how she is so bad at this as to be dangerous for the country. Because that is how I feel about her, in a nutshell. That she is so dangerous for the country and the rule of law that Trump looks good in comparison to her. And that is scary as fish.


                            • Being presidential is what Clinton needs to do to elevate herself above Donald James Trump in your eyes? Being Presidential? To repeat this is to refute it. I don’t know what it is about the Democratic Party in general and Hillary Clinton in particular that bothers you so much, but whatever it is it’s screwing with your ability to see these things clearly.


                              • Well, I think she is an incompetent, lying, warmongering, bribe taking, rape appologizing grifter, who is destroying the value of the Democratic party, a party that has taken the absolute wrong turn in the idea of free speach, something that I take very seriously.

                                So, yeah, that is why I am horrified by her. Those are the reasons that I think, as bad as he is, Trump is looking better than her. Coupled with the fact that our poli system is designed to stop ideologue and demogougues. That is why we have the seperation of powers. Divided government. Trump gets caught in that web, gets shut down. Hillary short ciruits it, because she is the getalong candidate. She is the one who expands presidential powers even more, ignores congress when it tells her not to spend anymore, gets the senate to rollover when they confirm a judge. Is given a pass on breaking the rules, that others get fined for.

                                She breaks the system. Furthers the damage that Bush and Obama have done. This is why I am a librtarian now, why I can’t in good conscience vote for her, not without something that changes my opinion of her. She has the opportunity here, if she is presidential enough to take it.


                                • Rather than go through your bill of particulars, which I obviously disagree with in all sorts of ways, I have a question. When did you move away from the Democratic Party, and what was the last straw for you?


                                  • The last straw was citizens united. The mere idea that the gov’t would argue that it could effectively ban a book or film. There are other things, but that is the final act.

                                    I come from a massivly liberal family on my mothers side, liberal like most people can’t immagine. And while I was never that far left, I was exposed to much of the crazyness of Berkeley in the post ’60’s era (that is where they are from in the US.) So breaking with it was hard, but the break was pretty formal, so to speak.


                                    • Suppose the presumptive nominee was ::insert replacement-level Democrat:: and was running in more or less the same style and policy space as Clinton. Would you still think we’re in fractured skull v. bone cancer territory, or do you find Clinton particularly unacceptable?


                                    • The law in question was the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act. The McCain part referring, of course, to the Republican 2008 presidential candidate. Polls have shown that something like 80% of the public opposed the CU decision, including a majority of Republicans. So I’m having a hard time understanding why you peg that specifically on Democrats and/or the left.

                                      FTR, I can agree that the specific provision of that law in question was unconstitutional. My main concern is the way they ruled far beyond the scope of the original suit to all limits on campaign spending, particularly by corporations, particularly with no disclosure requirements, and particularly leaving the door open to foreign influence.

                                      If you’re a “Make America Great Again” kind of guy it should bother you that the Saudis, the Chinese, etc, can now fund political messaging in secret.


                                • Seems to me saying she isn’t “presidential” sorta misses the mark. By … well … quite a bit. Your worry is that a Hillary Presidency will damage institutions you care about, and importantly, damage them more than a Trump presidency.

                                  I don’t think that’s an uncommon view, to be honest. And depending on the depth of perfidy one ascribes to her, Hillary’s entrenchment in and familiarity with government institutions stands in stark contrast to Trump’s sorta transparent administrative incompetence and/or outsider-status, and that works against her. Obviously Trump thinks that works against her. He’s busy working that very angle.


                                • I think she is an incompetent, lying, warmongering, bribe taking, rape appologizing grifter, who is destroying the value of the Democratic party, a party that has taken the absolute wrong turn in the idea of free speach

                                  But enough about their similarities; what do you see as the difference?


                            • Does that make sense

                              It doesn’t, and I’m really not trying to challenge you here as much as I am trying to understand.

                              Look, forget about the racism and anti semitism, and the Constitution, and even the election. Just confine it to this one single issue.

                              We have one person who is encouraging his supporters to use physical violence. We have one person who is condemning all violence on both sides.

                              How do you look at the second person and say that the lion’s share of blame goes to them over the first?

                              I’m seriously flummoxed. And it’s not a “you should hate Trump!” thing. I honestly understand where Tom and Tim are coming from in their support. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it.

                              But when you come out excusing Trump for this one issue and condemning Hilary, I am truly baffled as to how you got from point A to point B, and I very much want to understand.


                              • Well, I think she is an incompetent, lying, warmongering, bribe taking, rape appologizing grifter, who is destroying the value of the Democratic party, a party that has taken the absolute wrong turn in the idea of free speach, something that I take very seriously.

                                So, yeah, that is why I am horrified by her. Those are the reasons that I think, as bad as he is, Trump is looking better than her. Coupled with the fact that our poli system is designed to stop ideologue and demogougues. That is why we have the seperation of powers. Divided government. Trump gets caught in that web, gets shut down. Hillary short ciruits it, because she is the getalong candidate. She is the one who expands presidential powers even more, ignores congress when it tells her not to spend anymore, gets the senate to rollover when they confirm a judge. Is given a pass on breaking the rules, that others get fined for.

                                She breaks the system. Furthers the damage that Bush and Obama have done. This is why I am a librtarian now, why I can’t in good conscience vote for her, not without something that changes my opinion of her. She has the opportunity here, if she is presidential enough to take it.

                                That is what I listed to Don, above. And I am aware of how bad Trump is, and people in this thread keep making me more aware of more stuff, but she is that bad, that it makes him look that better of the two still. Does that help you @rtodkelly? At the same time, I am not backing him, or giving a soft shoe endoresment. I am voting my consciense, libertarian.


                            • I think it makes emotional sense but I think I join Tod and Don is wondering what actual actions/words constitute doing what you’re saying. If I’m reading what you said before correctly (and feel free to correct me) you think she should basically spend every opportunity denouncing the Trump protesters to the general exclusion of anything else. If that’s what you mean then it would be functionally throwing the campaign so I’m assuming I’m misreading you.

                              Could you give an example of a presidential candidate or President maybe? A specific incidence of presidential behavior? What’s the Aaron gold standard of Presidential? Bonus points if you have one from each side of the partisan divide.


                              • Well, here are two: Obama at the ’04 convention. You can watch him assume the presidency before your eyes.

                                Bush at ground zero, grabbing the bullhorn and just believing in the US.

                                It isn’t that she needs to spend every minute, what she needs to do is rise above. Show us that she is better than him, that she can lead the country.


                                  • When you see it as describing reality rather than saying “I see this as objectively AWESOME”, you realize that the whole issue of whether or not someone sees a thing as objectively AWESOME as secondary to whether they’re seeing it accurately.

                                    If they’re seeing it accurately, they’re seeing it in a way that you want to see it.

                                    I’ll grant that “I see this as AWESOME” is a good tell as to them not seeing it accurately, though.


                                • Thanks, so it’s very much a presence thing. I think I’m more clear on what you’re looking for though I’m doubtful if that’s something that is anything but subjective. The Republicans did not think much at all of Obama’s 04′ convention speech for instance.


                                  • Well, to a greater or lessser degree it is all subjective. Repubs wont like anything Dems do, and vise versa. The hatred is too deep at this point.


                          • Because clearly the only way anyone could object to Trump would be if they supported his political rivals.

                            He’s never upset any other soul, except that thin-skinned pair running in the Dem primary. Only their goons had motivation.


              • At anti-Trump protests, eschew violence and any other behavior that helps his cause.

                The activist left is very antagonistic to “respectability politics,” which Wikipedia defines as “attempts by marginalized groups to police their own members and show their social values as compatible with mainstream values rather than challenging the mainstream for its failure to accept difference.”

                Since nonviolence is a value held dear by large majorities on the activist left, not a mainstream value it rejects, efforts to keep anti-Trump protests as peaceful as possible are not at all inconsistent with rejecting respectability politics.

                They’re a no-brainer.

                Results-oriented activists should go a step farther. If organizers at anti-Trump rallies did their utmost to keep Mexican flags out of the hands of activists and to have as many American flags waving as possible that may or may not constitute respectability politics. Labels aside, that tactic would significantly increase the chance that a given rally will help the anti-Trump cause and significantly decrease the chance that a given rally will harm the anti-Trump cause. All who regard preventing the empowerment of a demagogue who pits his supporters against Mexicans and Muslims as a hugely important goal should prioritize its achievement.

                Conor Friedersdorf

                This is what I am trying (and failing) to communicate. Like I have said to you many times, I liken Trump and Hillary to a broken skull and bone cancer, respectively. And I do think Hillary is much worse, for a variety of reasons. And yes, that calcus takes into account my hatred of bigotry and family issues with anti-semitism. But this is what people are seeing. not just me, but the whole nation. And while these people aren ‘t specifically H or B supporters, they are Anti-Trump, which puts them effectively on H or B’s side, the the public eye. And the media can try to explain that away, but no one trusts the media anymore

                So, Hillary and Bernie having the campaign director tweet that he dosn’t approve, well that just aint cutting it. Or, maybe I’m wrong, and no one outside of Trumps camp will think so.


                  • And what’s more, the few voices on the left defending the protesters are well to Clinton’s left and invariably opposed to her campaign. What more can Clinton do to appease you here?


                • Aaron, One of the things I think you’re worried about is that Hillary and the left are more fascist than Trump and the right (you said as much upthread) yet, paradoxically, your solution to the protestor violence issue requires HiIllary and the left to exhibit the exact type of centralized, top-down groupthink behaviors lurking behind your worst fears: a Directive from Leader to obedient gendarmes to “maintain the peace”. If she did that you’d be flipping out. And you’re already flipping out!


                  • No, its not quite that. Its that she needs to rally the country around her, to lead us away from this. To show that she can direct the country.

                    To show us that she is presidential, competent.


                    • Its that she needs to rally the country around her,

                      That’s a pretty high bar. I don’t know of any (edit) candidate that rallied the country around them…

                      On the other hand, after her speech yesterday she’s rallied some conservatives around her…


                      • Hillary wins the election by going to San Jose and/or Trump’s next big rally and publicly standing for him to represent the opposing party’s views.

                        Her goal is both the actually reduce the violence and tension, and ultimately to show that she’s an effective leader with sound judgement and worthy of trust.

                        Tweets and soundbites with backhanded insults might enable you to check the box of respectability (for your true believers). But it doesn’t steal a march on actually winning the election.

                        I’m surprised at the willful “shucks, what more can a person do but “reject” something in an interview” stance. Its the difference between trying not to lose the election and having an idea of how to win it.


        • These protesters aren’t explicitly Bernie or HRC people though, who the hell even knows who they want to vote for. They aren’t up there waving HRC or feel the Bern posters. The groups organizing these protests aren’t specifically in the tank for either of the Democratic candidates. I understand why rightists would want to associate them with team blue but it simply isn’t that clear cut. Otherwise HRC and or Bern would doubtlessly be saying “stop”.


          • The only candidate for whom I’ve seen evidence of support among last night’s protesters is Gloria La Riva. I’m sure there were a non-zero number of Clinton and Sanders voters, but Bay Area activists aren’t really known for supporting right-wing parties like the Democrats.


          • These protesters aren’t explicitly Bernie or HRC people though, who the hell even knows who they want to vote for.

            From what I can gather (newspaper articles, photos, Twitter reports) the group was primarily comprised of latinos, and in particular folks of Mexican descent, protesting support for what they view as explicitly racist policies.


          • Caution: extreme anecdotally-based opinion

            From what I’ve seen on social media since November of last year, the folks who are most likely to engage in direct political activism re: protest movements (as opposed to direct political activism re: working on a campaign or a get out the vote drive) are highly correlated with “folks that generally don’t vote”.

            My own direct experience locally as an elected official mirrors that, but that may not generalize.

            There are lots of possible reasons here and getting into speculation is getting into some seriously murky waters, particularly when issues of systemic racism are involved.

            I would guess, at this point, that if you threw up a wall around an ongoing protest and gathered all the folks together and just got their names and addresses and let them all go rather than arresting them, and then you checked your local voter rolls against the names you collected, you would find a very different pattern of participation rates in comparison to the national norms.

            Particularly for folks under 35 who show up to this sort of thing.


        • I remain confused and appalled at how much you have your thumb on the scale for Trump. He’s personally attacking and threatening the judge in his ongoing fraud trial, for fish’s sake.


          • Hrmmm, I don’t know anything about his trial, never heard of it till now.

            It’s not that I have my thumb on the scale for Trump, its that I think Hillary is the absolute worse thing for the country, president wise. And the actions of the left, regarding her email issues, the war in Libya, her vote on the Iraq war, etc. give me absolutely no confidence that that they would reign her in on illeagal actions of the presidency.

            For what it is worth, I will be voting Libertatian this year, and I live in CA, which is going to go the way of the left anyhow and maybe that frees me in my own mind a little. But it is disconcerting to describe what I see and be instantly labled as having my thumb on the scale for one candidate.


            • I’m referring to his comments about the judge in the fraud case against him over Trump University. You know, the one who can’t be fair to Trump because he’s of Mexican ancestry.


              • Ah, doing a little looking around I do know about the case, but haven’t been following it that closely. Don’t know about theats to the judge though, hadn’t heard that.


            • I really do get the argument that Hillary is even worse than Trump. I don’t agree, but I can see how someone could reasonably come to that conclusion. (And for the record, I’m leaning 3rd party myself.)

              For me, though, the issue isn’t only whether Hillary is worse than Trump, or even whether on the “promotes/endorses/doesn’t do enough to stop violence” scale she is sufficiently unlike him. For me, the question is Trumpism. As Will has pointed out a couple of times, his chief fear isn’t that Trump will win, it’s that his candidacy will make it easier for someone like him or someone who appeals to the same type of violent protest as he does, will win. To me, a vote to defeat Trump is a vote against Trumpism. I don’t see a counterpuntal “Hillaryism” that’s a dangerous as Trumpism. In fact, I see her as just another imperially inclined candidate to the imperial presidency and while that scares me, it’s also, in my view not an appeal to what Trump appeals to.


  10. I hadn’t considered whether we would have full-throated Trump support on OT.

    I admit to thinking that it’d be a contrarian voice or two saying “Anybody But Hitlery!” and smattering of “I’m voting for Hillary because she, and I, are grownups” with a whole lot of other voices balanced between “I’m voting for the crook, it’s important” and “I’m voting Third Party because I want to look at myself in the mirror!”

    This is going to be an interesting summer.

    I wonder if we’re going to have riots.


  11. This is one of those things where I’m conflicted between my brain and my heart.

    On the former side, I agree completely with the OP; political violence rarely seems productive.

    But there’s also the part of me that remembers talking to the family members on my Dad’s side who escaped or survived the Holocaust, or my great-uncle Hank on my mom’s side, who lost his arm fighting the Nazis at the Battle of the Bulge. And I think, Fuck it, somebody needs to just shoot the bastard. And while they’re at it, anyone who supports him. I know intellectually that that’s wrong, but the “Never again” part of me is hard to reason with.

    I dunno. It’s tough.


    • When that guy rushed the stage in April or whenever, I tweeted that I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump were shot (at) by the end of all this.

      I haven’t changed my mind. No one at or around a Trump rally is particularly safe.


  12. This is a very good take:

    People will know not only that Trump is opposed, but that you oppose him. I get the allure. But with the alternatives available, it raises questions about whether it’s about Trump or about you. That’s something to mull over, anyway.

    My second reaction is that it would be nice to get rid of the passive voice. But it’s tricky, isn’t? I don’t know what someone else is thinking, or responding to. They might not know. But it certainly looks to me like it’s not about Trump, it’s about them.

    I think that a bit of caution in condemning violence on moral grounds is probably a good thing. Because we tend to do it selectively, after all. I have a long history of non-violence, but most readers of me aren’t going to know that up front. So it just looks like “moral high ground” posturing.

    I do think it’s wrong. And it’s counterproductive.


  13. Political violence always struck me as a “in case of an emergency break glass” tool. Normally, violence is counter-productive immoral and political un-productive even if your a put upon minority facing persecution because it will just increase your persecutor to turn up the persecution in normal circumstances. At the same time, sometimes violence is the only way to prevent a bad thing from happening or stop it from getting worse. Most of us would not begrudge somebody the right of self-defense unless you were very into all the pacifist virtues. So basically, you really have to judge things based on all the circumstances and you really only know if violence was properly used in hind sight. Trying to determine the morality of violence at the time of use is never going to work.


    • Mmm I was with you up to the last sentence. I think it’s pretty unambiguous how bad violence is, both morally and practically, in this specific incidence:
      -Trump and his followers have behaved pretty shabbily but they have generally not gone out to besiege their opponents campaign activities. That makes the Anti-Trumpers the aggressors which is horrible optics as a practical matter and pretty dark grey to flat out wrong morally.
      -By and large the violence we’re talking about has been in reaction to political speech. As a practical matter if you’re having a verbal argument the first person to hurl a punch is the loser. That’s how the masses perceive it. What on earth is the moral argument for devolving a debate into a fistfight?


  14. Violence against people assembling is generally bad. I am not a fully Ghandi pacifist but he and the Civil Rights Protesters in the 1960s really understood the sheer power of non-violence. There are very few images as powerful as sit-in demonstrators getting all sorts of violence and other things thrown on them as they silently sat at counters and demanded to be served like the human beings they were.

    Unlike Aaron, I think Sanders and Clinton have done the proper steps as well as the liberal media with people like Chris Hayes. Violence is wrong because it is wrong.

    The worry is that this only gets worse and emboldens Trump. Trump has already been emboldened to say some really horrible things and things that go straight to the heart of American democracy and equality.


    • I’m not afraid of Trump being emboldened. I simply cannot imagine that going more extreme against those things can be a winning strategy. I don’t think the constituency that plays to is large or well placed enough to give him a victory that way.


      • I’m not afraid of Trump being emboldened.

        No, me either. This is a guy who entered the primary by calling Mexicans living in the US rapists and murderers. He’s also the guy who singlehandedly destroyed the USFL. He’s BOLD.

        I’m not sure I agree with the second part. GOPers are already congealing in an oozy mass around him, and it’s still undetermined how many Hillary-haters, anti-establishment Berners, and currently-closeted xenophobic racists he can pick off.


  15. But Marxism and its intellectual heirs reject this notion: People are not autonomous. They do not behave rationally, or freely.

    Very true; they’re driven by resentment to support miscreants like Trump, or so I’m told over and over.


  16. As I said elsewhere, if you say “Trump’s rhetoric inspires violence” then it looks pretty derpy for you to be the one that brings the violence.

    It maybe sends a message to Trump supporters that they’re on the right track. Like the man (sorta) said, first they mock you, then they fight you, then you win.


      • No, DD is right. And also he didn’t say anything about ‘the left’.

        The protesters (Who seem mostly Latino in these circumstances) are specifically claiming that Trump’s rhetoric causes violence, especially against themselves. That is their actual complaint. (I am not surprised you don’t know that, because the media hasn’t bothered to explain it.)

        They aren’t wrong there.

        And they feel the media has completely ignored this.

        They aren’t wrong *there*, either.

        The media seems to still be pretending that Trump is saying ‘controversial’ things, instead of pointing out he is saying blatantly racist and violence-inducing things.

        The man is walking around calling an American-born Hispanic judge a ‘Mexican’ and asserting the man shouldn’t be allowed be a judge because of that, for God’s sake. And that’s just one example. It’s not close to racist, it’s not accidentally racist sounding, it is actual, literal, blatant racism, and the media just sorta shrugs it off, and treats it the same as Trump’s dumbass ‘My African-American’ crowd thing. We knew the media was broken, but I’m not sure we ever realized just *how* broken.

        The protesters have thus concluded the best way to get the media attention is to raise a ruckus. Not planning to have violence *per se*, but to drift really close to the line with screaming and anger instead of the normal peaceful political protest.

        They are *astonishingly* wrong there.

        The problem is, that sort of things slips *very easily* over the line into actual violence, and when it does so, it completely undermines their entire point, especially since it literally plays into Trump’s racism! (If we assume the propensity towards violence is a bell-shaped curve, if you tune the norm to 75% or so, the ‘shouting and screaming’ position, which is well within the law….you’re still going to get a small fraction hitting ‘violence’. That’s why you tune towards *calm*, and then the extreme you get is some people yelling.)

        And, to make things even stupider, violence at protests is *not actually how to get the attention of the media*, even if it wasn’t slipping over the line. Yes, the media will report you *exist*, but won’t explain a damn thing about you or what the message you’re trying to get across.


  17. American history has a well-established precedent for the legitimization of political violence.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

    It is when the government itself becomes an enemy of the rights of the people which it was constructed to guarantee that extraordinary and inevitably violent means of political action are permissible.

    Donald Trump is not yet President, and Providence and Prudence preserve us, he shall not be.

    Should he gain that office, we shall first see if the political process, and then the established limits of the Constitutional government of our Republic, are sufficient to restrain what all evidence suggests will be his authoritarian policies. In other words: there is still Congress, and failing that, there are still the courts.

    After that, there will be — or at least there ought to be — another election in 2020.

    If all this fails, then maybe Jefferson and Associates’ call to arms might be taken up. For now, our tools of protecting our rights may be found in our political pocketbooks, and in our rights of assembly and speech, and in our exercise of the franchise. Let us look there first, before making Molotov cocktails.


    • Burt Likko:
      If all this fails, then maybe Jefferson and Associates’ call to arms might be taken up. For now, our tools of protecting our rights may be found in our political pocketbooks, and in our rights of assembly and speech, and in our exercise of the franchise. Let us look there first, before making Molotov cocktails.

      Isn’t that a bit blinkered, though? This is not the 18th century. The playing field between citizens and their government is not even remotely even, in the modern world. The British in the 1770s did not have tanks or cruise missiles or Predator drones or nuclear attack submarines. If you’re going to take out a dictator, potential or otherwise, is it better to wait until after he has those tools at his disposal?


      • Back then, as now, it’s not a matter of having more guns and bullets and bombs and whatnot than the government – it’s getting the people that are immediately in charge of people with the guns and the bullets and the bombs and the whatnot to defect and work on your side.


        • Fair enough, but given how heavily Republican/evangelical the military is these days, I’m honestly not sure they can be trusted to fully defect in such a scenario. I certainly hope I’m wrong about that. Suffice it to say, I think it’s better to move while the number of deaths can be as low as possible rather than wait until it goes Full Metal Syria.


          • On the right side of the poltical spectrum, Trump is on the shakiest ground poltically with white evangelical Protestants and the professional military complex. They are all right now merely going along to get along. They are also the core of nevertrump, at least based on my twitter feed. The very fact that Trump won the nomination means their power is waning, was overestimated, or both.


  18. I think I’m a bit ahead of Burt Likko, in that there’s no case for violence of any kind before the election, but there’s a strong case for secession if Donald somehow is able to declare victory after the voting is over.


    • For secession? Whose? Merely if he wins?

      Burt’s right: there are a lot of checks to try before starting to undo the whole Thing. We have a process for removal. “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” is a total fig leaf; they can impeach whenever they want. If he’s impeached and removed but won’t go, that’s when the questions of how forceful removal plays out come into play. Not that you don’t think through that stuff so you know what’s coming. But you don’t jump the gun, so to speak.


      • ‘They’ can impeach whenever they want, but an election that Trump wins give us a Congress who is a ‘they’ that won’t impeach Trump for any reason for at least two years (until there is a new congress).

        Secession is for any body politic that thinks that Trump is an existential threat to their existence if Trump gets the power of the State to obey his will.

        (The open question is whether or not enough of the State will obey his will. The other tricky thing is that the parts of the country where the state is most powerful are exactly the part where the local body politic thinks Trump is the biggest threat.)


        • I’m quite confident that if the chain of events goes Trump is elected, Trump is impeached, Trump is convicted, Trump refuses to leave, a delegate from the JCS will, with the backing of all of her colleagues and an overwhelming number of those under her command, deliver a message to the effect of, “Mr. Trump, it’s time to go, the President needs this office.”

          The respect for the rule of law and the Constitutional process for government is a very, very strong ethic in the military. The officer class may understand that ethic and its theoretical underpinnings better than the median enlisted member, but it’s a top-to-bottom ethic of great strength. The oath service members take is to defend the Constitution, not to a particular organ of government (be that the Presidency or the military or any other subdivision thereof, though loyalty to the military is taught, as is appropriate), the commander in chief (though the importance of political control and following orders is taught, as is entirely appropriate), not even the flag (though great reverence is taught for that symbol, as is entirely appropriate).

          So if we ever get to a Varys’ Riddle type showdown, I’m confident the result will be consistent with the rule of law specified in the Constitution.

          But it won’t come to that. Trump would back down. He’s made of exactly the same stuff as Richard Nixon was, and a theoretical President Trump would resign to salvage his personal dignity rather than face a likelihood of removal by impeachment.


          • The problem is you’re treating impeachment as a probabilistic independent event from the election. Specifically with Trump, the only way he becomes President with the more or less the current crop of Congress critters – who we have now seen will either get aboard the Trump train or get out of its way, only a vanishing few who are trying to derail it. They will never impeach Trump. The midterms are the first opportunity to get a new congress, but midterms are also a more Trump friendly electorate.

            When we look at coups, revolutions, and seperatist movments, it’s typically Colonels, not Generals that lead them (e.g. Qaddafi, Noriega). Generals are in most cases too remote from first line leadership and are too close to the poltical class. Colonels are in a niche that can be leveraged either way.

            When you really get down to brass tacks, it’s the Secret Service that determines who the ‘real’ President is, if there’s a dispute about it.

            Let me also be perfectly clear that I’m in no way committed to any sort of radical action if Trump becomes President – just that there’s a strong case to be made (particularly because at this point, the only way I can see it happening in outright and widespread fraud)


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