No one will be able to stop the political violence Donald Trump is unleashing

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tags: election 2016, Trump



Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology and chair of the Ph.D. program in communications at Columbia University.

On Oct. 24, 1968 , at Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, in the very heartland of the “intellectual morons,” as the third-party presidential candidate George Wallace was given to say, Wallace told a cheering overflow crowd of 20,000 about a protester who had laid down in front of Lyndon B. Johnson’s limousine. His take was this: “When November comes, the first time they lie down in front of my limousine, it’ll be the last one they ever lay down in front of.” Protesters shouted in the arena. “After November 5, you anarchists are through in this country,” he told the demonstrators. “You’d better have your say now.” Outside the hall, Wallace supporters and adversaries clashed with each other and with the police, while inside, officers rescued a group of black protesters surrounded by Wallaceites who chanted: “Kill ’em! Kill ’em!” 

Richard Strout, a longtime New Republic columnist not given to overstatement, heard the crowd from the balcony and wrote, “There is menace in the blood shout of the crowds.” That year, political violence flourished. In April alone, police bloodied peaceful antiwar demonstrators in Chicago; a shootout between cops and Black Panthers in Oakland, Calif., left one Panther dead; police beat many students occupying Columbia University buildings and arrested more than 700; scores of cities exploded in riots, including assaults on police and firefighters, after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. August brought more assaults on demonstrators, almost all of them nonviolent, at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. America was a tinderbox. Wallace knew he was playing with fire.

Blood shouts are back, and some of them come from Donald Trump’s stage. In Las Vegas last month, Trump said of one protester, “I’d like to punch him in the face,” waxing nostalgic for an era when protesters would be “carried out on stretchers.” “We’re not allowed to push back anymore,” Trump rued. The day after an enthusiast threw a sucker punch at a demonstrator being led out of a Fayetville, N.C. event, Trump said: “The audience hit back. That’s what we need a little more of.” 

This mood ripples outward from Trump’s rallies. The billionaire canceled a Chicago appearance last week amid tussles between his supporters and demonstrators who had gathered for the event. In Kansas that day, a white motorcyclist assaulted a Bangladeshi student (Wichita State’s student-body vice president) and his Hispanic friend, shouting: “Trump will take our country from you guys!” 

Wallace roused his crowds against left-wingers in the same way Trump turns his followers’ rage against Muslims and immigrants. Like Wallace, the game Trump plays is, “Make my day.” Disruptors in his audiences are props for his performances, rallying his supporters more fervently and defensively around him. The result, as in 1968, is a growing climate of violence. It feels as if, somewhere, fuses are lit. ...




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