You know the story, apocryphal though it may be, of how the infinite regress problem became the hilariously graphic image of “It’s turtles all the way down” (if you don’t know the story, you should).
I couldn’t help but think of that story this past week, with news reports everywhere of violence at rallies by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. In general, I hate stories like that; anything about “the horserace” is far less interesting to me than stories about where candidates stand on issues and what policies they would pursue in office. Don’t ask John Kasich why he’s still running even though he’s mathematically eliminated from winning a majority of delegates; ask him instead why he hates Ohio’s teachers.
But I firmly believe the Trump rally violence is not a tangential issue to this year’s campaign. Instead, I believe that it does reflect on the substance of the candidate in this case, that it does, in fact, suggest something about the things Trump would do if elected to the highest office in the land.
More than anything else, it suggests Trump and his administration will be bullies. With Trump, anywhere you look, it’s bullies all the way down and all the way up. From supporters to volunteers to low-level campaign staff to national campaign surrogates to Trump himself and his own campaign manager, it’s just bullies everywhere you look.
Let me start with a local angle, because this here publication isn’t called “OnAmerica.” If I were to ask you to name Milwaukee’s biggest bully, you probably wouldn’t hesitate to say it’s Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.
Clarke’s public persona is, like Trump’s, brusque and unforgiving of anyone with whom he disagrees. You need only to consider the way Clarke treats Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele – accusing him, for example, of having penis envy and filing a nuisance first-amendment lawsuit against Abele because he had the nerve to veto a small part of the sheriff’s budget.
Last week Clarke published a screed against the protesters who show up to Trump’s rallies. Apparently, it was too extreme for even the conservative Wall Street Journal op-ed pages, and it doesn’t take long to see why.
“After eight years under President Obama,” Clarke says at the top of his piece, “the totalitarian enemies of freedom know they have our Constitutional Republic on the ropes – now they’re going for the throat.”
The hyperbole is strong with this one! I mean, “totalitarian enemies of freedom”? That’s the kind of talk we usually reserve for Kim Jong Un. And “going for the throat” here seems to mean – and you should perhaps sit down for this, because it will shock you – holding signs and chanting slogans.
Clarke wins GOP bingo by claiming the protesters are “a patchwork quilt of cop-haters, criminals, anarchists in general, university students and organized labor.” I can imagine he had a follow-up sentence ready, additionally blaming dungaree-wearing long-hairs, too, but it was cut for space; he does, however, manage to squeeze in “domestic terrorists” later.
But where Clarke really shines is in pulling the bully’s favorite trick: blaming those he bullies, or, as I like to call it, “Stop hitting yourself.” Clarke writes, “It has everything to do with Trump and his supporters’ right to assemble peaceably. They didn’t start this, but I don’t expect them to back down, either.”
Let’s consider the kind of things we have seen from “Trump and his supporters.” A partial list includes removing silent, peaceful protesters from rallies in Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia and Alabama; members of the press allegedly being attacked by Trump security, the Secret Service and Trump’s own campaign manager; supporters sucker-punching protesters being escorted out, yelling at supporters to “go to Auschwitz” and calling #BlackLivesMatter protesters the n-word or worse; and Trump himself asking supporters to attack protesters and defending those caught committing acts of violence at his rallies. Just this past weekend, Trump’s campaign manager was caught on video violently manhandling a protester in Arizona.
I have no doubt that the vast majority of those supporting Trump at his rallies and voting for him in the primaries are not disposed to violence. These stories of violence make the news because, in fact, they are out of the ordinary. Still, you don’t see this at Cruz events or in the stands at Sanders rallies.
David Clarke also significantly misidentifies both the source of and the consequence of these protests. He writes, “The President of the United States is the one responsible for creating this division in America, stoking up racial discord, class warfare and gender warfare for the last eight years.” Clearly Clarke has not bothered to read a word of what Obama has written or said about race over the last decade and has not noticed that Trump attracts supporters like David Duke and volunteers sporting “Heil Hitler” tattoos.
Clarke also claims that Trump and supporters “had their civil rights, as afforded by the Constitution, violated.” That’s laughable; the first amendment does not give people the right not to be criticized. If there is any one principle that we could say is at the heart of America, it’s that you may say or believe what you wish, but so may those who disagree with you. Still, Clarke’s op-ed demands people “must not and cannot back down to these freedom-squashing goons.” Goons!
Clarke went even further over the weekend, telling Fox News that Trump supporters “hit first and hit hard” when confronted by protesters. This is how bullies think and talk and act.
And, again, this way of thinking is not limited to mid-level surrogates like Clarke or to no-name supporters in the audience at Trump rallies. It is explicitly encouraged by the candidate and acted upon by the actual manager of Trump’s campaign; you can’t get any higher.
Do we really want a president about whom you can say, without exaggeration, it’s bullies all the way down? Milwaukee County’s chief bully clearly thinks so. I hope America as a whole knows better this November.