Election time always has been messy, filled with desperate attempts to smear reputations, drag skeletons from ancient closets, and advertising the infamous “I can do better than you” televised commercials. But the 2016 Presidential Primary Elections turned out to be one of the worse primary elections in recent history. Nominee hopefuls from multiple backgrounds brought out the ever-popular weapons to fight their opponents.
The winner of the big guns goes to Donald Trump, multibillionaire entrepreneur and television star. He’s brought violence and danger to politicking. His rallies are feeding grounds for protests by minorities and violent retorts from supporters. The question this sample essay asks is, what will this do to politics in the future?
Fighting for politics: Take a look at recent Trump rallies.
While some of Trump’s rallies are still dry and uneventful, it seems – at least when the billionaire himself is present – crowds lose their temporary sanity at most of the events. The first major violent event at one of Trump’s rallies was October 15, 2015. Latino students from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia started protesting Trump, trying to prevent him from speaking at his own rally by shouting “we’re here to stay” and “dump Trump”. Supporters attending the rally weren’t having it; they started yelling, and one Trump supporter actually tried spitting in one of the protester’s face. The event quickly turned violent, resulting in multiple arrests (Agence France-Presse).
Trump rallies are becoming even more violent and dangerous. The physical assaults have increased. One of the worse rallies for physical harm happened just a few weeks after the first rally led to arrests. On October 23, 2015 at Trump’s Miami, Florida golf course, another small group of Latino protesters entered the more than 3,000-member rally with hopes of stopping Trump from spreading hatred among minorities. Two of the protesters were kicked and beaten before police were able to intervene.
Just a month later in Birmingham, Alabama, a black protester was removed, after being assaulted by several Trump supporters. Trump was less than sympathetic towards the protester and told police to “get him the hell out of here”. Even Trump’s top campaign staff aren’t immune from the violent storm at campaigns. Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewnadowski, was charged with simple assault after he “yanked Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields out of the way after his press conference in Florida”.
Why do Trump’s followers become violent at rallies?
How did politicking become so violent? Doesn’t the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution guarantee Trump supporters’ freedom of speech? The truth is harder to determine than one may understand. First, Trump claims there is no true violence at his rallies and claims the media is spreading lies through miscommunication and overreporting (Cupp, “The cause of violence at Trump rallies”).
Trump is both denying the violent encounters are taking place, and simultaneously blaming Bernie Sanders’ supporters, President Obama, the media for overreporting them, and so-called Chicago “thugs.” His surrogates, like Jeffrey Lord, insist “the violent left” is at it again. “We’re talking about people who show up at rallies . . . to provoke, to provoke . . . They are in search of violence. That’s what their intention is.” (Cupp)
There is some truth behind Trump’s reports. The news media focus on Trump’s rallies more than other candidates’ meetings and conferences. While Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and other candidates’ events share an article or two, every Trump rally has earned not only top news positions but an individual article unto itself. On the other hand, there has been documented cases of injury and violence. Even Trump himself goes back and forth on the accuracies, saying there’s no violence and the claiming he cannot be blamed for supporter’s behavior.
The fact is, Trump and supporters can claim there’s no violence but there is, and Trump advocates and demands violence at his rallies. Trump actually said he would pay for legal fees if someone acted violently. Trumps said at a major rally before the New York primaries:
“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. OK, just knock the hell out of them. I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees”.
Another famous Trump line at his Iowa rally is:
“I’d like to punch him in the face, I tell ya. I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”
History of election violence: It didn’t start with Trump.
While Trump’s violent episodes may get most of the campaign media attention, his strategy isn’t original. America already has a history of violent politicking. As far back as the 1896 Presidential Election, violent clashes were popular and plagued current candidates Republican William McKinley and Democratic William Jennings Bryan. The economy then, much like today, was recovering from a near collapse and personal stress was high. Local voters were upset over increased prices and job loss. Reporters stated, during President McKinley’s campaign
“there were lots of clashes with populists that supported the farm workers and the farming industry and people that supported more financial sector and trade”.
Chicago, a popular stop for Trump protesters and supporters, also saw campaign violence prior to Trump’s infamous assaults on nationally TV. Chicago hosted the Democratic National Convention in 1968. During the convention riots broke out and police violently confronted protesters inside and outside the event location. Former CBS reporter Dan Rather was part of the event (not as a supporter or protester) and recalled being pushed to the ground.
Conclusion: Is this the future of elections and politicking in America?
With recent Trump violence, riots in the 1960’s and a divided nation, some political scientists question whether this marks a new, darker age of politicking. The Atlantic reporter Peter Beinart believes election violence will become more prevalent if Trump wins the Republican nomination.
“The United States is headed toward a confrontation, the likes of which it has not seen since 1968, between leftist activists, who believe in physical disruption as a means of drawing attention to injustice, and a candidate eager to forcibly put down that disruption in order to make himself look tough. The new culture of physical disruption on the activist left stems partly from disillusionment with Barack Obama.” (Beinart)
Racial tensions and minority rights are again a target for the election pool. Republicans are upset with recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings and demand the people’s rights be restored. Democrats believe underrepresented minorities are at risk and demand equal rights for all. Conflicting beliefs over differing rights typically lead to an aggressive standoff.
Agence France-Presse. “Trump rally gives way to shoving, yelling amid Latino protests.” Yahoo! News. 15 Oct. 2015. Web. 22 April 20165. https://www.yahoo.com/news/trump-rally-gives-way-shoving-yelling-amid-latino-024244055.html?ref=gs.
Beinart, Peter. “The Violence to Come.” The Atlantic. 3 March 2016. Web. 22 April 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/03/the-violence-to-come/471924/.
Berenson, Tessa. “Protesters at Donald Trump Rallies Face Increasing Violence.” Time. 28 Oct. 2015. Web. 22 April 2016. http://time.com/4090437/donald-trump-violence-protests-republican-debate/.
Cupp, SE. “The cause of violence at Trump rallies?” CNN: Opinion. 14 March 2016. Web. 22 April 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/14/opinions/trump-violence-cupp/.
Gold, Hadas. “Trump campaign manager gets rough with Breitbart reporter.” Politico. 9 March 2016. Web. 22 April 2016. http://www.politico.com/blogs/on-media/2016/03/trump-campaign-manager-breitbart-reporter-220472#ixzz42ROfjpQU.
Johnson, Jenna and Mary Jordan. “Trump on rally protester: ‘Maybe he should have been roughed up’.” Washington Post. 22 Nov. 2015. Web. 22 April 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2015/11/22/black-activist-punched-at-donald-trump-rally-in-birmingham/.
Keneally, Meaghan. “The History of Violence on Presidential Campaign Trails.” ABC News. 14 March 2016. Web. 22 April 2016. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/history-violence-presidential-campaign-trails/story?id=37634969.
Live Broadcasting 2016. “Trump Tells Crowd to ‘Knock the Crap Out’ of Protesters, ‘I Will Pay For The Legal Fees ‘.” YouTube. 12 April 2016. Web video. 22 April 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPkhbw0jd9Q.