My central supposition about this election is that Donald Trump will lose because most regular middle Americans just won’t vote to make that man their president. This has nothing to do with ideology. It’s just about Trump. Not everyone out there adores Hillary Clinton by a long shot, and I understand well that for a lot of people this is a choice between beef liver and lumpfish, but I just think at the end of the day most people will say, No, I just can’t—I just can’t help make that crude, boorish, vindictive, childish man the president of the United States.
I think this is what will save Clinton—and the country—in the end. But as soon as I think that, I think: But what if I’m wrong? What could make people change their views on Trump, become sympathetic to him?
In theory, a number of things. Trump could stop being crude, boorish, vindictive, and childish. (I said “in theory.”) Clinton could be indicted. The economy could tank. I think those are unlikely—and yes, I saw the jobs report, but it’s early days to start talking about a recession, and it may be a silver lining of the report that it makes the Fed wait longer to raise rates, which most economists I talk to think it should do anyway.
But here’s one thing that’s not a long shot—and is in fact happening right now—that I fear will make Trump a more sympathetic figure to the kinds of Americans I’m talking about: left-wing protestors turning violent and throwing eggs at Trump supporters and burning hats and flags.
Now no doubt, someone has already fired off an abusive tweet at me calling me names and screaming at me that I just want powerless people to STFU, as they say in Twitterland. No, I do not want powerless people to STFU. I emphatically want powerless people to have more power. And the way you get more power in this country is by protesting peacefully, and voting, and doing all those boring things.
And I emphatically don’t want a racist, misogynist, neo-fascist in the Oval Office. But violent protests at his rallies increase the likelihood of us getting exactly that.
The operative word in that previous sentence is violent. Protest, Americans like. It’s in the DNA and all that. Protest got us where we are. It got us the 40-hour work week, the civil rights revolution, the end of the Vietnam war. Occasionally in these instances, things turned violent, especially in the case of labor organizing. But usually, the violence was initiated by those who held the power—the companies, in the case of union organizing, or the state, in the case of civil rights.
In the modem-day American context, it’s not in the interest of the powerless to initiate violence. They’ll always get screwed. Always. They’ll always be blamed by the media, called “rabble-rousers” and “trouble-makers,” and the worst of the footage, like those people throwing eggs at that woman in the Trump football jersey in San Jose, will be shown over and over and over again, giving my regular middle Americans up above reason to think the violence was 50 times worse than it actually was.
And those regular middle Americans will say to each other: “Goodness, Jean, those protestors are just awful, aren’t they?”
“Why, yes they are, Bob. So rude! And dirty, too.”
“That’s not the American way!”
And it will go on from there, and that night after dinner, they’ll flip on CNN (because these are not Fox viewers—an important point) and they’ll see more footage and they’ll see interviews with Trump supporters who were standing there more or less minding their own business and suddenly got their faces punched in, and they’ll work themselves into a reactionary state and decide that maybe a vindictive boor is precisely what those people need.
I guess the thinking of violent protestors is, Trump is a fascist, and the right response to fascism is violence. In some times and some places, yes, it’s been the necessary response. But we’re not anywhere near that point. Trump doesn’t have a private army. Yes, some of his rallies were getting awfully creepy there for a while, and he did inexcusably egg his people on toward violence. But all that has tapered off. If Trump won the presidency and assumed emergency powers, then yeah, I’d understand violence then. Might even advocate for it. But we’re a long way from that.
Instead, we have reached a point where we have to start worrying about the impact of all this. You have to admit—it takes a lot to make Donald Trump look like a victim. But that’s what he’ll look like to middle America if this violence continues. And it will continue.
There is, however, one person who might have the power to end it. No, not Hillary. I mean the candidate the protestors, peaceful and violent alike, undoubtedly admire the most. If this gets much worse, even though none of this is his fault, maybe Bernie Sanders could step up here. That would be actual leadership. [UPDATE: I see that Sanders, to his credit, did denounce the violence and say he didn’t want those kind of supporters.] But they might not listen even to him. Deep down, some of these people probably want Trump, because a Trump victory would confirm their deepest-held belief about what a fascist country this really is. They’ll erase out the part about how they helped make it so.