Last month, I made the case that a Donald Trump nomination would be better for America than the nomination of one of his Republican rivals. I no longer believe that. I began to change my mind when a report circulated highlighting his 1990 interview with Playboy in which he praised the brutality of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. This is not the first time I had seen Trump praise dictators. (He has effused over Vladimir Putin.) But Trump’s admiration for Putin seemed to spring from a more ordinary Republican partisan contempt for President Obama, and closely echoed pro-Putin comments made by fellow Republicans like Rudy Giuliani. Trump’s quarter-century-old endorsement of Chinese Communist Party repression went well beyond the familiar derangement of the modern GOP. This was not hatred of Obama, or some obnoxious drive to stick it to his supporters; it was evidence of an authentic and longstanding ideology. Trump has changed his mind about many things, but a through-line can be drawn from the comments Trump made and 1990 and the message of his campaign now: “When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak.”
My previous view of Trump was as a kind of vaccine. The Republican Party relies on the covert mobilization of racial resentment and nationalism. Trump, as I saw it, was bringing into the open that which had been intentionally submerged. It seemed like a containable dose of disease, too small to take over its host, but large enough to set off a counter-reaction of healthy blood cells. But the outbreak of violence this weekend suggests the disease may be spreading far wider than I believed, and infecting healthy elements of the body politic.
I remain convinced that Trump cannot win the presidency. But what I failed to account for was the possibility that his authoritarian style could degrade American politics even in defeat. There is a whiff in the air of the notion that the election will be settled in the streets — a poisonous idea that is unsafe in even the smallest doses.
But (and with Chait there's always a "but") Chait can't help himself, going back to blaming the left's political correctness for Trump's rise a few paragraphs later and scolding them for trying to stop him.
But Rubio is not wrong to draw a connection between political correctness and elements of the left’s response to Trump. Donald Trump may or may not have been forthright about citing safety fears in cancelling his speech Friday night in Chicago, and disrupting the speech may or may not have been the protesters’ goal. But it is clear that protesters views the cancellation of the speech as a victory, breaking out in cheers of “We stopped Trump!”
Preventing speakers one finds offensive from delivering public remarks is commonplace on campuses. Indeed, more than 300 faculty members at the University of Illinois-Chicago signed a letter asking the University administration not to allow Trump to speak. I polled my Twitter followers whether they consider disrupting Trump’s speeches an acceptable response to his racism. Two-thirds replied that it is. Obviously, this is not a scientific poll, but it indicates a far broader acceptance than I expected.
Because Trump is so grotesque, and because he has violated liberal norms himself so repeatedly, the full horror of the goal of stopping Trump from campaigning (as opposed to merely counter-demonstrating against him) has not come across. But the whole premise of democracy is that rules need to be applied in every case without regard to the merit of the underlying cause to which it is attached. If you defend the morality of a tactic against Trump, then you should be prepared to defend its morality against any candidate. Now imagine that right-wing protesters had set out to disrupt Barack Obama’s speeches in 2008. If you’re not okay with that scenario, you should not be okay with protesters doing it to Trump.
As usual, Chait's apologies are pretty terrible. He starts out saying he was wrong on Trump...and then comes in with "but you're all just as wrong trying to stop him!"
Le sigh, le groan.