Protest

The increase in violence at Donald Trump’s rallies of late has tongues wagging and writers furiously pounding the keys. It is indeed disquieting at the very least. Trump himself swears he is opposed to violence even though he is on record as encouraging his followers to hit those who protest at his rallies. He’s even promised to pay their fines! His apologists on Fox News are calling for more violence against the protesters who are blamed for the violence. We now have the interesting scenario of those who hit and those being hit both claiming to be innocent. Sounds like the NFL! Trump, as is his style, blames everyone else, including Bernie Sanders and the president, for the violence that has erupted at his rallies. Now there’s paranoia and delusion together in a most interesting mix.

But the reports of a woman standing quietly at his rallies with a peace sign being roughly escorted from the place, conservative reporters who merely seek answers to obvious questions being grabbed by Trump’s right-hand man and nearly thrown to the ground — and Trump later saying the woman is “delusional” and “made the whole thing up” — or blacks in the crowd who report that they are shouted at (the “n” word) and glowered at simply for being present and even struck by Trump followers as the so-called “protesters” are led (again forcefully) from the arena, all lead one to suspect that the tendency of Donald Trump to encourage this sort of violence is the root cause of the entire problem.

To be sure, it takes two to have a fight, but when one side becomes violent because those who disagree with them are merely present this suggests that the tendency is already there and that the violence is simply a matter of course. It’s not hard to see which foot the shoe fits in this case. But the larger question is: why is this man so afraid of listening to those who oppose him? Or, more to the point, why is this man afraid to even allow those who oppose him to be present at his rallies? One does begin to realize that this man has a very thin skin indeed. Further, he is a bully and filled with hatred toward those who might happen to think he is wrong. He is never wrong — in his own mind at least — and it is the “true believers” like him who are most dangerous. Their minds are closed tighter than traps; they are convinced they have all the answers and that the ends justify any means whatever.

But, again, why this brew-ha-ha over protest? This country is founded on protest. It is not only protected by the First Amendment, it is the very life-blood of this country, the very thing our forefathers died to protect. The fact that the man, Donald Trump, fears those who protest against him is a sign of his stunted personality. The fact that his followers are quick to follow his lead and strike out against those who represent opposing views suggests another pathology. It suggests that there are those among us, growing numbers in fact, who are willing to follow wherever they are led. The world has seen such followers before and the damage and destruction they have left in their wake is clear for all to see. This is what is so disturbing about the violence at the political rallies of late. It’s not about the lies and delusion the leader exhibits — though this is indeed unsettling — it’s about the growing number of folks in this country who buy into his confused and even conflicting ideas and are wiling to swear allegiance to someone who wants only power for himself and uses others simply to guarantee that the power belongs to him and to him alone.

Protest is a good thing. It is absolutely necessary in a democracy if the system is to remain vital. As Thomas Jefferson said the country needs a revolution every fourteen years. Anyone who doesn’t see this is blind to history and fails to understand what a democracy is all about. But violence is not a good thing and it is not a necessary thing either. That one should lead to the other, as it has done in this case, must give us all pause.

Proverbs and Quotes

David Faherty recently quoted a “famous Spanish proverb” after interviewing Sergio Garcia on the Golf Channel. The proverb says, “A wise man changes his mind. A fool never.” This put me in mind of the fact that the American public strongly dislikes politicians who change their minds. What does this say about the American public? That question in turn put me in mind of Walter Cronkite’s famous line, “We are not well educated enough to perform the act of selecting our leaders.” Walter may be right.

I recall when George McGovern ran for president and had the audacity to drop Thomas Eagleton from the ticket because he learned that the man was an alcoholic — something he should have known beforehand. But the political talking heads insisted that the fact that McGovern changed his mind was the kiss of death and, of course, he was roundly defeated in the following presidential election. This is not an isolated example; it is quite common. What does this say about us?

It says, if the Spanish are right, that McGovern was wise to change his mind, but (by implication) we are not. It would make sense to applaud a man who changes his mind when he discovers he has made a mistake rather than push ahead even though his course is headed dead-on for disaster — like the course George W. Bush pursued in Iraq, for example. I recall a friend saying she admired the Shrub because he “stuck by his guns no matter what.” Eh? No matter what? The man was dead wrong! He should have admitted his mistake and altered course. But at the cost of millions of dollars and countless American lives he didn’t and yet while his popularity rating dropped toward the end of his term, not long after leaving office it was back up to nearly 50%. Apparently a sizable portion of the voters in this country will forgive and support a politician who lies to them and undertakes a costly war against another sovereign nation without sufficient reason. But they can’t forgive and support one who changes his mind! This is worrisome indeed.

In their wisdom, the founding fathers restricted voting to those few who (a) were males, and (b) who owned property. And the popular vote was not to count in Presidential elections. In any event, the first requirement (a) has been shown to be wrong-headed, and the second (b) was probably misguided as well. But the urge here was sound: restrict the vote to those who know what the hell they are doing, or at least have a vested interest in the outcome! I once suggested to Robert Hutchins that the current American system was flawed in precisely this respect: we no longer have any requirements whatever for voting except accidents of birth and age. And age proves nothing, nor does the fact that we happened to have been born here. At the very least, we should require a coarse in civics. Naturalized citizens have to know more than those of us born in this country. Every voter should know for example, how many Senators each state has, whereas, in fact, many who vote have no idea whatever. (“Rhode Island has two? And it’s so small!” — actual response to a poll not long ago.)

We no longer require civics in our schools (or much else for that matter). Nor do we require courses in history of a population that is notoriously ignorant of history. Yet we allow citizens to vote for the people who will make the most important decisions in their country that affect them directly. This is not wise. Not only do voters seem to prefer to vote for those who “stick the course” no matter what. They also seem to prefer those who are glib and make a good impression on TV,  comb their hair the way we like, or have the prettiest wives or husbands. Our standards are low and our knowledge of what it takes to make a successful politician, much less a statesman, is practically nil. Our forefathers must be rolling over in their graves.