Much talk of late has centered on how the Trump presidency is upending historically recognized norms. Recently, a Hill headline blared “Presidential code smashed under Trump.” Few would disagree that President Trump is indeed changing the way we view the presidency. Some of the changes are positive, while others may require immediate and significant reassessment (which may or may not involve the use of 140-character expressions).
However, the fixation on Trump and his effects on Washington DC and the historically recognized machinations of government miss the truly transformational change in norms taking placing nationwide. Those opposing the president and known as the “resistance” are fundamentally and potentially irrevocably altering the norms of civil discourse rooted in the First Amendment.
Last weekend, the frightening obliteration of respect for the free speech rights of political opponents was brought into focus when anti-Trump rioters at the Minnesota state capitol maligned supporters of President Trump. Throughout our nation’s history, it has been an accepted political norm that, aside from a few limited exceptions, while one almost always has the right to express a political opinion, that right does not include the freedom to stifle another citizen’s right to express a countervailing viewpoint.
With the rise of the “resistance,” this norm now seems like a relic. Gone are the days when political opponents permit one another to express political viewpoints. Instead, resistors appear willing to use any available tool to drown out political opponents’ First Amendment rights.
Resisting Arrest Is ‘Peaceful,’ Right?
The actual tactics of the Minnesota resistors were not what made the events of last weekend so frightening. To be sure, they were by no means peaceful or respectful of Trump supporters’ rights to express their views. It’s that the extreme tactics are no longer relegated to the fringes of the Left’s resistance movement.
None other than Sen. Tim Kaine, the man who came within less than 100,000 votes of the vice presidency (77,744, to be precise), provided a glowing endorsement of the actions of his son “Woody,” who was among six individuals arrested for disrupting the pro-Trump rally in Minnesota. He responded to his son’s arrest by noting “[w]e love that our three children have their own views and concerns about current political issues. They fully understand the responsibility to express those concerns peacefully.”
I hate to break it to the good senator from Virginia, but I’m not so sure Woody does in fact understand his responsibility to express his political concerns civilly. What is more, if the senator considers his son’s activities “peaceful,” I’d hate to see what he considers violent protests.
Kaine was part of a group of 50 individuals that descended on the Trump supporters at the Minnesota capitol. After setting off fireworks and smoke bombs inside the capitol, one of which allegedly struck a Trump supporter in the head, the six “peaceful” protestors fled the scene. According to local reports, “Kaine was approached by a St. Paul officer but attempted to run away.” Eventually, “an officer caught him and took him to the ground where he continued to resist arrest. The officer used a chemical irritant and used a knee strike to subdue Kaine.” Needless to say, according to police, Kaine “was not cooperative.”
This Behavior Is Increasingly The Norm
The Minnesota example is but one in a long line of disruptions that have occurred since the Trump presidency began. Over the weekend Trump press secretary Sean Spicer was harassed at an Apple store. Two weeks ago, respected author and commentator Charles Murray was shouted down by millennial agitators at Middlebury College. The disruptions were so extreme that Murray was unable to deliver any remarks and was rushed off the campus, with a professor getting assaulted along the way for good measure.
In February, rioters set fire to the Berkeley campus in response to the anticipated talk from Milo Yiannopoulos. In a sign of what was to come, rioters destroyed businesses and assaulted police officers in Washington DC following the inauguration of President Trump. Since then, more than 200 rioters have since been federally indicted.
My home state of Wisconsin has not been immune from the “resistance.” Also in February, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro provided his perspective to interested students at Marquette University, but not before Marquette staff members were caught red-handed attempting to secure seats to prevent interested students from attending. In November, Shapiro was forced to shout over protestors at the University of Wisconsin who had commandeered the stage.
Kaine and his like-minded agitators may consider the above tactics part of the new norm of political resistance. Some may shrug their shoulders and wonder what the Left, apparently so maligned by the president and all that he stands for, is supposed to do.
Such a sentiment misidentifies the techniques the Left is currently using and, more importantly, tramples on the real political norm of peaceful political resistance enshrined in the First Amendment. The techniques used by the likes of Kaine’s son are nothing to be proud of. Kaine is free to be proud of his son’s passion for political activism and his purported independent political thought process, but he should be ashamed of his son’s desire to physically prevent political opponents from peaceably expressing their views.
Violent Protest Is Un-American
Such a norm has long be enshrined in the political norms of this nation. Some of the most transformational political movements in America’s history reveal principles that are the antithesis of what Kaine now endorses.
Susan B. Anthony, who continued the work of abolitionists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, fought for women’s suffrage and the ultimate passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. When fined for voting in the November 1872 election, Anthony boldly told the judge, “[m]ay it please your honour, I will never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty … And I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old Revolutionary maxim, ‘Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.’”
The resistance Anthony urged was anything but the resistance we see today. In fact, women supporting suffrage boldly stood in the face of such violent resistance in 1913 when counter-protestors attacked participants in a DC suffrage parade, injuring hundreds of women.
Writing from a Birmingham jail in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. declared, “I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use be as pure as the ends we seek.” Remember the context in which the letter was written. King was in Birmingham to lead a public protest and boycott, specifically in response to white city leader’s pleas to quietly use the courts and not the streets to secure civil rights. King therefore responded not by advocating violent rioting in response to the white leaders, but “nonviolence … pure as the ends we seek,” albeit in public view.
For somebody that came within a few extra campaign stops of the vice presidency to endorse the type of violent protests that have become the norm in the Trump era is an affront to the largely peaceful leaders and movements that have preceded the current unrest.
Kaine should explain to the American people how the plight of today’s millennial snowflakes, who appear to make up the majority of today’s most violent resistors, justify today’s protests when millions of women and African-Americans, who unlike these millennials had been systemically prevented from enjoying basic civil rights, somehow found a way to largely peacefully protests their injustices. The norm of peaceful political discourse rooted in the First Amendment is something we should all be able to fight for—peacefully and civilly.