After JFP news interns Onelia Hawa and Kendall Hardy attended, tweeted and in Onelia's case, wrote about Donald Trump's rally at Madison Central last week, a lot of his supporters got upset. They didn't like that the young women were tweeting what they heard at the rally, they didn't approve of Onelia quoting a Trump critic saying the rhetoric was "scary," and they sure didn't like the story about two groups of young people, mostly white, who got face-to-face in a heated debate outside the rally, mostly about race.
Trump's supporters wanted his appearance here, and its effects, to follow a certain narrative—that the businessman and his passionate followers just want to "make America great again." Meantime, many of us don't think the country is not great right now, even if it gets off course from time to time. We especially dig that First Amendment that allows us to speak our truth to power.
That is, the "politically correct" thing to do, say and report about Donald Trump, at least for his supporters, is that he (a) isn't racist, no way (b) doesn't promote violence and (c) is a plain talker who knows what's best for the nation. In fact, his own favorite phrase might be "politically correct"—which has become a euphemism for saying anything horrible about anyone anytime one wants, with no one getting to challenge you back.
When I was growing up in the 1960s, the "politically correct" culture—they didn't call it that, yet—was that white people hated on black people. Back then, if you challenged bigoted speech at all, you might be killed. Or, at least your name would end up in the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission files, a (white) taxpayer-funded spy agency that spied on any Mississippian or "outside agitator" that our segregationist government found "subversive." That meant simply supporting equality of non-white people.
There is even an "intelligence report" (I kid you not) in there reporting the name of a white gas-station owner in my hometown who allowed a black man to go to the bathroom in his station. That could mean either of them might end up beaten, boycotted or with a cross burned in his yard.
It's easy to say now that our ugly past is behind us. Trump's supporters, after all, are just tired of being "forced" to be "politically correct." If you probe deeper at all about what that means, you learn that they want to build a wall to keep Mexicans out, eject all U.S. citizens who happen to be Muslim, and maybe even deport all LGBT people while they're at it. They support mass incarceration of black men, and they want to close public schools. They'd prefer to cut off "entitlements," reminding me of Mississippi towns (like Greenwood) that decided to end "commodities" (government food donations that predated food stamps) for local black people if they kept trying to get the right to vote.
Trump supporters tell us they are just trying to speak "the truth," and they're tired of all the PC police trying to keep them silent, that they want to exercise their free-speech rights to speak their truth.
The irony of that shtick, of course, is that our government and our U.S. Constitution support their right to be as hateful as they want to be. The ACLU will show up and back them up, even if they are Ku Klux Klan members holding a rally in a black area. They have the right to whine about "political correctness" all they want.
But here's the rub: We all get to talk back, too. That's what the genius First Amendment is all about: allowing speech and counter-speech. It prevents the government from stopping us from being as obnoxious as hell as long as it doesn't turn violent or incite a riot. That is, our rights to speech only stops where another's safety begins.
Donald Trump, though, either doesn't understand the First Amendment, doesn't like it, or he doesn't care, preferring instead to lie to his supporters, pretending that people talking back to him—or, gasp, protesting his rallies—are un-American "thugs" trying to take away their First Amendment right to band together against "the other" in their so-called quest for greatness. Footage of his rallies shows him standing before his people, egging them on as they manhandle protesters, yelling about "political correctness," making his supporters want to strike out.
What he is doing is classic demagoguery: Play to people's fears about "the other" taking what is theirs (money, jobs, rights, the country they want to control). Cheer them on when they express their hatred, thus giving them permission to act on their supremacist leanings. Even give them a language to excuse it: "I just hate political correctness," people repeat over and over again after saying something blatantly racist. It's stunning.
Trump didn't start this, of course. The country made a very wrong turn back when the Republican Party decided to invite in the Dixiecrats after President Lyndon Johnson, a Texas Democrat, signed the Civil Rights Act, thus expelling them and their segregationist attitudes. Had the GOP not done that, and had men like Lee Atwater and Haley Barbour and Ronald Reagan and so many others not made a science out of cheerleading and feeding white people's bigotry for corporate votes, the nation might have turned this corner before President Barack Obama ever arrived on the scene.
But all the dog-whistle race-pandering made sure that white supremacy didn't die; it just hid below the surface for a while. Now, it's back, and it's angrier and more open than it's been for a long time—and Donald Trump is telling them it's OK to hate Muslims, to manhandle and sucker-punch black protesters and to belittle gay people. Anyone telling them it's not OK—talking back to their speech with more speech—is just demanding that they be "politically correct."
And if they get caught committing violence against people who protest the hate—like that old dude in North Carolina who sucker-punched the protester—he will offer to pay their legal bills. That is straight out of the playbook of 1960s Mississippi, when rich, white businessmen joined groups like the Americans for the Preservation of the White Race to create legal funds to pay for Klansmen's defense. Trump won't throw the punch himself, but he'll encourage you to and then pay for your lawyers, to boot.
In his reaction to protesters, Trump is displaying something extremely dangerous: the absolute belief that no one has the right to protest him or talk back to what he says. And that others have the right to rough them up (or presumably worse) if they do.
It's really hard to find a stronger sign that Trump hopes to become a fascist dictator of people and thought in America, and he's playing to very ugly instincts of his followers to get there. Were he to become president, he clearly would appoint judges who would allow this fascist approach to protest. It's hard to imagine where this road could lead.
As I've watched Trump's rallies, I can't help but wonder when his more jackboot supporters get so riled up by protesters that they leave and go night-riding for a victim like James Craig Anderson or find a cross to burn. It's the next logical thing.