This interview between Donald Trump and CNN’s Don Lemon is like an onion. There are so many layers that could each be peeled back and discussed separately that it’s difficult to know where to begin (you may want to start by just watching the video below, which is in two parts). I’m not going to be able to get to the center of this onion today and I’m sure people will disagree with some or all of these points but this is what I see going on here:
Observation #1: In the midst of what appeared to be genuine chaos in Chicago last night you have Donald Trump calmly talking on the phone to Don Lemon. Lemon is a news anchor at CNN and Trump, just a day ago, called the media collectively, “the most dishonest human beings on earth.” And obviously Lemon is black as are many of the protesters who have been shoved, cursed and hit by individuals at Trump’s rallies. So there are reasons why this calm discussion could turn into another brawl of sorts but it does not. It’s polite and respectful on both sides for most of 20 minutes. For those on the right and left who feel ready to abandon all hope at the level of incivility we’re seeing, this interview is a slender thread of hope.
Observations #2: Some of what Trump is saying here about canceling the rally is the right thing to say, i.e. “I don’t want to see anybody hurt, Don, so I met with law enforcement and think we made the wise decision to cancel.” Trump went on to say, “I don’t want to see anybody get hurt and you would have had some people, possibly, getting hurt or beyond. So I made the decision in conjunction with law enforcement not to do the rally.”
Observation #3: Trump seems to be trying to avoid disappointing his supporters by dragging the police into it. A spokesman for the Chicago PD told the AP they did not recommend canceling the rally so even as Trump is giving what sounds like a measured answer it seems he is not being completely honest about why the decision was made. Why not just say ‘I thought it might get violent and I didn’t want to see that’ and then stop? The only answer I can come up with is that Trump is trying to allay the disappointment of his supporters by tossing out the idea the cops urged him to back down.
Observation #4: Trump believes the underlying problems as economic. Asked by Don Lemon what led to the scattered clashes Trump replied:
I think we have a very divided country, Don, and it’s been that way for a long time. And it’s very sad to see. It’s divided among many different groups and frankly it’s terrible. A lot of people are upset because they haven’t had a salary increase in 12 years, you know if you look at the workers of the country our jobs are being taken away, our jobs are being sent to Mexico and they’re being sent to all sorts of other countries. Our factories are closing, we have a lot of problems.
Observation #5: At this point, Lemon interjects somewhat incredulously, “Do you think that’s what caused this directly tonight?” Lemon wants to stay on Trump’s rhetoric and an implied ‘climate of hate’ argument. Trump wants to blame larger forces that drive the anger. It seems to me Lemon is pushing Trump to acknowledge that he is the proximate cause of last night’s chaos and Trump is pushing back suggesting the motivation transcends him. If this were the only time Trump had brought up this topic it would be fair to suspect raising it was a self-serving deflection on Trump’s part. But in fact, Trump talks about this issue constantly, probably even more than he talks about the border. It seems fair to say he really believes this and so he answers Lemon saying, “I think it’s largely economic, if you look at African-American youth they have a 59% unemployment rate…yeah, I think it’s largely economic problem, absolutely.”
Observation #6: Despite what I just said about Trump genuinely believing the problem is economic, he’s also dodging the point about his own culpability here. When he tells Lemon, “nobody has been hurt at our rallies” he’s wrong. People have been elbowed in the face and shoved roughly in the back. Unless the definition of hurt is admission to a hospital, Trump is not being honest.
Observation #7: Don Lemon just keeps pounding away on Trump’s tone. There is a broader, historical problem with Lemon’s underlying argument that isn’t really Lemon’s fault, per se, though he ought to be made aware of it if he’s going to talk about this. As a conservative, we get used to hearing this argument from the left all the time. Anytime some sophomore looking to take a stand against whatever tries to shut down a conservative speaker on campus, the sophomore will surely be babbling on about safe spaces and a climate of hate. When the left wants to disagree it is now routine to call their opponent a “hater.” Clearly there are some people who might fit that description (on both sides of the aisle) the problem is that the left doesn’t deploy this with a lot of nuance in most cases.
Case in point, after the Tucson shooting in January 2011, all of the leading voices of the left-wing media eagerly blamed Sarah Palin for creating a climate of hate that had inspired the shooter, Jared Loughner. Eventually we learned that claim was completely and totally false. There was zero connection between anything Palin had ever said or done. On the contrary, the disturbed shooter’s only identifiable semi-political affiliation seemed to be with the Zeitgeist movement, something the major media never mentioned. None of the media figures who made these claims suffered any consequences. All of them still have big media jobs. And President Obama, though he never openly endorsed this, cruised to higher approval ratings by calling for a new tone at a ceremony held for the dead and injured. Rather than correct the lies being told about his political opponents, he embraced their power. It was the slickest act of demagoguery you’re ever likely to see.
Bottom line: This ‘climate of hate’ argument being pushed by Lemon has really been abused in many conservatives’ eyes. Again, that’s not Lemon’s fault but he is effectively walking into a minefield wearing clown shoes.
Observation #8: Recent history aside, Lemon has a point. The reason the climate of hate argument regarding Sarah Palin was so egregious is that it was an absolute lie. Nothing the left assumed was true was actually true. It’s a different story at a rally where Trump is present and, in some cases, has encouraged people to get violent or suggested, as he did again yesterday, that in the good old days people could be a little rougher with protesters. At a Trump rally where Trump is the center of attention, he really is able to set a tone for that moment and that event. That’s very different from accusing Palin of inspiring a mass killer she’s never met (and who never cared a bit about her). Trump can indicate that he really and truly wants protesters treated well, even if they are being asses and giving everyone in the room the finger. He can do that by making it known that’s how he wants it to be in the moment, not just with a general announcement before the rally begins.
Now, there are still going to be idiots in every crowd. Trump can’t be held responsible for people who refuse to listen to what he’s telling them to do, but right now he’s really not making much of an effort. And even in part 2 of this interview with Don Lemon he seems unwilling to draw a line that he really ought to be drawing when it comes to violence from his supporters.
Observation #9: Free speech. Trump has a point that his freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly of the thousands of people who wanted to hear him speak was abused in Chicago. Trump’s supporters have civil rights too, but the left is doing what it always does these days when it feels it has the numbers: Trying its best to silence everyone who disagrees. The people in the video below are celebrating when Trump cancels the event. This is what they came for, to shut it down, to stop speech. This is itself a brand of fascism and it’s clear from the video that the punches (and bottles) thrown last night were not all coming from Trump supporters.
— david parrish (@dparrishcbs2) March 12, 2016
That does not mean people don’t have a right to protest. They do. But if the issue is lack of civility then that should include the people on the left who seem to think they get to decide when and where anyone they disagree with gets to speak, i.e. Chicago is liberal turf and so the 1st Amendment is regulated by mob action there.
Observation #10: Just because some of Trump’s supporters are clearly way out of line (punching, spitting on people, etc), the left shouldn’t get a pass from the media. The behavior of protesters last night would shock and disturb the left and the media if it were coming from the right. Imagine large groups of right-wing, pro-life, pro-gun protesters infiltrating, rushing the stage, engaging in shoving matches at a Clinton rally–and all of it organized with help from some right-wing equivalent of MoveOn.org. Imagine them cheering when their disruption causes Clinton’s event to be canceled. How would that play in the major media? I suspect the word “brownshirts” would be used more than once. There would be no doubt about who the villains were in that case.
And if protesters later tried to get on stage during one of Clinton’s speeches leading the secret service to scramble to protect her as if her life might be in danger, I think the clip would run on a loop on CNN. There would be commentary about the escalation of the right’s disregard for civility and common sense as well as the implied threat, i.e. we can get to you, Hillary! The fact that this happened to Trump yesterday and today, instead of Clinton, should not make it a non-story. I’m not saying it’s the headline here but, again, I think it could be under slightly different circumstances:
This just happened. pic.twitter.com/GrB8A8cKE5
— Michael Casagrande (@ByCasagrande) March 12, 2016
If I had to sum all this up, I guess I’d say that no one comes off looking very good here. Trump has badly mishandled protests at his rallies where he really does have the ability to influence people within earshot (though not control their behavior). I get why people are upset about that and yet the left’s reaction in Chicago is also troubling. We’re seeing what looks like a race to the bottom. Unless we want to see this spread across the nation, both sides need to rein it in. The answer is right there in the 1st Amendment: Everyone needs to do a better job respecting everyone else’s freedom to speak, to assemble and to protest without fear of intimidation or violence.