We saw it before in Chicago in March and we’ll probably see it again and again in the coming months. On Friday, demonstrators tried to obstruct the entrance to the hotel where Donald Trump was to address the California Republican convention. In the end, Trump spoke anyway. But the pictures of him having to walk through a field and then climb an embankment in order to avoid the protesters resonated more than anything the GOP frontrunner said at the event. In that moment, we got a glimpse of the level to which American politics has descended. With Republicans poised to nominate a candidate that has dog whistled to racists, the intolerant left has responded in the language it likes best, with attempts to suppress the free speech of an opponent.
Like the ugly scenes in Chicago when a Trump rally was canceled because of violence, the spectacle of the candidate having to run a gauntlet intended to silence him is a vivid commentary on the kind of passions that he has evoked. There should be no doubt that Trump is the main beneficiary of such displays. But the question is whether the dynamic that was electoral magic for him among Republicans is going to work as well in a general election.
It shouldn’t be necessary to state this but given the voter rage that has fueled Trump’s rise as well as the anger his campaign has generated it cannot be stated too strongly: Attempts to suppress political speech, even that of people that we find hateful, must be beyond the pale. Whatever one may think of Trump’s farcical policy pronouncements or his habit of signaling approval of hatred directed at immigrants and others, the political left’s continued effort to shut down the speech of others represents a dangerous trend in American politics.
Such intolerance is the keynote of liberal political speech these days. The call to limit the spending of money by independent groups or individuals expressing political opinions (which would affect liberals as much as it does conservatives) by overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is a standard applause line for both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. So, too, are policy pronouncements that reflect the zeal of the left to force persons of faith out of the public square or into silence on social issues. The “free speech for me but not thee” attitude that is on display when Trump’s opponents seek to stop his events is not just a street version of the battles over political correctness that take place on college campuses where students seek to silence anyone who “triggers” their dismay at hearing opposing opinions. It is also a reflection of the mainstream liberal political elite’s belief that anyone who transgresses against the orthodoxy of the left deserves not merely opposition or ridicule but silencing.
This is an essential fact about the current debate not just because such efforts are offensive to the spirit of democracy. It’s also important because the public revulsion against this spirit of political correctness is what has driven Trump’s rise to the top of the GOP standings. It is also the only factor that can provide even a theoretical scenario for his victory in November.
The polls point to a historic disaster should the Republicans nominate Trump, who gets demolished in virtually all of the head-to-head matchup surveys against Hillary Clinton. Any optimism from the Trump camp and his apologists stems from a belief that a wave of white working-class voters will rise up to turn blue states red. There is little evidence that there are enough angry, white, blue-collar Democrats left in such states who haven’t already crossed over and voted against President Obama in the last two elections. But any hope that such a reserve can be tapped rests on a polarization of American society in which more whites will be driven to visceral anger against minorities and the left. The spectacle of the anti-Trump demonstration on Friday, in which some participants reportedly burned an American flag, seems designed to provoke such a reaction.
Resentment about such antics and the deadening hand of political correctness is a big part of why so many Republican voters applaud Trump’s outrageous comments rather than deploring them. Instead of undermining Trump’s appeal to GOP primary voters, the demonstrations lend a certain dubious credibility to his simplistic claims. So long as such crowds are trying to shut Trump up, Republicans are being distracted from the absurd contradictions in his speeches on foreign policy as well as the illogic that drives his protectionist creed. To the extent that the left continues its campaign against Trump, it will make him more popular among Republicans.
But the problem for a Trump-dominated GOP is that the changing nature of American demographics means there are finite limits on the extent of any anti-PC or street-violence backlash. Hispanics are a much larger segment of the electorate than ever and large majorities of young voters and women find Trump abhorrent. There simply aren’t enough angry white voters to elect a candidate who drives other mainstream Republicans to stay home and deny Hillary Clinton the turnout she needs. Under these circumstances, disgust at what Trump has wrought is bound to overwhelm resentment of the left’s intolerance.
Liberal intolerance has been Donald Trump’s lucky charm in GOP primaries. But though it will continue to fuel the passion of his core supporters, the notion that inflaming the passions of Americans in a way that will create more racial and ethnic divisions can actually elect Trump is misguided.