Donald Trump and the Republican Party may inadvertently legitimize political violence it seems. No, I’m not saying that they’re going to use violence against their political opponents, though that is a serious threat that may very well become true in the future. Rather, they are pushing dangerously close to a point where it will become legitimate to use political violence as a tool against them.
Political violence is considered illegitimate presently because our political system is founded upon the Enlightenment and liberalism, the giant branch of political ideology that encompasses the vast majority of political ideologies today from anarchocapitalist libertarianism as you will find in the Libertarian Party to New Deal Democrats like Bernie Sanders. In fact, even Marxism has its roots in liberalism as it primarily contends that private entities too can wield state-like power and infringe upon the rights of workers — it too is an Enlightenment ideology until you begin getting into Stalinism and Maoism. Conservativism, which is based upon a theory of a social fabric that cannot be torn by too rapid of change, is indeed liberal today as well since the social fabric it is conserving is liberal — as opposed to those supporting monarchy in the Revolutionary War.
The basis of liberalism is the attempt to preserve and maximize liberty and rule by reason. While the various branches of liberalism will bitterly disagree with how to maximize liberty, they all agree that we have political discourse with our words and arguments because then reason wins out and no one gets hurt.
Opposed to this is the Counter-Enlightenment, which grew up next to liberalism and has given birth to such ideologies such as phalangism, modern day monarchist movements, theocratic movements, and, of course, fascism. These are our reactionaries, and they reject a rational approach to politics, instead favoring pure sentiment, fervent nationalism, and a might-makes-right ethos. They thrive on political violence and they do not work on the premise of reason.
Of particular concern is that Donald Trump, who is pretty much just a tool at this point, is being handled very specifically by Steve Bannon, whom I cannot say I have seen specific evidence that he is a Neo-Nazi, but he is a leading figure in the Counter-Enlightenment alt-right movement. As a result, Donald Trump does not work with reason and objective facts, but rather makes up his own “alternative facts” to justify what he is doing and what he has done. It was comical when his press secretary was presenting his alternative facts about his inaugural turnout, but it stops being comical when he uses alternative facts to state that the crime rate is rising — as reported by CNN that he said the murder rate was at a 47 year high when it is actually very near a 50 year low — or when he claims that 3-5 million undocumented immigrants illegally voted for Hillary to give her the Frankenstein statistic popular vote, as reported by the New York Times.
This closely reflects some statements by Newt Gingrich, in an interview with CNN, that feeling something is true is the same as it being true. This is a Counter-Enlightenment stance and firmly places Newt Gingrich as a reactionary. Stephen Colbert had joked about this viewpoint back when he started the Colbert Report during the Bush era, and we have seen it from FOX News for over a decade, and even establishment Democrats have gotten in the groove of Counter-Enlightenment thinking by establishing fake news outlets of their own in the last election, such as Bipartisan Report and the Daily Newsbin.
Trump has also shown the intention to inhibit the free press and protests, indirectly, through rioting charges, though they seem to be marking the era of his Presidency quite fast and he is not taking action to work against this suggesting his implicit approval if not hand behind them. As the Huffington Post reported, six journalists were charged with rioting for covering the inaugural protests; four had their charges ultimately dropped – a common tactic by authorities to intimidate people with false arrest – and two still remain charged. The Lakota Law Project had recently reported that Chase Iron Eyes, a Lakota activist and one of their attorneys, was recently arrested on riot charges for setting up a camp on land disputed between the US Government and the Standing Rock Sioux.
However, it should be noted that this habit began under Obama, as those covering the Standing Rock protests, such as Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman, had been charged with riot charges before they were dropped, according to the Intercept.
Meanwhile, as reported by the Intercept, Republican lawmakers in 10 states have proposed bills which would greatly infringe upon the right to protest. These proposals include not only stiff fines, but legalizing the murder of protesters by motorists and likely by police as one proposal calls for police to be able to remove them by “any means necessary,” which presumably includes using live, lethal ammunition.
Such infringements are not entirely new. I’m sure most readers will recall how protesters were often limited to “free speech zones” during the administration of George W Bush. We may also recall how even the Daily Kos had to admit that Obama had been coordinating repression of the Occupy movement.
However, political violence is considered illegitimate precisely because there are supposed to be legitimate non-violent means to resolve grievances. Once these non-violent outlets disappear, however, so does the argument against political violence. That is why, in the past, even while restricting rights to protest, the perpetrators have been very, very careful to frame the issue as people still having the right to peacefully assemble to address their grievances. If you remove the outlets for nonviolent political action to be reasonably effective, then the stigma against political violence dissipates as there are no legitimate alternatives to it.
Take, for example, the case of Micah Xavier Johnson and the shooting of police officers during a Black Lives Matter protest. There had been massive protests over the murder of unarmed people of color by police and racist vigilantes for a long time since the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in 2012. Perhaps the most notable instance was the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by Officer Darren Wilson. Wilson had been brought up in a police force which was ultimately disbanded by the city due to its overt racism, according to the Washington Post. The attorney general in charge of presenting the case to the grand jury, according to the Huffington Post, admitted that many of the witnesses had lied during the grand jury to protect Wilson. This was disturbing since, as the Columbia Law School explains, the purpose of a grand jury is to simply provide a one-sided (prosecution-biased) case to establish probable cause to hold an actual trial. These witnesses should not have been allowed to testify — it was rigged. Of course, US Attorney General Eric Holder said that all was in order with the case even though it was an obvious lie.
The Dallas area police, themselves, had not been strangers to the murder of unarmed people of color. While police allegations that Johnson had declared his desire to kill white people generally, if true, would not paint Johnson as a hero, his use of political violence, in this case, was completely justified. In case after case, police officers have murdered unarmed people of color with no punishment whatsoever, and the system has been rigged to ensure that. Nonviolent political discourse, as practiced by the marchers, was left ineffective, not because of their cause or argumentation, but because of a systemic legitimization of the murder of people of color. This is also in the light of, as reported by the Intercept, white supremacists infiltrating law enforcement across the country according to the FBI.
In the case of police violence against people of color, nonviolence has been ensured ineffective through nefarious means which then legitimized political violence in the case of Micah Xavier Johnson. As a white person, I see it as an act of self-defense against a system of white supremacy. I note “as a white person” to illustrate it overcoming my outsider status, not to claim that it has become legitimate because a white person can solely judge it one way or the other.
Now, we may all be aware, and even enjoyed, that the white supremacist Counter-Enlightenment figure, who tried to claim he isn’t a Neo-Nazi but was unsuccessful in articulating the difference, was punched in the face by a black flag anarchist. This particular sort of anarchist acts in this way, including smashing windows and other property damage, as a means of establishing to power that they are not governable, according to a post on Human Iterations. They are very effective in countering “non-lethal” techniques used frequently and laxly by police but will smash things as well. This raised the issue of whether it is alright to punch a Nazi for being a Nazi.
The tools of the black flag anarchist to counter provocation by police is invaluable, but no, it is not alright to just punch a Nazi — yet. Unfortunately, these tactics also add to the legitimization of political violence, particularly by the state against protesters. Unlike the paradigm of police violence against people of color, anti-fascist resistance has not yet reached a point where political violence has been justified. It is not valid to smash things in protest or to punch Nazis outside of self-defense — but Trump and his Republican cohorts are quickly moving to a day when that will no longer be true. If nonviolent political action is delegitimized, outlawed, or otherwise made completely ineffective by its very nature, as they aim to do, the tactics of the black flag anarchists will indeed become legitimate at that point.
The collapse of nonviolent political discourse is a terrifying thought, especially in the flooding rise of the Counter-Enlightenment alt-right in recent months. However, with a reason taking a back seat in political discourse and the continuing assaults on nonviolent discourse, it may soon become the norm.
[Featured Image by Scott Olson/Getty Images]