Liberal Fascism in Chicago Last Friday
On Friday, March 11, an event occurred in Chicago that reminded me of violent clashes between Nazis and Communists during the waning years of the Weimar Republic in Germany. GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump canceled a scheduled speech at an event to be held in the Windy City, where a sizable crowd of left-wing students and Black Lives Matter activists clashed with Trump’s supporters. Telecasts showed that in addition to screams of “Hitler!” and other face-to-face confrontations, punches were thrown and a few landed.
Although Chicago police did their best to prevent bloodshed, the anti-Trumpeteers succeeded in preventing people from hearing what the Donald might have had to say.
Trump’s free political speech was trashed. It remains to be seen if the anti-Trumpeteers’ tactic will be repeated. After the Chicago rally was cancelled, the Soros-funded MoveOn.org blog hailed the leftists’ success, and seemed to call for more such outbursts. When Trump was speaking at an event at Dayton Airport the next day, a far-left punk rushed the podium, and only quick action by Secret Service agents kept him from reaching Trump.
Before delving into the heart of this piece, permit three sidebars.
First, in the immediate aftermath of the event, Trump is taking the brunt of the blame. Not only have his rivals for the GOP’s presidential nomination rushed to judgment, the electronic and print media have also painted a negative picture of Trump. On Friday night, even Fox News coverage was, on balance, anti-Trump. The Associated Press reportage was even more explicitly negative. A blog on thefederalist.com (March 14) not only accused Trump of cowardice, but went on to praise the Chicago protesters and deny they had abridged Trump’s freedom of speech.
Second, let’s stay with the AP’s report and the blog on thefederalist.com. The AP leaves the impression that Trump panicked. David Marcus’ blog on thefederalist.com explicitly accuses Trump of cowardice.
Suppose, for a moment, that Trump and his handlers had proceeded with that rally in the face of a large, ugly, crowd, and someone got hurt, or, God forbid, killed. Can you imagine how the media’s stories would have been couched?
Third, related to criticism of Trump for goading the violence, one is surprised by how few people seem to recall that a previous presidential hopeful’s harsh rhetoric may have been even more extreme than anything Trump allegedly has said. Yes, Trump has uttered comments that can be construed as encouraging violence against especially provocative protesters at his rallies.
On at least two occasions during Campaign 2008, however, Barack Obama urged aggressive action by his supporters against opponents. On September 18, for example, he told his supporters to confront their opponents, to “get in their face,” which can only be interpreted as urging confrontations that could turn ugly. On June 14, he went even further. At a fund-raiser in Philadelphia, he told a crowd of supporters what he’d do to counter GOP attacks: “[i]f they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.”
Those comments are hardly in keeping with the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Focusing on the leftist-inspired violence that entailed cancellation of Trump’s rally, at least three perspectives come to mind.
The first, which is probably most likely to be expressed by someone to the Right of the political center, attacks the anti-Trumpeteers for their hooliganism or worse. On March 12, for example, Shelby Williams labeled the anti-Trumpeteers “brown shirts,” and specifically compared their tactics at Chicago to Ernest Röhm’s Sturmabteilung, a.k.a. the SA, i.e., paramilitary thugs who broke up anti-Nazi meetings and played a significant role in Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.
What seems to have happened in Chicago is that leftists’ antics on American university campuses during the last quarter-of-a-century or so – when time-and-again loony leftists (students and faculty) prevented non-leftists from speaking and/or receiving awards – have now metastasized into the political arena. (We have already witnessed incidents in which Black Lives Matter denizens have disrupted speeches by Hillary Clinton, and before that, Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders. They tried, and failed, to disrupt Trump’s events.)
Since the Chicago protesters have already been correctly identified, I shall give this perspective short shrift.
Second, on a broader, perhaps more nuanced, perspective, what Chicago represents is the on-going breakdown of civility in American politics. But American politics have always been rough-and-tumble. Think of what was said about Thomas Jefferson during the election of 1800, or of Abraham Lincoln between 1860 and 1865. However, our political discourse seems to have considerably coarsened over the last 30+ years. Political personalities as diverse as Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have been on the receiving end of what some regard as the vilest language. (This is not the place for trying to assess which, if any, of these men, deserved to be castigated. “So’s your old man”-type exchanges don’t take us very far.)
At least two considerations emerge. First, can we, should we, put a limit on what we say about the other side? (Remember Richard Nixon’s story about seeing a little girl at one of his rallies in 1968 holding up a sign that read “Bring Us Together”? Nixon couldn’t, or wouldn’t, and no major political figure in the last 30 years or so has done so either. Jerry Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan, each in his own way, tried, but to no avail. The current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC promised to do so, but hasn’t even tried.)
More important, perhaps, is the question of how far the breakdown of civility in U.S. politics can go before the American political system is fundamentally compromised. Political theorists have speculated about this question for centuries, and we seem to be no closer to a definitive answer than the ancient Greeks and Romans were. But if the road leading up to the American Civil War tells us anything, there may come a point where increasingly loud and angry – i.e., uncivil – political language reaches a breaking point.
Thus we come to the initial topic alluded to in the first sentence. Watching televised images of the violent outbursts at the event in Chicago induced memories of the grainy, black-and-white film of street fighting between Communists and Nazis in Germany during the final years of the Weimar Republic. A few broken heads here, a couple of dead demonstrators there, culminated in exchanges of gun fire and flailing Billy clubs as the over-whelmed Weimar police decreasingly could keep the peace.
We all know how street battles during the Weimar Republic ended.
I am not a believer in historical inevitability. Nothing in today’s American politics requires us to repeat the pattern in Germany that resulted in Hitler coming to power.
Nevertheless, not enough voices are calling attention to these worrisome trends. Yes, Donald Trump is a polarizing personality. But so are Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders. Is the American political system robust enough to deal with political leaders of their ilk? If it isn’t, we may be staring straight at a very scary future.