Donald Trump has every right, under the First Amendment, to speak his mind — presuming he’s not breaking any criminal statutes (such as incitement statutes) in doing so.
But Trump does not have a right to live media coverage of all his rallies; he does not have a right to see his surrogates invited onto cable news nightly; and he does not have a right to be formally embraced by the Republican Party’s nominating process.
So here are five things the Republican Party, the national media, and American voters can do to respond to the growing threat of violence and eventual totalitarianism posed by the candidacy of Donald Trump:
1. It’s time for the Republican Party to formally throw Trump out of its ranks and exclude him from eligibility for its presidential nomination.
During the Afghan War, a British MP from Glasgow was expelled from the Labour Party on the grounds that — and please see if any of these five charges sound familiar — he had incited violence against his own countrymen; he had urged his nation’s soldiers to defy legally valid guidelines for their conduct; he had called on his countrymen not to support members of his own party if they disagreed with his views (cf. Trump’s initial refusal to pledge his support to, or encourage his supporters to support, the eventual Republican nominee); he gave support and encouragement to politicians outside his party; and he threatened to run as an Independent against his own party.
But the precedents for throwing someone out of a political party are legion. Mussolini was expelled from the Italian Socialist Party during World War I for “moral and political unworthiness.” In the 1840s, the Whigs expelled a sitting U.S. President, John Tyler, from their party, on the grounds that his policies ran directly counter to those of the group with whose assistance and affiliation he’d achieved the presidency.
In November of 2015, the Conservatives in England expelled Mark Clarke from their party on the grounds that he’d blackmailed individual party members (cf. Trump’s much broader threat against his entire party, i.e. to run as an Independent) and publicly harassed a young party activist — though it’s hard to imagine that harassment being any broader in scope than Trump likening Ben Carson to a child molester and calling him pathologically violent; claiming that Ted Cruz is a serial liar ineligible for the presidency due to the circumstances of his birth; that Marco Rubio committed actionable crimes (specifically, felony-level thefts) against the Republican Party of Florida; and so on. All of this being quite distinct, of course, from his many other harassments: of war heros, of the disabled, of Mexican immigrants, of women, and of nearly every demographic of American voter except (it turns out) the Ku Klux Klan.
In short, many politicians have been expelled by their party for far less than Donald Trump has already done.
I understand this call for party expulsion will elicit howls of protest not only from Trump supporters but even from some Republicans who do not support Trump but value Republicans winning in November over protecting America from authoritarian rule and possible widespread civil unrest. But understand that, just as Democrats have “super-delegates” as part of their nominating process in order to ensure that the Party retains some direct control over who it nominates — the act of nomination in the Spring being distinct from the act of election in the Fall — the Republican Party has a right to exclude from its nominating process anyone it wishes. Is that fair? Yes, if only to this disagree — super-delegates and party expulsions protect not just political parties but the nation from the rise of distantly Hitleresque figures. While political parties rightly have no authority to block the election of legally qualified individuals in November, they reserve the right to block nominations in February, March, April, May, and June if they deem a candidate legitimately dangerous to the survival of the nation.
So, to be clear: Donald Trump has every right to run for President as an Independent, to be on the fall general-election ballot, and to receive however many votes he can gin up in his bid for the presidency.
But he has no “right” to continue to be part of the Republican Party, or to be nominated by the Republicans when they convene in Cleveland this summer.
The only thing stopping the Republican Party from expelling Trump prior to Cleveland is its fear — understandable — that a Trump Independent run will likely mean a Democratic President beginning in 2017. But Republicans should look at it this way: a) there are worse things under Heaven and Earth than a Democratic presidency, and a Trump presidency (which, to be clear, would not in fact be a Republican presidency, policy-wise) is one of them; b) a Trump presidency will destroy the Republican Party in any case, if it is achieved under the banner of Republicanism; c) Republicans would be able to begin planning their takeover of the White House almost immediately, as four years is the blink of an eye in view of the roughly 250-year history of the nation; and d) an Independent run by Trump (or the formation of a new party by Trump) will merely clarify the political scene in America so that each party can better define its platform and values — particularly important given that many Trump supporters appear to be Democrats who, to be blunt, the Democratic Party should also have no need for nor do anything whatsoever to court.
2. It’s time for the national news media to stop covering Trump rallies.
Trump’s rallies feature the candidate acting in a fashion that borders on criminal incitement. Specific exhortations from the candidate — for instance, to punch protesters in the face — have later been carried out by his supporters, as we saw recently in North Carolina. In several instances the candidate appeared to condone violence to protestors as it was happening. The candidate has asked his security to forcibly remove peaceable protestors, and has even thrown out individual rally-goers merely because they were black. Yet the media carries Trump’s every word live. His rallies are covered as though each were a major political event. And then CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News bring on pundits to say how irresponsible Trump has been.
The truth is, the national news media is being every bit as irresponsible.
During Major League Baseball games, fans who run on the field are intentionally given no airtime whatsoever, as there’s an understandable fear that giving them the television coverage they so crave will encourage such bad behavior in the future. Yet somehow in an arena where the stakes are even higher, the likelihood of mass violence much greater, and the behavior of the attention-seeking party far more persistent and pathological, the media is giving endless “earned media” (i.e., free coverage) to Donald Trump.
This has to stop immediately.
It is possible to cover anything genuinely newsworthy Trump says — that is, statements that are substantial and consequential rather than merely rhetorical and inflammatory — without covering his rallies live. Proof that it’s entirely possible for a cable news outlet to act this way is to note that that’s already how they cover John Kasich and, to an only slightly lesser extent, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. These men are not often shown live on television, nor is their rhetoric covered by reporters as though it were newsworthy; only the introduction of new, substantive policy positions and papers is covered by the media when the candidate in question is Kasich, Cruz, or Rubio. The decision to cover Trump the same way could happen today and, indeed, probably should have happened several weeks or even months ago.
3. Trump surrogates should not be invited onto cable news programs.
This sounds like a dramatic step, until one realizes that it’s already par for the course when it comes to nearly every other candidate for President. CNN’s election coverage features a large band of commentators and pundits who are seated for interview by Erin Burnett and Anderson Cooper in revolving eight-person panels; none of these panels include an acknowledged surrogate or widely recognized public supporter of Bernie Sanders. Nor John Kasich. Yet these panels are lousy with Clinton boosters like Paul Begala and David Axelrod, Trump boosters like Jeffrey Lord, and Rubio supporters like Ana Navarro. In short, CNN decides every night which campaigns don’t deserve to have a surrogate on their airwaves, and it’s time for the private companies that run these cable news networks to make a decision they have every right to make under the First Amendment and not invite Trump surrogates on-air.
4. An #OccupyTrump movement, in which many protesters stage silent, non-violent sit-ins in the lobbies of Trump-owned buildings, would be entirely appropriate at this point.
As a staunch supporter of the First Amendment, I see no particular honor in attempting to permanently shut down (as opposed to merely disrupt) legally convened political events — no matter how much you disagree with the people who speak at them. Moreover, I think these sorts of attempts at mass intimidation a) often backfire, inasmuch as they ramp up support for the candidate who is not finally able to address his or her supporters, and b) are far too likely to lead to violence for anyone in good conscience to feel comfortable with their inevitably aggressive procedures. Stand and jeer a candidate at a rally however you like, and perhaps even organize small groups for this purpose; but organize a thousands-strong attempt to shut down a peaceful political rally and you are doing far more harm to your cause than good.
None of this means that mass protests against Donald Trump are inappropriate or inadvisable. In fact, the opposite is true: taking a page from successful protests from the past, non-violent marches and sit-ins that briefly occupy Trump-owned properties (or, however brief a time it is before protestors are dragged out and arrested) would be perfectly consistent with the protests from the Civil Rights era or the anti-colonial period in India that historians and the rest of us now admire so much.
Protesting Trump on Twitter is too easy, and protesting Trump by taking over his political venues too perfect a marketing tool for the very candidate you wish to oppose. But standing up — or sitting down — in non-violent protest against that candidate, and doing so across the country in the places his “brand” has the most purchase, could turn what presently seem like budding riots into a nationwide movement of utmost dignity.
I understand there are some who will disagree with what I’ve said here about shutting down political events, and I think it’s an honest disagreement. I also know that if a future Trump rally turns into a riot in which children dragged to such rallies by their parents are accidentally traumatized, hurt, or killed, we will not, as a nation, readily heal from those wounds — and indeed it might merely ensure the election of the most dangerous American politician since George Wallace.
5. It’s time for Republicans of honor to vote strategically, and for those Republican candidates for President still standing to transition their campaigns into committed rather than merely gestural efforts to avert a Trump nomination.
In many upcoming primaries and caucuses, Democrats have no direct authority to influence the likelihood of Donald Trump becoming President. But Republican voters and candidates do have that power.
Republican voters in individual states can read the polls aggregated at such sites as RealClearPolitics and use that data to stage large-scale, virally coordinated voter protests — attempts to get tens of thousands of voters to vote for whoever is polling right behind Trump in a given state.
Republican candidates like John Kasich and Marco Rubio can drop out and endorse Ted Cruz — or, can demand from Cruz certain concessions (such as a place for Rubio on the ticket or Kasich as Secretary of State) and then drop out of the race. Surely, three men of sufficient principle to see the danger Trump poses to our nation can come to some sort of extraordinary accommodation in which they continue to have a place in a prospective Republican presidential administration but are not themselves actively helping to ensure a Trump presidency.
If American media, American politicians, American voters, and one of the two major American parties begin taking the above steps today, it may not yet be too late to stop Trump. But every hour of delay increases substantially the chances that America will be thrown into a period of harrowing darkness and decay between 2016 and 2020, or however long it takes both parties of Congress to jointly impeach a sitting President.
Seth Abramson is the Series Editor for Best American Experimental Writing (Wesleyan University) and the author, most recently, of DATA (BlazeVOX, 2016).
Follow Seth Abramson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sethabramson