Political protest, along with voting and expressing an opinion in a public forum, is the purest form of political speech. Protesters gather every day across the United States to air their grievances.
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Protests are signs of good political health. When speech is chilled or restricted, that’s when extremists retreat into closed citadels of anger. Before long, political protests cease to be peaceful and erupt into violence.
That’s why America’s marketplace of ideas is so crucial. Guiding our society towards good policy, the marketplace also allows for us to correct previous mistakes. This avowedly “good” tradition of political activity sets America apart from other nations. And although we’ve experienced “bad” political protests in the form of riots and terrorist attacks, we’ve also mostly avoided “ugly” protests that intimidate others into silence.
France offers a good example of what “ugly” protests look like. Furious about reforms to boost France’s limping economy, far-left unions are using violence to prevent access to key logistic supply hubs. Civil society is endangered and many police officers have been injured.
Some ugly protests have emerged in America lately, however. Donald Trump’s campaign events have become magnets for the ugly protester. Trump supporters regularly endure a gauntlet of obstruction, abuse, and even violence. While the vast majority of Trump protesters are “good,” a small but growing “ugly” minority cannot be discounted. Not only has Trump been targeted, but so has Bernie Sanders.
Just as no candidate should expect insulation from vigorous criticism, no citizen should face hostility for supporting a candidate for political office. That these “ugly” protesters believe Trump supporters should be threatened represents the antithesis of American freedom. Moreover, absent our repudiation of their tactics and our commitment to defend only “good” protests, these demonstrators would cut away at the sinews of our society. Even if only one American is scared to voice his opinion, that is one American too many.
Another issue is at stake. We owe our fellow citizens on the front line — law enforcement officers securing campaign events — our support. This responsibility rests in equal measure between private citizens and the press. After all, too many journalists have failed to grant the U.S. Secret Service and its partners the respect they deserve. In doing so, they’ve given subtle but significant support to the notion that “ugly” protests should not meet robust constraint.
Ultimately, I make this case against ugly protests as someone who does not like Donald Trump. But George Washington was not George III, America is not Europe and we should hold firm to our unique national identity of empowering individuals. Those who protest for or against a person or cause should be respected and even celebrated. But those who seek to silence others require our common and immediate repudiation.