The Next President: Trumping the First Amendment

A rally for Donald Trump at the University of Illinois at Chicago was cancelled two weeks ago. At the rally, it has been reported, “hundreds” of protesters showed up at the 9,500-seat arena, and exercised their First Amendment right to freedom of speech as thousands of supporters awaited the candidate’s arrival. Moments after Trump was scheduled to begin his stump speech, came the announcement that the rally was cancelled.

“Mr. Trump just arrived in Chicago, and after meeting with law enforcement, has determined that for the safety of all of the tens of thousands of people that have gathered in and around the arena, tonight’s rally will be postponed to another date,” the Trump campaign said in a statement. “Thank you very much for your attendance and please go in peace.”

In response, the protesters cheered, elated that they had “shut down” Trump. Several fistfights broke out between Trump supporters and protesters. Police moved in to restore order. There were some 300 officers present in and around the arena. Two officers were injured in the melee, one of them struck by a bottle (the political leanings of the bottle-thrower are not known). In the end, there were only five arrests, and one was a CBS reporter.

In a later statement, Trump said that he did not regret cancelling the rally because “These were very, very bad protesters. These were bad dudes. They were rough, tough guys.”

As evidence of “a planned attack on free speech and free assembly,” Charles Krauthammer points to the “exultant chant of the protesters”—after the fact—that “We stopped Trump!” The protesters, however, could not have predicted that Trump would cancel his own rally.

Krauthammer described the Chicago protest as “an act of deliberate sabotage created by a totalitarian left that specializes in the intimidation and silencing of political opponents.”

Oh. Really?

Yes, Krauthammer says, this was “organized anti-free-speech agitation using Bolshevik tactics.” The irony is grotesque. Trump appears neither intimidated nor silenced. The anti-Trump protesters were exercising free speech—certainly a dangerous and provocative thing to do in a mob of thousands of ardent Trump acolytes. The candidate has for months goaded supporters to practice thuggery against protesters who dare to express themselves. Last fall, Trump suggested that a Black Lives Matter protester “should have been roughed up.” In February, he called on his supporters to take pre-emptive action against the perceived threat of an adversary tomato launch:

“So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Okay? Just knock the hell—I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise.”

There is no denying Trump’s ability to manipulate the news media to generate free publicity for his campaign. Canceling his own rally in Chicago is a fine example. A Chicago Police Department spokesman told The Associated Press that the police did not ask Trump to cancel the event. The CPD was confident that they had sufficient manpower present at the arena, and the spokesman confirmed that the decision to shut down the event was an independent decision made by the Trump campaign.

By canceling the event, Trump was able to turn the tables on the protesters, to make everyone believe that the “bad dudes” had caused the cancelation—and the news media have totally bought it. Krauthammer, too, naively falls in line, calling Trump “the victim” who was “not responsible” for what happened in Chicago.

Uh-huh.

Can it really be coincidence that the rally that Trump canceled was in Chicago, where Barack Obama lived and worked as a community organizer and constitutional law professor before being elected to the Senate? Protesters are a regular feature at Trump rallies, and they are an expected element of political theater on the campaign trail of every candidate, Democrat or Republican. That Trump chose to play the bad-protester-dudes-made-me-do-it card in Chicago—a city controlled by Democrats for generations and populated in large proportion by blacks and Latinos—is merely evidence of his skill at getting the most mileage out of the manufactured political moment.

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