I’ll take the short odds that sometime in the next 24-48 hours, Donald Trump will get up at a campaign rally and tell the crowd that the kids who were shot at the Black Lives Matter encampment outside the Minneapolis police station “got what they deserved.” I found myself at a Republican Party election rally in South Carolina on the eve of the 1976 election which was the last time that the Democratic Party was able to carry the South. And this rally, which was headlined by none other than Strom Thurmond, could have been at another time and another place, a meeting of the Klan. The speeches were overtly racist, the Federal Guverment was comin’ down to take away everyone’s rights, the South, according to Senator Strom, was goin’ to be ruled by a combination of the NAACP and HUD.
If you don’t think there’s a connection between the Black Lives Matter protestor who was beaten up at a Trump rally in Alabama and the attempted killing of peaceful demonstrators in Minneapolis, then you haven’t been paying attention to the news or the Trump campaign. When you stand up in front of a cheering-jeering audience and call someone a ‘jerk’ or a ‘dope’ or a ‘crazy’ because they yell something during your speech, you’ve abandoned any degree of public civility and are now just pandering to the lowest and meanest folks in the crowd.
When Trump first started encountering hecklers during his long-winded speeches he handled them pretty well. He never had the class of John McCain, who once bluntly told a woman who made an ugly, racist comment that she had gone over the top. But I knew that Trump’s brief encounter with civilized behavior wouldn’t last because once he responded to a demonstrator in a proper way, he was just sounding like everyone else. And what keeps him at the top of the polls without spending any of the billions which he claims to have but really doesn’t, is his ability to always say something that nobody else is willing to say.
So let me say something about Trump that nobody else is willing to say, at least not in a public way. What he’s doing is debasing political rhetoric to the point that we won’t have any meaningful discussion about political or public issues at all. He reminds me of kids in the New York neighborhood where I grew up who hung out on the corner and yelled insults at drivers whose cars whizzed by in nthe street. If you were an African-American they yelled ‘nigger,’ if you were a Chinese-American they yelled ‘chink.’ They didn’t yell because they expected the drivers to hear them; they yelled because using an ethnic slur out loud was just fun. Some of these kids ended up in Viet Nam, others got menial jobs with ‘da city,’ one got a job in the power plant shoveling coal. They probably still use words like ‘nigger’ and ‘chink’ but now they have to keep those words to themselves.
But they don’t have to keep quiet if they can go to a rally headlined by Trump. And they don’t have to keep quiet when they walk up to a demonstration held by Black Lives Matter because another Black man may have been gunned down by the cops. After all, these guys have a Constitutional right to call someone a name and they also have a Constitutional right to walk around with a gun. Put those two rights together and you know what you get? You get three young Black men in the hospital with gunshot wounds and the cops, in a shooting which took place right outside a police station, still looking for the guys who pulled out the guns.
It happened right outside the police station. Think about that.