Tyranny or Raucous Debate?

Donald Trump is at it again. A left-leaning friend contacted me earlier tonight to ask me to call my Senators to get them to stand up against Trump's "threatening" of an American citizen. This ended up in an unsatisfying discussion of whether or not what he said constituted a threat, or protected free speech. Here's what he wrote:
Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!... If United Steelworkers 1999 was any good, they would have kept those jobs in Indiana. Spend more time working-less time talking. Reduce dues
I don't see any "threat" here, nor even an "attack on a private citizen." To me, this looks like criticism of the job performance of a union leader and his leadership of his union. Should a President engage in debate with union leadership on the best way to keep American jobs? Well, yes, I would have to say. It would be great if we could have a committed public debate on that topic.

I would think most union leaders, even at the cost of being crosswise with so powerful a person as a President Elect, would be delighted at the chance to have that discussion. When the President Elect, or even the President, deigns to 'punch down,' it has the effect of elevating you to his platform. I'd take that all day if I could get it. But even leaving that aside, it would be great if we could just get our various political factions arguing about how to protect American jobs. That itself would be a great change for the better.

The alternative position comes from the claim, which could certainly be true, that the union leader who criticized Trump is getting death threats in the wake of this counter-criticism. On this view, Trump supporters are a kind of informal brownshirts who only wait for a hint from their leader to deploy violence against those who dare speak against that leader.

Well, there has certainly been violence. It hasn't been one-sided, though. Trump has at times seem to encourage it, which is blameworthy: but not in a while, and not this time.

Probably the leadership of both sides should consider the effect of their words, but not at the cost of ending even a raucous debate on these issues. The President is not a king, but primus inter pares. He has all the rights of free speech of any other citizen, even if he has the responsibility of remembering that more people are listening to him (and, even, that not all of those people are completely together).

Still, just as I would oppose a Lèse-majesté law that would protect a President from criticism, I would oppose a standard that would prevent the President from arguing with other citizens as an equal. He is an equal. Surely the most likely good to come from the Trump presidency is the reminder that the President is not our better.

I'll be happy to stand up for the ideal that Presidents should not wield police authority to suppress dissent, nor brownshirts either. But I don't think the President should be above criticism, nor above debating ordinary citizens as an equal. Not only does it benefit the union leadership to be drawn into a direct debate with a President, it benefits all of us not to think of the President as above such a debate. He's just a guy, no better than any of you. Maybe not as good as many of you! But he's an American, so he is in a sense our equal: and he'll be the President, so in a sense he'll be the first among equals. And that's all.


jaed said...

It hasn't been one-sided, though.

It's been close to one-sided. (And not in disadvantage of Trump's supporters.) Based on the history of the campaigns, would you have felt more nervous about attacks going to a Trump rally a month ago, or a Hillary rally? How many Hillary events were shut down by her opponents, deliberately and of plan? (If that had happened to a Hillary rally, would something have been done about it by law enforcement?)

I don't like this sort of well-there-has-beensome-violence-on-that-side-as-well temporization. It's minimizing the attacks on Trump supporters, which I consider a serious attack on democracy.

Grim said...

I assume you can take care of yourself, whichever rally you care to attend. It may be 'almost one sided,' but the fear of it is also almost one sided (on the other side).

I fear not to go to anyone's rally, or anyone's protest. I go where I like, and let the world beware. That befits any free man.

So: yes, Trump's supporters have some times engaged in violence; and he has sometimes seemed to encourage it. But all of us should undertake to be free, and to defy anyone who would deny us our rights. Even in their teeth, we should defy them.

Ymar Sakar said...

The Left attacks Trum supporters because they are low hanging fruit. Same as the Tea Party. Those that get in the way of the Left, get hurt. Similar to the mafia. That is not DC's task or responsibility to fix, but the individual citizen's task to ensure their own survival first and foremost. Giving power to DC in return for protection and security, merely corrupts the hearts of Trum supporters, as it has corrupted Leftists and Democrats.

Trum still isn't going to save his supporters on the street, no matter how much the Alt Right idealizes their self proclaimed King.

Ymar Sakar said...

The Democrats have been using violence to get an edge in politics since the KKK got disowned by Bedford. If not even before Civil War 1 when bounties and mobs were sent to get rid of abolitionist speakers in the North and south.

This old Tradition is still there, because it works independent of ideology. The brownshirts are a joke compared to centuries long traditions that actually work without a Shirt.