Opinion: Is violence becoming the new normal of American politics?

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Opinion: Is violence becoming the new normal of American politics?

By Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, Tribune News Service

Republican front-runner Donald Trump has been accused of fomenting violence at his political rallies, and violence seems to have ensued: Videos show Trump fans taking swings at protesters — often minorities. Events reached a crescendo last weekend, with Trump and anti-Trump partisans skirmishing in Chicago on Friday and police pepper-spraying protesters in Kansas City, Mo., the following night.

Can American politics withstand the growing violence of this campaign? Is Trump solely responsible, or do others bear blame? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the  columnists, consider the issue.

JOEL MATHIS

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On the question of whether Donald Trump is encouraging violence at his rallies, let’s not pretend that there is any sort of partisan divide — even Trump’s fellow Republicans recognize he’s taken the discourse to a dangerous place.

The videos are ugly. At a Trump rally in Cleveland, a supporter is seen directing his ire at the media: “Go to Auschwitz!” the man bellows. “Go to f—— Auschwitz!”

Or take the words of John McGraw, a 78-year-old Trump supporter seen sucker-punching a black protester at a  rally.

“The next time we see him,” McGraw warns on video, “we might have to kill him.”

The list of incidents — either physically violent or morally repugnant — is long and getting longer by the day. And Trump has certainly set the tone, telling supporters he’d pay their legal bills and urging them to “knock the hell” out of any protesters spotted in their midst.

And how has Trump responded to all this? By promising “riots” if the Republican Party finds a way to deny him its nomination for president. A spokesman later clarified Trump was speaking “metaphorically,” but there’s no way of knowing if his supporters took it that way, and plenty of reason to be alarmed.

As it happens, liberals seem less inclined to passive resistance than they’ve been for decades. If Trump’s supporters want to throw down, they’re finding opponents who seem equally ready to go to battle. Trump’s rallies are bringing out belligerents on all sides. It’s a recipe for disaster. In Chicago last weekend, we nearly got one.

Trump needs to stop encouraging violence. His followers need to stop being so easily encouraged. And his opponents, the ones ready to go to battle, need to stop taking the bait and find a better way to counter his escalations. As my parents said: “I don’t care who started it! Be the one to stop it!”

This is not politics as usual. This is what happens when a republic starts to fall apart. This is a dangerous moment. It’s time to take a breath, and step back.

BEN BOYCHUK

Donald Trump may be a demagogue and a rabble-rouser, but he bears no responsibility whatsoever for the recent mayhem in St. Louis, Chicago and Vandalia, Ohio.

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday filed charges against a 22-year-old college student who tried to rush the stage at a Trump event in Vandalia last weekend. Contrary to Trump’s irresponsible speculation afterwards, Thomas DiMassimo was no Islamic State terrorist. He was just another entitled millennial trying to shut down a speaker he didn’t like. It happens on college campuses practically every week.

What happened in St. Louis and Chicago was an even greater disgrace. They were organized disruptions — classic examples of the heckler’s veto, except the hundreds of hecklers weren’t just hooting and hollering. They were pushing, shoving and eventually throwing punches.

Trump ended up canceling the rally he had scheduled at the University of Illinois-Chicago last Friday, citing safety fears. As soon as venue officials announced the event wasn’t happening, the protesters erupted with chants: “We stopped Trump! We stopped Trump! We stopped Trump!”

Who was “we” in this instance? Members of MoveOn.org, Black Lives Matter and supporters of quixotic democratic socialist Bernie Sanders.

“We came in here and we wanted to shut this down,” one organizer said later. “Because this is a great city and we don’t want to let that person in here.”

Liberals are quick to condemn Trump’s sometimes-incendiary language. But for all the handwringing over Trump, there is comparatively little condemnation of the illiberal tactics employed by MoveOn.org, Black Lives Matter and their fellow travelers.

Given what we’ve seen lately, don’t be surprised if there are riots in Cleveland this summer. But they won’t be led by Trump.

Last summer, when Black Lives Matter activists were seizing microphones from Democratic presidential candidates, the group’s co-founder, Patrisse Cullors, appeared on MSNBC to talk tactics.

“Many folks have asked why would you go after the Democratic Party? They’re on our side. What about the Republican party? And trust and believe that any opportunity we have to shut down a Republican convention, we will,” she said. “We will make sure that our voices are made loud and clear.”

It’s about time liberals spoke up and start policing their own — before things really get out of hand.

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(c)2016 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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PHOTOS of Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis are available from the Columnist Mugs section of www.tribunenewsservice.com.

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