Not Quite Idle Threats

Those of us who have been there know. Teaching is difficult enough, teaching English borders on the impossible, but this makes things even harder:

A new Texas law allowing people to carry guns on state college campuses is already putting a big chill on fiery academic debate. The law does not go into effect until Aug. 1, but professors at the University of Houston have started preparing guidelines for dealing with gun-toting students that include warning faculty to steer clear of “sensitive topics” and dropping hot button issues from their curricula, according to a UH Faculty Senate.

Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin also allow students to carry concealed weapons on state college campuses – where the Republicans control the state legislature, and where there’s a Republican governor. That’s the trend. There has been decades of conservative talk about how the faculties of our colleges and universities are comprised almost solely of liberals – actually statistically true – and this seems to be a way to counter that. Any English teacher who suggests the novels of Ayn Rand are pretty crappy will think twice about saying that when the students are packing heat. No history teacher will call the War of Northern Aggression the Civil War and blame the South. No biology teacher will mention Darwin. These laws are all about student safety – anyone who comes on campus to shoot lots of people will be shot dead by the students before he can get off his first shot – but that’s a bit absurd. Conservatives are tired of being disrespected. Their kids will be armed now. Watch what you say.

Sure, the faculty is worried:

The proposed guidelines also advise faculty to not “‘go there’ if you sense anger” and “limit student access off hours.”

“Only meet ‘that student’ in controlled circumstances,” the guidelines state.

“It’s not official policy,” Faculty Senate President Jonathan Snow told NBC News on Wednesday. “The faculty is waking up now and saying ‘Oh my – come August I will be teaching classes with students who could be carrying guns.'”

That will be the great leveler in intellectual discourse, but not everywhere:

The Texas campus carry law signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott allows licensed gun owners 21 and older to carry their weapons on university grounds if they’re fully concealed. It was bitterly opposed by most academics across the state and sparked student protests.

“Weapons designed to end human life have no place in the academic life of the University, except when carried by duly authorized law officers,” the UH faculty senate wrote in a resolution last year. “The diverse campus communities and free academic discourse are especially threatened by the presence of deadly weapons in teaching, research and living spaces.”

Under the law, private universities can opt out and well-known schools like Rice and Baylor have done just that – but not the state schools.

Last week, the president of the University of Texas’ main campus in Austin announced they will abide by the law and allow handguns in classrooms even though he opposes the idea.

Enrollment is up at Rice and Baylor. The state schools are rapidly losing faculty – the best and the brightest will have none of it. Conservatives grin. They won, and last week it was this:

One gun rights activist in Texas said he planned to “open carry my rifle” at President Barack Obama’s SXSW keynote on Friday, according to a report from the New York Daily News. Open Carry Texas founder C. J. Grisham wrote the event “may get interesting” in a closed Facebook groups with 28,000 members on Wednesday, according to the newspaper.

Nothing came of that. The Secret Service can prohibit guns from presidential events in open-carry states like Texas – that’s federal law – so “armed individuals would not be allowed into the interview between Texas Tribune editor-in-chief and CEO Evan Smith and the President.”

Grisham was not allowed to show up with his fully loaded AR-15 for that public event, so this will move on to lawsuits about whether the state law trumps the federal law – the same sort of argument that started the Civil War, or the War of Northern Aggression, if you prefer. This time, however, the issue is whether the implicit threat of violence, carrying a big gun, should be protected as a form of free speech. Is implied violence simply another form of argumentation?

Donald Trump seems to think so:

Trump said Wednesday that a contested GOP convention could be a disaster if he goes to Cleveland a few delegates shy of 1,237 – and doesn’t leave as the party’s nominee.

“I think you’d have riots,” Trump said on CNN.

Noting that he’s “representing many millions of people,” he told Chris Cuomo: “If you disenfranchise those people, and you say, ‘I’m sorry, you’re 100 votes short’… I think you’d have problems like you’ve never seen before. I think bad things would happen.”

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent tries to assess this:

It’s hard to say whether this is intended as a threat or a prediction. But the unsettling fact of the matter is that there is no particular reason to rule out the former – that it was indeed intended as a tacit threat, as least of a certain kind. Trump has been playing a clever little game where he hints at the possibility of violence while stopping short of explicitly threatening it – yet he also doesn’t denounce such an outcome as unacceptable, so his hints effectively function as a threat.

But it’s also a clever strategy, as Philip Klein notes:

Political commentators now routinely talk about the riots that would break out in Cleveland if Trump were denied the nomination, about how his supporters have guns and all hell could break loose, that they would burn everything to the ground. It works to Trump’s advantage to not try too hard to dispel these notions. He wants Republican delegates who control his political fate to have it in the back of their minds…

Klein sees a comprehensive strategy:

He’s talking about beating up protesters, fantasizing about the days when protesters used to get roughed up, and even offering to pay legal bills of those who attack protesters. On Sunday, he took things to an unprecedented level in modern presidential politics by issuing a thinly-veiled warning that he’d dispatch his supporters to Bernie Sanders rallies.

And they’d be armed, wouldn’t they. Bernie Sanders folks don’t carry big guns, or any guns – they’re liberals – but Trump didn’t mention that. He didn’t have to. It’s implied, and Klein says that’s the trick here:

Of course, in typical Trump fashion, he’s playing a game where he’ll have a lot of tough talk, then claim not to endorse violence, and now he’s claiming to have never promised to pay anybody’s legal fees. But the overall impression that he’s created is that he’s sitting on a powder keg. That he controls a huge mob of angry supporters that can be dispatched at his whim. And ultimately, one can see how that’s starting to filter into the conversation people are having over a contested convention.

Sargent says it’s now more than that:

Now Trump has made this explicit. First, it comes right after Mitch McConnell made a very public show of the fact that he privately told Trump that it might be a good idea to “condemn” and “discourage” the idea of violence at his rallies. Trump basically just gave McConnell – and other GOP leaders who surely feel the same way – a big, fat middle finger.

Second, whether or not Trump intended to threaten violence, his latest comments are very significant in another way. Trump explicitly said that if he goes into the convention just shy of a majority of delegates, it would be “disenfranchising” to his voters if the delegates award the nomination to someone else in later balloting. As I’ve reported, some Republicans already worry that if more than one alternative to Trump stays in, it could work against the plot to stop Trump. It could mean the runner-up finishes farther behind Trump in delegates – which end up getting divided between Ted Cruz and John Kasich – thus making it harder to justify giving the nomination to someone else. Trump is essentially saying that if this were to happen, then – violence or not – he will do everything in his power to cast a contested convention as illegitimate, discouraging his supporters not to back the nominee and otherwise doing as much damage to the GOP as he possibly can.

This really is argumentation by threat, but Sargent thinks that’s dangerous in another way:

Threats like this could only make it harder for Senate Republicans to continue to refuse to act on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. Their implicit position is that President Trump should get to pick that nominee instead, if he wins the general election, a stance that will grow increasingly untenable as Trump looks more and more likely to win the nomination, and simultaneously looks more and more crazy and reckless.

Well, maybe, but others see this as reasonable:

An outspoken supporter of Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump said Wednesday that rioting might be acceptable if Trump is denied the nomination despite winning more delegates than any other candidate.

“Riots aren’t necessarily a bad thing,” Scottie Nell Hughes, chief political commentator at USA Radio Networks, said during a CNN appearance.

Hughes, a tea party activist, went onto say that riots could be considered a good thing if people were “fighting the fact that our establishment Republican party has gone corrupt and decided to ignore the voice of the people and ignore the process.”

But she also said no one should worry:

Though Hughes talked of riots during her CNN appearance, she also said she knows Trump supporters “would not resort to violence; however they would make sure their voices are heard.”

Ah, a riot would be fine, but not a violent one. What’s the difference? The Trump folks will decide that for us all – and that’s an even bigger threat. Perhaps we’ll be told that a few beatings here and there, or many of them, aren’t really violence – they’re simply what will happen when the righteous are disrespected, and a good thing. What’s wrong with justice? Obama killed that Osama fellow, didn’t he?

This will be unpleasant, unless the Republicans hand the nomination to Trump, but Adele Stan at American Prospect puts this in context:

There is little doubt that Trump’s racially charged and incendiary rhetoric is the legacy of movement conservatism’s nurturing of resentment among a significant faction of white Americans unnerved by cultural shifts that empower people long shunted to the margins, whether by virtue of race, religion, or gender. Yet Trump’s triumph relies not on factional resentment alone. He is also tapping into a broad national trait: Americans’ love of violence. For that, we must all take responsibility.

We are nation that has seen the lynch mob and the Trail of Tears, school shootings and gang warfare, police killings of unarmed civilians, open-carry gun laws, and one of the highest murder rates by gun of any Western nation.

We are a nation whose political history is marred by assassinations and assassination attempts – always attributed to the poor mental health or ideology of the lone assassin, and rarely followed by the question: Why do we have so many?

Even as we bemoan all the incidents of violence against black people, against women, against little school children, a check of most Americans’ entertainment habits reveals that even the most docile among us find our diversion in murder and mayhem. Our most popular professional sport is a spectacle of large men ramming into each other, relying on the willingness of players to risk traumatic head injury. …

Donald Trump, showman that he is, instinctually knows all this. It is a fact inescapable to anyone who watches television ratings as closely as does the likely Republican standard-bearer.

But something is different here:

Comparisons are being made to the Democratic National Convention of 1968, but these are not apt.

Back then, Hubert Humphrey – the Democratic presidential nominee whose legitimacy was disputed by large numbers of young protesters in the streets of Chicago – did not call for police to beat his detractors (as they did). No party standard-bearer or leader suggested to disgruntled party regulars that they should punch out members of the media, despite the blow that then landed on Dan Rather.

With the Trump candidacy, violence is not merely the outcome of a toxic campaign; it’s the show, it’s the game. A feature, not a bug. And a savvy, cynical calculation of the kind of show that turns America on.

And it gets him what he wants, but Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick notes that Trump may be treading on thin ice:

Donald Trump has funny notions about free speech. After one of his rallies was shut down Friday night when protestors infiltrated the event at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Trump said that his speech rights had been trammeled. “The organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago, have totally energized America!” he tweeted. To Trump, another person’s legitimate – if questionable – exercise of free speech is an illegitimate impingement on his own.

She finds this odd:

Trump’s First Amendment views were clearly cultivated under the brain-melting lights of reality television, where he is free to fire anyone he disagrees with, and always gets the last word. He doesn’t seem to understand that there’s no right to say whatever you want without facing a backlash – the First Amendment protects us from the government blocking our speech, not from protesters.

That’s an important distinction:

Treating the campaign like just another reality show, Trump is quick to say that only he has the right to express himself, with seemingly no care for the fact that protesters and reporters have been set upon at his rallies, dragged out by police, even assaulted, as he slyly stands by and speculates as to whether they might just be enemies of the state. As Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune puts it, “He treasures his right to free expression, but yours is negotiable.”

Trump’s authoritarian views on speech are troubling, but there’s another more immediate question about free-speech abuse that has already possibly occurred: Has he crossed the line from protected speech into unprotected incitement to violence?

There things get tricky:

Under the landmark 1969 Supreme Court ruling Brandenberg v. Ohio, even hateful, racist speech is fully protected under the First Amendment – unless, that is, “it is advocacy directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” By that measure, much of Trump’s worst speech is safe. As contemptible as it is that high schoolers are now chanting “build a wall” at Hispanic students from a rival school, or that third graders in Fairfax County are now pointing out which children will be deported when Trump is elected, it is pretty clear that while he is morally responsible for polluting the discourse, he isn’t on the legal hook for this sort of thing.

The question comes down to whether Trump is across that incitement line based on what he tells people to do at his rallies.

That would be this:

“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them,” he said at one rally. “I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.” After one protester was punched and kicked at a November rally in Birmingham, Alabama, Trump’s reaction was, “Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.” The real estate mogul also longs openly for a time when protesters were met with violence: “See, in the good old days this doesn’t happen, because they used to treat them very, very rough. And when they protested once, you know, they would not do it again so easily.” At another event, he went even further: “I love the old days—you know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.” After a Trump supporter, John Franklin McGraw, viciously sucker punched a black protester in the face in North Carolina last week, the assailant bragged to Inside Edition, “The next time we see him, we might have to kill him.” Trump said he was considering paying McGraw’s legal fees.

This is borderline incitement:

After evaluating whether they could charge Trump himself with inciting a riot, North Carolina law enforcement officials declined to do so on Monday. But just because he wasn’t charged in North Carolina, doesn’t mean Trump isn’t violating the law elsewhere. Garrett Epps, a professor of law at the University of Baltimore and writer for the Atlantic, told me in an email that he believes Trump has crossed the Brandenburg line into incitement:

“Trump is talking to people who are present and urging them to commit assault on someone who hasn’t done anything (holding a tomato isn’t a crime). He could have said, if you see someone holding a tomato, notify security, or try to talk them out of it, but instead he advocates immediate preemptive violence.”

As Epps noted, the test for incitement is speech directed, or intended to, incite or cause imminent lawless action, and likely to do so. “Check, check, check, check,” he writes. “It is the equivalent of saying ‘hit him now,’ which is the core of unprotected incitement.”

Others see it differently:

The counterargument is that the threshold is high, and Trump hasn’t crossed it yet. “Generally speaking, advocating violence in the abstract – that is not a crime and is protected speech,” Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment expert at UCLA and creator of the Volokh Conspiracy, said in an interview with Dan Abrams’ Law Newz. “If the speaker is calling for moderate defense against people who are throwing things, who are punching or shoving, or who are shouting down a speaker,” that is probably okay, according to Volokh.

Hermann Walz, an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice similarly told the Washington Post last week that Trump is likely safe at least from criminal prosecution. “Short of Donald Trump saying something like, ‘Get that guy and punch him in the face,’ or something like that, I don’t see that he would have any real liability,” Walz said.

In all of this, Leslie Kendrick, a professor of First Amendment law at the University of Virginia, offers a succinct and clarifying response. “I’d say whether he’s stayed on the right side of the line is almost beside the point,” she told me. “When we’re parsing whether a candidate could go to jail for inciting a riot at a campaign rally, something is very wrong.”

Lithwick can only add this:

There may or may not be a legal solution to Trump’s vicious language of violence and fear, his practice of demonizing objectors, and his utter moral cowardice in simply declining to tell his supporters to stop punching people in his name. But there is a political solution…

Yeah, don’t vote for him, but people do.

They shouldn’t do that:

A Donald Trump presidency poses a Top-10 risk event that could disrupt the world economy, lead to political chaos in the U.S. and heighten security risks for the United States, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. Electing Trump could also start a trade war, hurt trade with Mexico and be a godsend to terrorist recruiters in the Middle East, according to the latest EIU forecasts.

The well-respected global economic and geopolitical analysis firm put a possible Trump presidency in its top 10 global risks this month, released Wednesday. Other risks include a sharp slowdown in the Chinese economy, a fracture of the Eurozone, and Britain’s possible departure from the European Union.

But the man who built his career on nasty threats is the big threat himself:

Trump’s controversial remarks on Muslims would be a gift to “potential recruiters who have long been trying to paint the U.S. as an anti-Muslim country. His rhetoric will certainly help that recruiting effort,” said Robert Powell, global risk briefing manager at EIU.

Until Trump, the firm had never rated a pending election of a candidate to be a geopolitical risk to the U.S. and the world. The firm has no plans to include Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz or John Kasich on future risk lists.

“It’s highly unusual, and I don’t think we ever have done it where we’ve had a single politician be the center of our risk items,” Powell said in an interview, but noted that the firm has once included the transition at the top of the Chinese Communist Party as a top-ten risk as well.

This is that bad:

“The prospects for a trade war are quite high,” said Powell. “Why is a guy who has many of his goods made in China wanting to start a trade war in China?” … Powell also remarked upon Trump’s calls for a more aggressive campaign against the Islamic State terrorist group, also known as ISIL or ISIS.

“One of Trump’s extreme positions has been to invade Syria to wipe out ISIS,” he said, citing estimates finding that a year-long excursion in Syria of 20,000-30,000 U.S. troops could cost $25 billion.

Trump has vowed to seize Syria’s oil fields and refineries, which help keep ISIS afloat, and then sell the oil to pay for a U.S. military campaign. But Powell said that at current oil prices, if the U.S. actually stole the oil, it would only net about $500 million, at most.

The man is bad news, very bad news. Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and John Kasich weren’t even considered, and that means the biggest threat that Donald Trump is making now is that he will be our next president. That’s the one threat we should take seriously.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Not Quite Idle Threats

  1. Gerald says:

    OHHHH ….now its serious?
    LOL ….could you image any “person of color” in the US with “millions of followers” saying or doing or acting in any of the ways the GOP/Republican front runner is …being treated with the kid gloves this guy is getting treated with?

    Or for that matter …a Democrat of any color running for POTUS?

    The “Law and Order” crowd WITH the MSM … would be having a field day!

    This “millions of followers” crowd is comprised of so-called “angry” whites …and THAT is the ONLY reason …there is this national “hair pulling” about …What to do ..what to do?

    Where are the images of LEO spraying these crowds with pepper spray?

    Or pointing military style rifles at THEM?

    RW …white domestic terrorist get a pass!

    This is no different!

    What to do …what to do?

    Yeah …what to do?

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