This weekend's anti-Trump protest in New York featured a fair amount of anti-police and anti-free speech rhetoric from the protest leaders. Even so, the course of wisdom is not simply to criticize the protests, but to swell the anti-Trump cause.
On Saturday I went to the anti-Trump demonstration in New York City to show my support for the cause. It was easy for me. The protesters had gathered around Columbus Circle – less than a block from my office – and near the biggest and greatest skyscraper ever built, believe me, named Trump International Hotel and Tower. A fabulous building, trust me. I can look out my office window and see it.
I was pleased to see many young people and minorities. I was heartened by the robust outpouring against Trump and Trumpism. I appreciated the passion, the anger, and the determination to fight this infection that may now threaten the health of the society as a whole. I concur deeply with what these protesters seem to believe about Trump and his movement.
But I was also saddened by the style of the protest. Some of the chants were serviceable enough – "Trump, Trump, KKK! Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay!" and "What Does Democracy Look Like? This Is What Democracy Looks Like!" – but some of them were (in my view anyway) needlessly full of profanity. More disturbingly, there was a fair amount of anti-police and anti-free speech rhetoric from the protest leaders, including promises to "shut down" any rally that Trump attempts to hold in New York and to make sure that the police, when the next confrontation comes, "won't know what to do."
These are bad indicators. I had been hoping for less of a street-fighting style – a style which only imitates Trump – and a more conscious embrace of nonviolent direct action in the style of Martin Luther King and Mohandas K. Gandhi. I had sincerely hoped that this was the direction in which the grass roots anti-Trump movement is headed, but I found little basis for that hope on Saturday.
So now what? The conventional wisdom, especially among anti-Trump conservatives and Republicans, seems to be that, while Trump is appalling, these protests are also appalling. As the former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleisher recently tweeted, referring to Trump and the protesters: "A pox on both houses." This widely shared view seems to be based on three assessments.
The first is that the protests are, as Fleisher put it, an "extension of the Left's anti-free speech movement." The second is that the protests will only increase support for Trump, in part by making Trump look like the one who's being bullied. And the third is that many of the protest leaders are left-wing activists.
While these assessments have merit, it's a significant mistake, I believe, to dismiss or vilify or shun these protesters. To view them in such ways, it seems to me, is to misunderstand the task before us and to ignore at our peril the nation's very real need for grass roots anti-Trump mobilizations.
Ordinarily, the best way to express political opposition is through normal channels: express your opinions calmly and in designated ways, cast your vote on Election Day, and avoid making a fuss or spectacle or nuisance. But this is no ordinary time.
Trump radiates crude aggression. He openly incites violence against those who oppose him. He denigrates immigrants, Muslims, women he doesn't like, and others in shockingly ugly terms. He endorses war crimes. He is indifferent to truth-telling. He is psychologically a narcissist, temperamentally a bully, intellectually an ignoramus, and politically an authoritarian, a believer in the dominance of a strongman. Many Americans have genuine cause to be afraid of him and his movement – not just afraid in some abstract or metaphorical sense, but physically afraid of being rounded up, or deported, or put on a list, or publicly and capriciously abused and humiliated. This is not ordinary.
That's why opposing Trump is not the same as opposing, say, Hillary Clinton or Marco Rubio, or even the same as opposing extremely ideological candidates such as Bernie Sanders or Ted Cruz. Love them or despise them, these politicians mostly color inside the lines, and observe the basic conventions. Trump doesn't. Trumpism isn't just a politics; it's a larger assault on what America has always been at its best, and on what most of us still believe it can be.
That's why I joined the protest on Saturday, and why I think the course of wisdom is not simply to criticize the protests, but to swell the anti-Trump cause by making them bigger and better. Like Ari Fleisher, I don't like the fact that many of the leaders appear to be from small, left-wing grouplets. That's why I would like serious religious, civic, and community leaders from across the country and both sides of the political aisle to become active in this cause. It think it's especially important for centrist and right-of-center leaders (such as Ari Fleisher) to be involved.
I believe that the tactic of shouting down Trump at his rallies – of trying to bully the bully, silence today's loudest voice – is stale and self-defeating. That's why this still-aborning movement so badly needs and deserves better tactics, tactics in the tradition of Lydia Marie Child, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, William Wilberforce, A. J. Muste, Caesar Chavez, Vaclav Havel, and Andrew Young. Nor do I like the fact that, currently, the protests aren't particularly large. That's why I hope that many more people – including citizens who don't want to shout profanities or taunt the police – will start showing up at them. And why I plan to show up at the next one near me.
It'll be a fabulous protest, trust me. The biggest ever. Incredible numbers. It'll be so great, you'll be amazed, believe me.
This article originally appeared here.