Donald Trump’s Chickens Come Home To Roost
Donald Trump was supposed to have spoken on a college campus in Chicago last night, but the appearance was abruptly canceled after protesters showed up, and now it’s setting off a debate about the extent to which Trump himself is responsible for the increasingly violent and contentious tone his campaign rallies are taking on:
CHICAGO — With thousands of people already packed into stands and music blaring to warm up the crowd, Donald J. Trump’s campaign abruptly canceled his rally here on Friday night over security concerns as protesters clashed with his supporters inside an arena where he was to speak.
Minutes after Mr. Trump was to have taken to a podium on the campus of a large, diverse public university just west of downtown, an announcer suddenly pronounced the event over before it had begun. Hundreds of protesters, who had promised to be a visible presence here and filled several sections of the arena, let out an elated, unstopping cheer. Mr. Trump’s supporters, many of whom had waited hours to see the Republican front-runner, seemed stunned and slowly filed out in anger.
Around the country, protesters have interrupted virtually every Trump rally, but his planned appearance here — in a city run for decades by Democrats and populated by nearly equal thirds of blacks, Latinos and whites — had drawn some particularly incensed responses since it was announced days ago.
The canceled rally came on a day that Mr. Trump sought to move past the primary fight, saying that the party needed to come together behind him.
Elsewhere, Mr. Trump’s security has tried to identify and exclude potential demonstrators before they enter his events, but large groups of protesters had waited in line for seats here, and engaged in tense disputes with Trump supporters even as the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion was still filling up. For more than an hour before the event was to begin, security teams led protesters out, one by one, but many more remained, sparring with Trump supporters.
In a statement, Mr. Trump’s campaign said that he “has determined that for the safety of all of the tens of thousands of people that have gathered in and around the arena, tonight’s rally will be postponed to another date.”
“Thank you very much for your attendance and please go in peace,” the statement said.
On MSNBC, Mr. Trump said that after meeting with the law enforcement authorities, “I felt it was just safer. I don’t want to see anybody get hurt.”
Asked about the images of people clashing at the rally, Mr. Trump said, “Honestly, we have a very divided country.”
Mr. Trump’s opponents, Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich, condemned the disruptions, but said Mr. Trump was responsible for the tenor of his rallies. Mr. Cruz said Mr. Trump “affirmatively encourages violence.”
For hours, the Chicago police, along with university officers, the federal authorities and others, were out here in force. A Chicago police spokesman said that city law enforcement authorities were not consulted and had no role in canceling the event. The spokesman said there had been five arrests, two by the Chicago police, two by the university’s police and one by the Illinois State Police. The fire department said three people, including a police officer, were injured.
The prospect of a Trump rally here had long been fraught with apprehension. This city has been in turmoil over questions of race and policing for months. The release in November of a video of the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, by a white Chicago police officer had set off weeks of protest.
The University of Illinois at Chicago draws a significant share of students from Chicago’s neighborhoods, and has a large number of international students, and planned protests were publicized on social media. Around 10,000 people had signed up on Facebook to take part in one anti-Trump march. Scores of faculty members had pleaded with administrators over allowing the rally in a letter, which read, in part: “We also request that the university publicly distance itself from the event and make a statement that the Trump rally is an anathema to the mission of U.I.C.”
In the hours before the event, inside the 9,500-seat arena, Mr. Trump’s backers were energized. Some dressed in outfits to match his, and chanted “Trump! Trump! Trump!” as they waited.
But the situation grew tense as the size of the protest crowd became clear, and as some yelled anti-Trump slogans and skirmished with the supporters. Three men in T-shirts that read, “Muslims United Against Trump,” departed early on, delighting the pro-Trump crowd.
Outside, a tense standoff mounted as well. A line stretched for blocks while ticketholders — a diverse mix of older whites wearing Trump gear and younger African-American and Muslim students — waited to be allowed inside. Some said they were devoted Trump fans eager to hear him speak in person. “I believe in Trump absolutely,” said Jana Hayek, a Chicagoan and stay-at-home mother, holding the hand of her 12-year-old son, Peter. “I definitely agree with his immigration policy. It’s important to control who comes into this country.”
A large group opposing Mr. Trump merrily taunted the people entering the stadium with shouts of “Donald Trump has got to go” and signs caricaturing Mr. Trump as a fascist with a Hitler mustache. (In one only-in-Chicago insult, a protester carried a sign reading, “Trump puts ketchup on his hot dog.”) And then, suddenly, an announcement declared the event “over” and repeated it several times.
As people streamed out, supporters of Mr. Trump were angry and frustrated. Anthony Pieroni, 19, a student at the university and a Republican, said he was disappointed. “I understand why people didn’t want him to come here,” he said. “People were fighting, ripping up signs, going crazy. It was just a terrible idea.”
But protesters were jubilant, and celebrated along the intersections on the city’s Near West Side. Some protesters shut down lanes of a nearby expressway.
Arguments and small skirmishes broke out along the streets. At one point, the police rushed in, separating people.
Fortunately, last night’s events in Chicago ended only in small skirmishes rather than something more widespread and dangerous, but the seeds for such a confrontation certainly seemed to be there on both sides of the police line. Many of the anti-Trump protesters were clearly there for more than just protesting, although that certainly doesn’t seem to be true of all of them, and many of those inside the hall were no doubt there with the intention of attempting to interrupt Trump’s speech once it had started. It’s not true, though, that Trump was advised by law enforcement to cancel the speech, as the Chicago Police Department has confirmed that it never made any such recommendation to the candidate or the campaign. Given the way things unraveled last night, of course, cancellation was probably a good idea simply because of the safety concerns that were raised when fights broke out between Trump supporters and protesters even before Trump had arrived. While I am never happy about giving in to the “heckler’s veto,” there does come a point where one has to consider the possibility that a situation could spin out of control and it certainly seemed like things were close to that point in Chicago last night.
While there is no condoning the hecklers and those who show up at a Trump rally, or any other political rally, with the intention of disrupting it or provoking violence, it is important to note that none of this is occurring in a vacuum. With limited exceptions, you don’t see these kinds of incidents happening at the rallies conducted by Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, or Hillary Clinton, and you didn’t see them at the rallies for any of the candidates who have dropped out of the race for their party’s Presidential nomination. Only Donald Trump seems to attract this sort of thing, and it’s worth asking why. The answer, I’d suggest, can be found in the rhetoric of the candidate himself and the actions of his own supporters, both of which have created an atmosphere that makes things like what happened in Chicago last night nearly inevitable.
Trump, of course, has denied that he incites or appears to encourage violence, but the evidence to the contrary is quite strong. When asked about violence against protesters at his events, Trump has said ”The audience hit back and that’s what we need a little bit more of.” At a protest in North Carolina where one Trump supporter was arrested for punching a protester in the face, Trump said ”They used to treat them very, very rough, and when they protested once, they would not do it again so easily,” he said, before lamenting “we’ve become weak.”At a rally in Michigan, while a protester was being escorted out, Trump said ”Get him out. Try not to hurt him. If you do, I’ll defend you in court, don’t worry about it.” At a rally in Las Vegas in February, Trump expressed chagrin that ”we’re not allowed to punch back anymore” and talked about the ”old days,” when a protester would “be carried out on a stretcher.” About a protester was removed from a rally in November, Trump said “maybe he should have been roughed up.” It’s also a common feature of Trump rallies for the candidate to use rhetoric against the press that seems designed to get the audience to turn on the press, calling them “scum” and “garbage” while they stand in the back of the room giving him the free media coverage that he craves. And, of course, just this week Trump’s own campaign manager was accused of accosting a reporter. Given all of this, and given his hateful rhetoric directed toward Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants, and women, the fact that Donald Trump is the only candidate who seems to be attracting this kind of violence really doesn’t seem all that surprising.