Friday, March 18, 2016

Trump, Campaign Violence, and Campaign Finance Reform

At this writing it’s unclear who started the violence that caused Donald Trump to cancel his 3/11/16 Chicago campaign rally, although it was most likely instigated by Leftist agitators. Disruption has been the Left’s modus operandi since the rise of the New Left in the 1960s.

But regardless of who initiated the violence, what is clear is that the anti-Trump protesters’ aim was to silence Trump. It was an overt attack on his right to freely express his opinions, and on the attendees’ right to hear what he had to say. Fortunately, Democrats and Republicans alike condemned the violence. Unfortunately, most major candidates managed to partially blame Trump’s rhetoric for, as John Kasich put it, creating “a toxic environment.”

I’m no Trump fan. But this is nonsense. Yes, some of Trump’s rhetoric is needlessly inflammatory—even bordering on sick. But it’s rhetoric that, in my view, stops well short of outright incitement to violence. It’s words. As long as we have a First Amendment, you fight words with words, not physical aggression. The agitators chose aggression over words. Once the agitators turned to physical aggression, they should have been condemned without equivocation.

The Democrats, in particular, exhibited a brazen double standard. The attempt to silence Trump was classic Leftism, but without the political window dressing. Democrats should not be surprised. The Left has been railing for years against money in politics. They  aim to “take money out of politics.” But money is a means to free speech. When the Left demands “campaign finance reform,” they are employing a euphemism for commandeering government force—i.e., deferred violence—to stifle free speech. So-called campaign finance reform is essentially no different from what the protesters tried to do at the Trump rally—use force to silence free speech and expression. The only difference is, the “reformers” want to use law rather than bodily force to restrict or ban private citizens from expressing their political opinions at their own expense, thus giving their censorship a veneer of legitimacy.

But the law is always backed by bodily force, as law must be. So, the reformers’ violence is hidden, but just as real. Should anyone spend his money on campaign purposes not approved by the political class as expressed in campaign laws, he’ll be assaulted by armed government agents, cuffed, dragged off to a court, and fined and/or thrown into a cage.

Remember that the only proper purpose of the government is to protect individual rights—which includes protection from and prosecution of domestic criminals. As the great Classical Liberal Frédéric Bastiat observed, “Since law necessarily requires the support of force, its lawful domain is only in the areas where the use of force is necessary.” When is lawful force necessary? Only for defensive purposes; i.e., to protect individual rights. As Bastiat explains, the legislator’s function “is only to guarantee [our] safety. It is not

the function of law . . . to regulate our consciences, our ideas, our wills, our education, our opinions, our work, our trade, our talents, or our pleasures. The function of law is to protect the free exercise of these rights, and to prevent any person from interfering with the free exercise of these same rights by any other person.

Every individual has the right to use force for lawful self-defense. It is for this reason that the collective force [the government] - which is only the organized combination of the individual forces - may lawfully be used for the same purpose; and it cannot be used legitimately for any other purpose.

Law is solely the organization of the individual right of self-defense which existed before law was formalized. [Emphasis added.]

In other words, the government may not do what criminals do—initiate the use of force. It may only do what private citizens have the right to do—use force defensively on behalf of the citizen and only against those who initiate its use. This view reflects the Founding Fathers, who earlier had said, “. . . to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” The government must protect us from criminals, not become the criminal.

Yet, that is exactly what laws that restrict what can be spent on free speech puts the government in the role of—the criminal. Such laws initiate force, and thus enable government officials to do what private citizens are forbidden to do—putting government officials outside the moral law by moving law outside of its legitimate purpose of self-defense.

There is a thin line between legal aggression and private mob aggression—and the line is not a moral one. It is not a solid line built on principle. It is a superficial line. The anti-Trump agitators are simply following in the footsteps of the campaign finance reformers—silencing free speech by force. They’re just doing it more directly and openly; in other words, more honestly. The protesters are openly proclaiming their thug credentials, instead of hiding those credentials behind undefined rhetorical generalities, like “taking back our democracy” or stopping the rich and special interests from “buying our elections” or “leveling the playing field.”

Since they have no problem employing legalized force to achieve their ends, the last people who have any right to complain about the Trump rally violence are the “liberals.” As Amit Ghate observes for PJ Media, “[V]iolence is wrong precisely because it is a species of force.  For the left to oppose open violence while promoting every other form of force is more than hypocritical — it’s an unconscionable intellectual crime.” [italics in original] The disruptive Chicago protesters represent the Left’s own chickens coming home to roost.

Related Reading:

The Law—Frédéric Bastiat

Force and Violence: How the Left Blurs Terms—Amit Ghate

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