Emmet Rensin On Critiquing The San Jose Anti-Trump Protests

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Recently, protests were held at a Donald Trump rally in San Jose, California. Things got crazy, with eggings, flag and hat burnings, and riot police being called in.

A lot has been said about the protesters and their actions. But all hell went loose when Emmet Rensin, the editor of Vox tweeted this

Vox suspended him for that comment. But I perused his tweets surrounding the statement and I have to say, he makes some good points.

Although his opinions on violent protesting is rather confusing and worrying, his thoughts on the protests themselves, what caused them, and how we react gave me a new perspective.

Too many times, we blame the protesters while ignoring the language that prodded them along. We critique their actions outside of the context of their views and feelings on the issue.

Like Rensin mentions several times, don’t expect to call someone a fascist threat to the American way of life and not expect people to act inappropriately.

Check out his tweet threads (I’ve formatted them in an easy to read way). Good stuff to ponder.

It’s always the same. You saw the same thing with Ferguson: “The most important thing here is that this civil disobedience is unacceptable.”

You saw it in Baltimore, in Cleveland: “Well, I understand why they’re upset, but these people in the streets are a threat to democracy.”

You see it all through American history. John Brown, The Battle of Blair Mountain, the 20th Century Anti-War Movement, ACT UP.

The point, as always, isn’t “Is violence OK?” It’s the folks who want first and foremost to delegitimize the fear and rage of the oppressed.

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It remains unclear to me what people believe the appropriate response to fascism is. Say “fascist, fascist, fascist”, people will freak.

If Trump *isn’t* a fascist or an existential threat to democracy, fine. But then let’s stop saying that he is.

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Again: You cannot tell people over and over that somebody is an existential threat to them and then be appalled when they act like it.

What this is about refusing to condemn people who take what they’re hearing about Trump seriously.

I do believe that if Trump is an existential threat to certain Americans, then yes, they’ll protest. And riot. Who wouldn’t?

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It’s remarkable how many people deeply concerned about people protesting Trump would also like me to know they personally plan to murder me. (source)


Remember when you spent a week saying “Now, killing Brown wasn’t good, but these protests are out of hand”, then had to pretend you didn’t?

This is the same thing. Instinct is to concern troll people protesting as an affront to democracy and the rule of law. It’s a bad instinct.

You spent a year saying Trump was a fascist, and particularly an anti-Hispanic bigot. Hispanics take that seriously, and you’re Shocked.

“What, we can’t repeat every day that a man is a unique threat to the fabric of society without some people taking us up on that?”

And listen: I do tend to agree Trump is atypically threatening. That’s why I’m not going to condemn rioters.

If you too believe he’s a fascist, then ask yourself what it means to concern troll poor, Latino folks who take that belief seriously.

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Listen, I don’t think the point of the riots is about electability either way, but there isn’t really “riots help Trump” evidence at all.

There’s evidence that smarmy performative outrage in the press helps Trump, that the GOP helps Trump–not so much protestors.

I understand the intuitive logic people are using, but it doesn’t appear to be substantiated by anything, doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny.

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It’s very simple: All violence against human lives and bodies is categorically immoral.
Property destruction is vastly more negotiable.

But again, the point is that you cannot spend a year calling a man a unique threat to democracy then be shocked when people act that way.

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1. Spend half a year calling Trump a xenophobic fascist. 2. Likely victims of xenophobic fascism act out. 3. “WHAT HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN” (source)


I wonder how many of the people beside themselves about anti-Trump riots have called for armed revolt against Obama in the past 8 years?

“No no that’s different that’s FOR America, that’s resisting an illegal Muslim tyrant!”

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Listen, if Trump is Hitler then you’ve got no business condemning rioters. If he isn’t, you’ve got no business pretending normal is better. (source)

Obviously I don’t agree with him that property damage is “negotiable” nor are protests giving Trump more support unsubstantial. But he’s got some good points about overhyping the issue.

If you say someone is a threat to another’s way of life, don’t be surprised (or appalled) when those who feel threatened take action.

Language is a powerful thing in politics. Not many people realize this (except for the ones who get paid to use it…I’m looking at you Talk Radio).

Either Trump is a significant threat to American way of life, therefore legitimizing those protests, or he’s not.

I, for one, don’t believe Trump is the straw that will break the camel’s back. He’s just a result of political cause and effects. He is not the death of the Republican Party, nor a significant threat for the American republic. Which is why I’m not for protesting against him.

If he were Mussolini, then yes, I’d be organizing protests. But he’s not, so I’m not.

In the end, Rensin highlights the effects of political rhetoric.

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