Elections in a democracy are a time when the collective voices of the people are heard, but in this atypical cycle, they are also a time when the collective punches of the people, literally, are felt.
On the same day as President Barack Obama spoke candidly about the possible root causes of the violence—he became the first sitting president to speak at SXSW in Austin, Texas, yesterday—Republican presidential candidate Donald J Trump canceled a political rally in Chicago amid unruly violence, and Secret Service agents rushed to protect him at a rally near Dayton, Ohio, the New York Times reports.
As much as we may want to hear about issues facing the country, especially as we are only a few days away from the primary election in Illinois, it is simply impossible to bring those matters to the discussion in a campaign that has gone from anger-filled speech to actual physical violence. All of Mr Trump’s opponents and prospective opponents have commented on the violence that has come to the campaign trail.
Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democratic candidate for president, said when Mr Trump “talks about, you know, ‘I wish we were in the old days when you could punch somebody in the head,’ what do you think that says to his supporters?”
The other candidate in the Democratic primary, Senator Hillary Clinton, warned that “if you play with matches, you’re going to start a fire you can’t control. That’s not leadership. That’s political arson.”
On Mr Trump’s side of the political spectrum, Senator Marco Rubio likened Mr Trump to third-world strongmen: “But you mark my words,” the Times quoted him as saying. “There will be prominent people in American politics who will spend years explaining to people how they fell into this.”
Senator Ted Cruz said Mr Trump “affirmatively encourages violence” and “disrespects the voters.” Governor John Kasich, after demanding that a political ad against him in his home state be pulled from the airwaves because it didn’t comply with federal election laws, said Mr Trump had “created a toxic environment.”
President Barack Obama, during a speech yesterday afternoon at a Democratic National Committee event in Austin, Texas, wondered out loud why everyone was so shocked. “This is the guy, remember, who was sure that I was born in Kenya—who just wouldn’t let it go,” the Washington Post quoted him as saying.
“And all this same Republican establishment, they weren’t saying nothing. As long as it was directed at me, they were fine with it,” he continued. “They thought it was a hoot, wanted to get his endorsement. And then now, suddenly, we’re shocked that there’s gambling going on in this establishment.”
The president shifted to try to explain the violence phenomenon that surrounds Mr Trump and both the supporters and protesters at his campaign stops.
What is happening in this primary is just a distillation of what’s been happening inside their party for more than a decade. I mean, the reason that many of their voters are responding is because this is what’s been fed through the messages they’ve been sending for a long time—that you just make flat assertions that don’t comport with the facts. That you just deny the evidence of science. That compromise is a betrayal. That the other side isn’t simply wrong, or we just disagree, we want to take a different approach, but the other side is destroying the country, or treasonous. I mean, that’s—look it up. That’s what they’ve been saying.