Yesterday, as I sure you have heard by now, Donald Trump cancelled his rally in Chicago. Thousands of people showed up to protest the rally, held on the campus of the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC). Many of them were UIC students and a large number were united by their support for Bernie Sanders. Sanders has denied any role in planning the demonstration, though the liberal activist group moveon.org has admitted to providing minimal support to what they say was most fundamentally a "student-led protest."
The New York Times reported that a Facebook page organizing the protest had 10,000 subscribers and that the arena in which the rally was to take place holds 9,500 people. Many of the protesters waited in line to get tickets to the rally, while others marched and demonstrated outside. Members of the pro- and anti-Trump camps repeatedly clashed, until a voice announced on the loudspeaker that the rally had been cancelled. “I felt it was just safer," explained Trump later. "I don’t want to see anybody get hurt.” The protesters were jubilant, while Trump's fans were angry.
To judge by an admittedly impressionistic but still, I believe, fairly accurate metric--the posts on my Facebook feed--liberals and leftists are generally overjoyed with this turn of events. I have to admit that I do not completely understand the reasoning that justifies this excitement. Why is getting someone to cancel a rally considered a "victory"? I am not being facetious: lefties are very excited about the cancellation, I am somewhat confused as to why, and welcome any explanation as to what cause it advances.
Because my first thoughts are somewhat equivocal. I'm glad to see that anti-Trump/pro-Sanders forces can generate those kinds of numbers and that level of enthusiasm. But the protest emerged out of an attempt to get UIC to cancel the rally; one of the hashtags used to organize this protest was #shutitdown. I'm not sure that I can get on board with this goal. Richard Rorty used to argue that what differentiated liberalism from other political philosophies was its commitment to using persuasion rather than force. To me, this is as good an understanding as any. As both an academic and as a citizen, I support that ideal. And the attempt to shut down a rally suggests an illiberal intimidation rather than a commitment to robust political discourse.
Additionally, it is not at all obvious to me that the cancellation can be considered a success on the strategic front. Whether it plays a positive or negative role for Trump, Sanders and/or the activists' cause seems too heavily reliant upon the spin that emerges from the event. If the narrative that resonates with people is that Trump supporters are too violent, it would indeed reflect badly on the candidate's movement. (And there have been several reports of violent incidents at other Trump rallies, such as the supporter who "sucker punched" an African-American man who was attending the rally with his friends as a "social experiment" and the Breitbart reporter who was assaulted by Trump's campaign manager.) But it seems to me that it is just as likely that the Chicago events feed into Trump's narrative of the "politically correct" liberal culture marginalizing and suppressing his truth-telling ways. Were things to shake out that way, the Chicago events would be nothing short of a disaster.