Over the last two nights protests have erupted in several American cities in response to the shocking election of Donald Trump. We can all agree that the very small minority of protesters who turned to violence should be condemned. But what about the vast majority of peaceful protesters?
Not surprisingly, some Trump supporters have been dismissive of their efforts, while attempting to brand them as little more than immature spoiled brats who are throwing a fit because they didn’t get their way. Here’s how Christian radio host Michael Brown put it:
Perhaps many of the young people protesting the elections have not been taught that you don't always get your way?
— Dr. Michael L. Brown (@DrMichaelLBrown) November 11, 2016
There are several things wrong with the sentiment expressed in this tweet and others like it.
To begin with, Brown suggests that the protesters don’t understand democracy. Far from it. The right of peaceful protest is central to democracy and is enshrined in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Second, Brown suggests that the protesters are expressing childish, self-centered behavior, that they’re merely whining because they didn’t get their way. I could wish young adults were all this “selfish”. If you want to see real examples of selfish behavior, wait a couple weeks for all the lines forming outside Big Box stores on Black Friday as people wait to buy the latest smartphone or television or video game.
By contrast, these protesters are taking to the streets to express their vision for the Good Society. They’re concerned with the commonweal, with visible minority communities and immigrant neighbors. They’re concerned about deportation and healthcare and LGBT rights and climate change and Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform and so on. Maybe they’re naive, maybe they’re not strategic, maybe they lack a practical sense. But they’re not selfish or childish. This is the hallmark of a healthy democracy.
I responded to Brown via Twitter, noting that I thought these young people should be commended for exercising their democratic rights. He replied, “I say shame on them for their immaturity and violence and for shutting down traffic and breaking the law.” Note how he smears an entire group by the violent actions of a small minority. I’m sure Brown would be unhappy if Christians received that treatment. So it is most unfortunate that he engages in the same behavior.
What about the law-breaking and interruption of traffic flow? Well, Michael Brown is a staunch prolife activist. So I asked him whether he would extend the same indictment to prolife activists like Operation Rescue who have a long history of civil disobedience. I haven’t yet received a response.
Suffice it to say, I suspect that Brown would be okay with interrupting traffic flow if the cause were prolife. And so I suspect that the real issue motivating tweets like Brown’s is not a principled objection to protest per se, but rather an impatience toward and perhaps a demeaning condescension to those who protest on the wrong side of an issue.
Be that as it may, I say whatever your view on the election of Donald Trump, we should all be thankful for young people who line up in the cold not to acquire the latest Black Friday special but rather to exercise their constitutional right of free speech and public protest.
God bless the peaceful protesters.