The Donald Trump campaign had a rally planned at the University of Illinois in Chicago on Friday, but canceled it after thousands of demonstrators, supporters, and, presumably, gawkers showed up, with protesters and supporters reportedly clashing with each other.
"I didn't want to see people get hurt," said Trump, who has previously encouraged his supporters to engage in pre-emptive violence against protesters who were, say, carrying tomatoes around. "I decided to postpone the rally."
The protesters were largely affiliated or organized by a variety of left-wing groups. Many Bernie Sanders supporters took credit for the street action, saying dozens of organizations were involved.
While there were reports of clashes between protesters and Donald Trump supporters (with dueling chants of "Commies!" and "Nazis!" prompting the Internet to ask, "Can't they both be right?"). The Chicago police deny advising Trump to cancel the rally, saying they had the manpower to handle the situation.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has recently faced months of protests of his own, over police brutality and corruption, took the opportunity to praise the work of police.
"I want to thank the men and women of the Chicago Police Department for their hard work tonight in unexpected circumstances," the mayor said in a statement last night, "and their continued commitment to protecting people's First Amendment rights."
Protesters did not articulate a specific message for their protest, except that it was against Trump's perceived racism and "policies." As a candidate who has never held political office before, he doesn't technically have policies, just policy proposals.
For his part, Trump attributed the sentiment at the protest to economic conditions in the country, particularly in urban areas.
"We have a very divided country," Trump told CNN's Don Lemon. "A lot of people are upset because they haven't had a salary increase for 12 years."
He rejected the idea that his rallies—which have been host to acts of violence against protesters as well as reporters—contributed to the conflict, saying they were events full of "great love" interrupted by unruly protesters. He said he hoped his "tone is not that of causing violence" and that his only aim is to create an atmosphere of making America great again.
At a previous rally, Trump famously offered to pay the legal fees of any supporter who got into a fight with a protester, encouraging them to throw a punch if they saw someone carrying a tomato.
On Twitter, Trump claimed protesters' actions were contrary to his freedom of speech.
"The organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago, have totally energized America!" Trump tweeted.
The part about protesters being "organized" is a reference to the contention by some Trump supporters that the highly organized nature of the protest meant it wasn't just about protesters' free expression. Of course, spending money to organize a protest doesn't diminish it as an act of free expression, but that idea is consistent with Trump (and much of the left's) assertion that money associated with speech in the political process does somehow diminish that expression's status as protected free speech.
What makes a protest an act that violates the First Amendment rights of others? The use of violence to shut down speech. If protesters attack Trump supporters, that's wrong, just as it's wrong for Trump supporters to attack protesters.
Protesters in Chicago yelled at supporters, calling them Nazi punks, and starting chants of "Fuck Trump." Language is not violence. Yet, again, much of the left has argued, especially recently and on college campuses, that it is. What is a rally venue but a safe space? Within the left's own framework of speech and language and violence, protesters have been invading Trumpkins' safe spaces for months. Social justice protesters have used violence over "triggering" speech with disturbing regularity.
The two groups deserve each other, and if they weren't shitting on our culture of rights in the process, it might even be entertaining. Silencing speech is not free expression, even, and especially, if the speech is unwelcome.
As John Stuart Mill wrote, "If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
This isn't theoretical—it has real world consequences. Dangerous ideas that are not engaged with, but rather shouted down and censored, gain unwarranted currency, making them even more dangerous.
Trump is right that Friday night's events in Chicago may have "energized" his supporters. Maybe they'll even start showing up at Sanders rallies, offering more real-world lessons in free speech and how subjective many of those who practice it can be when they disagree.