Trump's 'Riots'

Donald Trump at a caucus night rally in Las Vegas / AP
March 18, 2016

In the last debate—or maybe the one before that, who can really keep track anymore—Donald Trump used a very odd phrase. He referred to the Chinese repression of peaceful protesters in 1989 as "the Tiananmen Square riots."

It's an odd gaffe, in that I don't think I've never actually heard that particular phrasing before. "Tiananmen Square protests," or "Tiananmen Square massacre," sure. "Tiananmen Square incident," if you want to be particularly weak-kneed and British about it. But "Tiananmen Square riots"? That was a new one to me.

I've probably never heard that phrase because it's a particularly odious one, one that suggests that peaceful demonstrators—students, many of them—were to blame for being gunned down by the Chinese military. That this was some sort of violent effort that needed to be brutally repressed. That the Chinese were simply reacting to thugs and troublemakers torching shop fronts and looting homes, or something. That the hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries were, therefore, excusable.

Now, I'm sure Donald Trump hasn't given much thought to his locution, because I don't think Donald Trump takes a great deal of time to think about human rights. It's not really his bag. But I do think it's a telling one. And one that actually scares me a bit. As I've noted elsewhere, Trump thrives on conflict—leftist protestors and rightwing media alike are just as likely to suffer attacks. He doesn't know how to deescalate, nor does he really want to. All that happens when he heightens tensions—when he tells people at his rallies that he wants to punch protestors; when he yearns for a better time when agitators left on stretchers; when he tells his supporters that he'll pay for their legal bills if they fight back on his behalf; when one of his supporters sucker-punches a protestor and doesn't earn a proper rebuke; when he praises a staffer who assaults a friendly journalist; when one of his rallies is shut down by aggressive leftist protestors; when he threatens riots if the GOP doesn't hand him the nomination at the convention—is that he goes up in the polls.

And that's, honestly, what concerns me the most about a Trump presidency.

Look: I imagine that he'll govern similarly to Hillary Clinton, Great Wall of Trump and disastrous trade wars aside. He'll keep Obamacare in place and do little to solve the entitlement crisis headed our way while doing nothing to shrink the size of government elsewhere. Maybe the judges he'd pick for the Supreme Court would be better, who knows. He doesn't, like, have a track record on the issue.

That being said, a Trump presidency is almost certain to spark protest movements the likes of which we haven't seen since the start of the Iraq War. People in the streets, marching, shouting, whatever. Not really making a difference, of course, but certainly making themselves feel better. In other words: doing something altogether American! What I fear about a Trump presidency is how he will respond to these movements. Does anyone doubt that he'll take them as a personal affront? That he'll use the slightest pretext to send in armed forces to "maintain order"? That he'll escalate in the hopes of using televised division to solidify his support? That he'll be more than happy to use violence against American protestors on a scale unlike what we've seen in living memory? That he sees China's "strength" during the "Tiananmen Square riots" as an example to emulate rather than an action to be abhorred?

That's not a chance I'm particularly interested in taking, thanks.

Published under: Donald Trump