As a long-time Douglas Adams fan, I found inspiration for basic parenting technique in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Always impressed by the salience and cogency of the motto ("Don't Panic") inscribed on the cover of the book that gives the novel its title, I presented this to my infant daughter as "Rule #1 of Life, the Universe, and Everything." Over the years it has proven a handy mechanism during temper tantrums, bouts of disappointment, and various and sundry emotional rough-spots.
Viewing the current political scene, it becomes plain to me that the efficacy of "Rule #1" extends far beyond the personal or domestic realm. Like many other observers I am deeply dismayed by the rise of Donald Trump in the ranks of the GOP, and view the prospect of his nomination as a singular political disaster the likes of which our nation has rarely witnessed in my lifetime. But viewing the scenes of violence in Chicago last night and reports of the Secret Service "swarming" to protect Mr. Trump in Ohio today, I cannot help but feel that the larger political response to the threat he poses is being detrimentally impacted by flagrant and tragic inattention to Rule #1.
As I have written in past posts, a Trump presidency would be cataclysmic for our nation and a defeated Trump GOP candidacy only slightly less harmful. As bad as both of these outcomes are, however, there is one that would be worse: if he or his supporters are violently injured in the course of the current campaign. Trump has, deliberately or not, turned his candidacy into an indictment of the legitimacy of our system of government. Nothing will make that challenge more persuasive, lasting, and effective than a violent attack upon him or his supporters. Such acts would "prove" to his supporters (and to neutral observers) that Trump's opponents, those of any party who claim to defend the inclusive, constitutional, democratic order that Trump derides, are moral cowards and intellectual hypocrites. Nothing would do more to undermine faith in our system of government and impede the working of its institutions.
None of this is meant to defend Trump or to minimize the threat he embodies. Whatever demurrals he or his campaign might make, Trump has deliberately fostered a climate of tension and violence at his rallies. The resulting scenes of chaos ostensibly argue for the kind of "strong" authoritarian leadership he claims to offer, thus further enhancing his appeal among the types of voters that have powered his ascent. Though these tactics are reprehensible, responding to them with fear and anger will only add gasoline to the fire.
Expressions of protest against Trump are all well and good, but expressions of rage serve no useful end. Donald Trump's greatest ally is, to borrow FDR's phrase, fear itself, followed closely by anger. To deprive him of that power, anyone dedicated to opposing him must embrace Rule #1- Don't Panic. Anger only enhances his appeal, and violence used against Trump or his supporters is not only morally wrong, it is the height of strategic folly. The only way that the challenge Trump poses can be defeated is at the ballot box. If Trump is physically attacked he (or his movement, if he is killed) wins, in which case everyone loses.