For months now, Donald Trump has been complaining about the level of violence inflicted on protesters at his campaign rallies. Complaining, that is, about protesters — who have been tackled and kicked, pushed, spat on, and sucker-punched — not being subjected to nearly enough violence.
In the latest instance, at a rally in St. Louis on Friday, Trump complained about the overly gentle treatment of protesters being dragged from a theater and things got ugly outside, as his supporters faced off with protesters.
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 11, 2016
Trump informs crowd he is currently fantasizing about doing something to protesters, but "won't say what's on my mind." Crowd goes wild.
— Angelo Carusone (@GoAngelo) March 11, 2016
Battle lines drawn at Trump rally pic.twitter.com/Y9yRTnjOAm
— Trymaine Lee (@trymainelee) March 11, 2016
Bloodied at St. Louis Trump rally. pic.twitter.com/3O65vsktvS
— Trymaine Lee (@trymainelee) March 11, 2016
At a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Wednesday, during which a black protester being led out by the police was elbowed in the face by a Trump supporter, the candidate voiced his regret in words he has used again and again.
“See, in the good old days this doesn’t happen,” Trump told his fans, “because they used to treat them very, very rough. And when they protested once, you know, they would not do it again so easily. But today they walk in and they put their hand up and they put the wrong finger in the air at everybody and they get away with murder because we’ve become weak, we’ve become weak.”
Two weeks earlier in Oklahoma, after he had to wait for the ejection of a protester wearing a yellow star with the word “Mexican” written on it, and a shirt reading “KKK Endorses Trump,” he returned to the same theme.
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) February 27, 2016
“You see, in the good old days, law enforcement acted a lot quicker than this, a lot quicker,” he said. “In the good old days, they’d rip him out of that seat so fast. But today, everybody’s politically correct. Our country’s going to hell with being politically correct.” The police, he speculated, were “afraid to move” because of concerns that they could get sued and lose their jobs. “We are really becoming a frightened country and it’s very, very sad,” he added.
Four days before that, in Las Vegas, Trump was more direct about the kind of response he really wanted to see. After claiming, falsely, that a protester was ejected for “throwing punches,” Trump lamented: “We’re not allowed to punch back anymore. I love the old days — you know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”
“I’d like to punch him in the face, I tell ya,” he added.
Given that Trump never tires of telling us that there was a golden era when protesters in America knew their place — or were too terrified to speak up — the question of when, exactly, these good old days began and ended has become the subject of speculation.
I always knew Donald Trump's supports wanted to go back to the "good old days." Who knew those days were Altamont?. #DonaldTrump
— Jason Elias (@Zebop) November 22, 2015
Readers are invited to share their own guesses, but since it is common for conservatives to harken back to simpler days when they were children — and Trump has been complaining that America has gone soft since at least 1987 — the smart money is on sometime early in his youth.
Could Trump, who was born in 1946, be thinking of his teenage years, when the police were notoriously quick to resort to violence against peaceful black men, women, and children marching for civil rights?
"There used to be consequences" for protestors… pic.twitter.com/v3MkxM0dgB
— @firstname.lastname@example.org (@normative) March 11, 2016
Or perhaps he’d like to return us to the year he graduated from Wharton, 1968, when protesters at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago were battered by the police on national television?
Given Trump’s obvious fondness for the presidency of Richard Nixon, though — the posters evoking “the silent majority” of Americans who support him, the decades of advice from dirty trickster Roger Stone — my own guess is that he might be harking back to a moment in early 1970, when dozens of antiwar protesters in Trump’s own city did indeed require stretchers, after being attacked and beaten by construction workers loyal to Nixon.
The incident, which became known as “the hard-hat riot,” took place in May 1970, when a student demonstration against the killing of four protesters at Kent State University in Ohio by members of the National Guard was broken up with extreme violence by union members from nearby construction sites.
Helmeted construction workers broke up a student antiwar demonstration in Wall Street yesterday, chasing youths through the canyons of the financial district in a wild noontime melee that left about 70 persons injured.
The workers then stormed City Hall, cowing policemen and forcing officials to raise the American flag to full staff from half staff, where it had been placed in mourning for the four students killed at Kent State University on Monday.
At nearby Pace College a group of construction workers who said they had been pelted with missiles by students from the roof, twice invaded a building, smashing windows with clubs and crowbars and beating up students.
The Times also reported that one of the construction workers, “who said he wished to remain anonymous for fear of his life,” said the attack on the anti-Nixon protesters was not spontaneous but had been organized by their employers and union leaders, who even arranged for the workers to be paid a bonus if they agreed to “break some heads.”
Nixon, who would go on to encourage Donald Trump to run for office, later gave tacit blessing to the attack on the protesters, by inviting the leaders of New York’s construction unions to the White House to thank them for their support.