Protesters slandered

From the November-December 2018 issue of News & Letters

Just before the final confirmation vote elevating Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put out messages that slandered the act of protest itself. In comparing nomination supporters to opponents, Trump tweeted, “a beautiful thing to see—and they are not paid professional protesters who are handed expensive signs.”

When McConnell addressed the Senate on Oct. 5, he criticized a Senator who had opposed Kavanaugh mere hours after he was nominated in early July. “His audience: crowds of protesters still filling in the blanks on their picket signs.” Not only did McConnell’s comment contradict Trump’s, but it neglects to mention that there was already a list of possible nominees ever since the 2016 campaign season, all of them at least as right-wing as Kavanaugh.

After the vote count was assured, McConnell boastfully said of the protests, “they managed to deliver the only thing we hadn’t figured out how to do, which is get our side fired up.” Such a statement takes as a given the Trumpian logic that women rise up with narrow political goals. On the contrary, Tarana Burke started the “me too” movement in 2006, envisioning “empowerment through empathy.” When the moment evolved into #MeToo, neither its time-span nor goals were narrow.

Demonstration against Kavanaugh in Memphis, Tenn., on Oct. 7, 2018. Photo: Ama Ehrmann

CONFLATING PROTEST WITH VIOLENCE

Not content with maligning protesters as sellouts, prejudicial, or ineffective, McConnell tried to conflate protests with violence when on Oct. 8 he again took advantage of his increased media profile by calling a press conference in which he complained, “we were literally under assault” [by protesters].

A supposition that Left-leaning protesters are guilty of a propensity toward violence is a mainstay of Republican messaging strategy, one not often challenged by media. On Oct. 7, Maria Haberfeld, a professor of Police Science at John Jay College, was invited on the NPR program All Things Considered to talk about a recent FBI report which found a slight uptick in premeditated attacks on police. In the midst of making a point, she describes a hypothetical situation involving Kavanaugh protests:

“Let’s take yesterday’s events…on the steps of the Supreme Court. You’re seeing police officers pushing back the demonstrators. So somebody looking at police officers identifies them as part of the establishment, as part of the government that they are demonstrating against. So it doesn’t take much to take your anger out on police officers because you cannot take your anger out on a given politician.”

Haberfeld did not cite any incident like the one she describes, and NPR neglected to mention that no such incident occurred on that day.

—Buddy Bell

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