Last night I posted Augustana Democrat Spencer O’Hara’s report that members of the Augustana Republicans shouted “Build a wall” and “Lock her up” from their Viking Days parade float, along with some racist jibes at Democrats wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts.
Augustana Republicans chair Cara Beck has responded to O’Hara’s report with this defense of Trumpian language and this resort to another favorite Trump word—defamatory:
As the chairwoman of the Augustana Republicans, I think it is necessary for a statement on behalf of my organization. We intended to stay out of remarks which sought to ignite horrid political arguments on Facebook, but in light of outright false and untrue allegations, we cannot remain silent any longer.
This election has not been easy. And although it seems easy to cast a very large net over all members of one political party, it is simply naïve to assume everyone in one political party feels the same way. This year, we have a nominee who is by no means one hundred per cent accepted by all Republicans. He does not represent all factions and ideologies of all members of the Republican Party. It is a difficult year for many conservatives and liberals alike.
This weekend was the perfect opportunity for all groups at Augustana to voice their opinions and political support during the Viking Days Parade. In my four years on the Augustana College Republican float, we have vigorously chanted U-S-A, G-O-P and sang both patriotic songs and Augie songs at the tops of our lungs, demonstrating our unwavering support for the United States and our pride in being American and our pride in being students of Augustana University. By doing so, it does not suggest that other groups are un-American. This year, our candidate has advocated for stricter border control using the controversial “Build the Wall” slogan. Other slogans like “Lock Her Up” are also used to demonstrate support for Mr. Donald Trump. Because our float chanted it, it does not mean every single individual on our float is a Donald Trump supporter. The chants were not directed at any specific person, race, nationality, or organization. We chanted to demonstrate our support for Mr. Trump’s policies. We will not apologize for advocating for our political candidate by using policy views and slogans in which he created; nor will we apologize for invoking our First Amendment right to free speech, in which so many brave men and women have sacrificed their lives to protect. Being uncomfortable is not a reason to stifle a group from utilizing their constitutional rights to advocate their policy preferences.
Furthermore, there have been allegations that members of the Augustana Republicans float have engaged in “racial slurs” and “obscene gestures” towards members of the Black Lives Matter protest, which raised their clenched fists defiantly at us as our float concluded its route. These allegations are completely unfounded and categorically untrue. There is no evidence that members of our group EVER said anything so horrible or acted in a way that would have been disrespectful. There is a substantial difference between chanting “Build the Wall,” “All Lives Matter,” and “Lock Her Up” and partaking in racist remarks and actions. That being said, if we ever see any evidence indicating that members of the Augustana Republicans partook in any of these alleged slurs and gestures, reprimand will ensue. As the chairwoman of the Augustana Republicans, I absolutely do NOT condone any of the actions in which we have been accused of, and you can be sure that if there was any wrongdoing by any member of my organization, it will be dealt with swiftly. However, that is not the case. To outwardly accuse members of the Augustana Republicans of such actions without any kind of proof is defamatory and unacceptable [Cara Beck, Facebook post, Augustana Republicans page, 2016.10.16].
I agree that if the Augustana Republicans want to bear the moral stain of uttering the un-American language of Donald Trump, the First Amendment protects their right to do so, as surely as it protects the right of hippies to burn flags or Klansmen to heil Hitler or Black Lives Matter protestors to raise the classic clenched fists of the Black Power movement. O’Hara’s suggestion that the Augustana Republicans’ exercise in vile but free speech warrant formal punishment goes too far.
However, Beck’s response gets a little fuzzy in both intent and responsibility. Shouting “Build a wall!” and “Lock her up!” doesn’t make a real, practical policy statement. “Build a wall” is a crowd-pleasing fantasy that will not happen (at least not on Mexico’s dime). “Lock her up” is, at best, a complaint that responsible investigators can’t alchemize partisan invective into evidence that would support prosecution and, at worst, a grim cry for tyranny.
Beck also doesn’t quite understand that an official parade entry flying a club banner is no longer a loose collection of individuals. If one Augustana Republican pees off the side of the parade float, the public embarrassment trickles down to dampen all Augustana Republicans.
Beck does not distinguish Trumpists from non-Trumpists on the float. Neither would any parade-goer. Neither did O’Hara—he accused no individual and attributed the Trumpist language to the Augie GOPers as a group. And even if the Augustana Republicans want to bring a defamation suit, it will be interesting to hear them argue that one defames Republicans by attributing to them the words and demonstrated attitude of their Presidential nominee.
Related Reading: Charles M. Blow writes in today’s New York Times that Donald Trump is “The Worst of America.”