Donald Trump’s many, many opponents have come forward in the last week to deplore all of the “violence” his words are giving rise to.
Candidates and their proxies are charging that Trump “bears responsibility for the culture [of his rallies] that is set from the top” (Ted Cruz); that the “seeds of division that Donald Trump has been sowing this whole campaign season finally bore fruit” (John Kasich); that Trump routinely spouts “hateful, divisive rhetoric that pits Americans against each other,” quite literally (Clinton backer Rahm Emanuel); that he “actually incites violence” (Clinton herself, and Sanders has said similar); that it’s getting “harder every day to justify” ever supporting the billionaire, even if you’re a Republican (Marco Rubio).
Let me make the sort of confession here that political commentators like to avoid: I don’t get it.
To be clear, I understand why folks find Trump distasteful, or at least some of the reasons why they do. He’s vulgar, insulting, confrontational. To the extent that he actually advocates policies, he stumps for some spectacularly wrongheaded ones. What I don’t get is the violence rap and why these particular opponents are trying to pin it to him, given their own records.
Has Trump stoked fear and anger? Undoubtedly. So have his opponents, in spades — against Wall Street, party elite, president and One Percent.
Has Trump taunted protesters and egged on his supporters in a way that makes clashes more likely? Sure, and that’s deplorable. And, yes, his campaign manager may have roughly handled a Breitbart writer and denied it.
Yet, some perspective: Trump rallies so far have been safer to go to than Rolling Stones concerts. There have been protests, but it’s hardly risen to the level of mass unrest. Trump claims he canceled one rally in Chicago precisely to avoid such a scene.
The reason I don’t understand the violence talking point is all of the other candidates still in the running for president, with the partial, gadfly exception of Bernie Sanders (though he really ought to ponder the violence implicit in leftist “revolutionary justice” and get back to us), are throwing rocks in glass bunkers. They have used their own words to help call forth violence, and we are not just talking fisticuffs between ralliers and protesters.
Rubio, Clinton, Cruz, and Kasich collectively have advocated and voted for bombings, drone killings, invasions, occupations, and proxy battles — all of which have toe tags and body bags attached. Sometimes, these things may be called for. But they are clearly violence.
War is violence: sometimes justified (as the war in Afghanistan definitely was), often not (Iraq). Trump admits this and occasionally revels in it. His opponents usually prefer euphemism — calling it “humanitarianism” or part of a noble “freedom agenda.”
In December, Trump was doing an interview on MSNBC. Asked about his honeyed words for Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Trump said, “At least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.” That shot coffee up Morning Joe’s nose, so Scarborough insisted Putin “kills journalists that don’t agree with him.” Trump shrugged and said, “I think our country does plenty of killings, also, Joe.”
Confusion over Trump’s remarks was cleared up on the program mere moments later (Scarborough: “You obviously condemn Vladimir Putin killing journalists and political opponents, right?” Trump: “Oh sure, absolutely”), but questions lingered over outraged social media.
Continued confusion prompted the billionaire to make the best clarifications in the history of clarifications. “I hate some of these people. I hate ’em,” Trump said of journalists at Michigan rally days later. However, “I would never kill them. I would never do that.”
Maybe Trump’s opponents in both parties have a point when they deplore his unpolished words as dangerous. But bear in mind their own words have caused actual violence to the peace of nations through endless wars “on terror” or “for democracy” or whatever we’re calling them these days.
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