Here we are once again … the closer we get to November’s mid-term election, the greater the threats of violence across the nation. When violence is incited, directly or indirectly, by people who have a larger-than-life voice, it is particularly harmful, as Dan Rather points out in his latest newsletter …
The Threat of Violence
“The rhetoric is the candidate”
4 October 2022
As many of you probably know, Donald Trump recently issued a threat of violence against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, along with a racist attack on his wife, Elaine Chao, who served in Trump’s Cabinet. Of McConnell, Trump said, “He has a DEATH WISH” (emphasis Trump’s), and he referred to Chao as “Coco Chow.”
If you had expected Republican politicians to rally in disgust around some version of “this finally crosses a line,” you would be disappointed. But I imagine few of you expected anything of the sort.
The spinelessness of Republican officials should not excuse the fact that Trump is once again wading into very dangerous waters, especially when you consider the fervor (and the arsenals) of many of his supporters. Although “wading” is not the most accurate verb for his behavior. Trump is not a mere passerby, and he is never tentative. He is an expert at roiling, stoking, and destroying the equilibriums of our democracy with his incendiary rhetoric.
This latest episode had me thinking back a few years to another moment that eerily forbode the present. This was well before the violent insurrection of January 6, before Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” even before “very fine people on both sides.”
The date was August 9, 2016, and Trump was leading a campaign rally in Wilmington, North Carolina. He had the crowd in a frenzy with his usual attack lines against Hillary Clinton. And then he went somewhere so outrageous that it sent out shockwaves — which is notable considering that by this point, much of his daily bile had already been normalized.
“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” he said. The crowd booed. Trump, sensing a moment, then added, “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”
The insinuation was clear, and it is worth remembering what it exposed at that moment, before Trump ascended to the presidency and everything else that followed. So I thought it might be of interest to reshare what I posted on Facebook in the hours after that statement. Sometimes it is important to look back and remember what was said at the time.
No journalist trying to be objective and fair, no citizen who cares about the country and its future can ignore what Donald Trump said today. When he suggested that “The Second Amendment people” can stop Hillary Clinton, he crossed a line with dangerous potential. By any objective analysis, this is a new low and unprecedented in the history of American presidential politics. This is no longer about policy, civility, decency, or even temperament. This is a direct threat of violence against a political rival. It is not just against the norms of American politics, but it raises a serious question of whether it is against the law. If any other citizen had said this about a presidential candidate, would the Secret Service be investigating?
Candidate Trump will undoubtedly issue an explanation; some of his surrogates are already engaged in trying to gloss over it, but once the words are out there, they cannot be taken back. That is what inciting violence means.
To anyone who still pretends this is a normal election of Republican against Democrat, history is watching. And I suspect its verdict will be harsh. Many have tried to do a side-shuffle and issue statements saying they strongly disagree with his rhetoric but still support the candidate. That is becoming woefully insufficient. The rhetoric is the candidate.
This cannot be treated as just another outrageous moment in the campaign. We will see whether major newscasts explain how grave and unprecedented this is and whether the headlines in tomorrow’s newspapers do it justice. We will soon know whether anyone who has publicly supported Trump explains how they can continue to do so.
We are a democratic republic governed by the rule of law. We are an honest, fair, and decent people. In trying to come to terms with today’s discouraging development, the best I can do is to summon our greatest political poet, Abraham Lincoln, for perspective:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Lincoln used these stirring words to end his First Inaugural Address. It was the eve of the Civil War, and sadly his call for sanity, cohesion, and peace was met with horrific violence that almost left our precious Union asunder. We cannot, must not let that happen again.
What the Trump presidency would become was apparent long before the election. All the instances like the one above that should have immediately disqualified him from that office were ultimately folded into permissiveness by far too many people. We should strive to always remember and never become inured to this.
Before Trump, it was unfathomable that a presidential candidate would speak and act with even a fraction of his recklessness and divisive appeal to anger and violence. But now, sadly, we are long past having the ability to imagine this atrociousness. We can see the corrosive effects he and his enablers have wrought on this country.
Threats of violence must be condemned, in no small part because threats can become real. Just look at January 6.