Jonathan Chait, writing for New York Magazine, has an apt description of what we are witnessing from Donald Trump in the final hours before tomorrow’s midterm elections.
At a weekend rally, President Trump launched a riff that, even by the feverish standards of his closing campaign argument, stands out for its brutal authoritarian overtones. The president mocked Antifa demonstrators: “You see these little arms, these little arms,” he shouted, forming his fingers into tiny circles to illustrate their puny biceps. And then he invited his supporters to imagine these weaklings having to fight against Trump’s own militant cadres. “Where are the Bikers for Trump? Where are the police? Where are the military? Where are — ICE? Where are the border patrol? No,” he continued, lamenting the restraint his sentries have displayed, “we’ve taken a lot, we’ve taken a lot.”
As Chait explains, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this is a political rally, at least for the “official” purpose of encouraging his supporters to vote for Republicans.
But these are not the words of a political rally. They are the words of a would-be dictator directly expressing support for acts of violence by one portion of the American population against another, and equating his opponents with “weaklings.”
By raising the phony spectre of “Antifa,” a tiny group of anti-fascist activists with little, if any, legitimate connection or relationship to either Democratic voters or Democratic organizations, Trump is indoctrinating his supporters that they and they alone are on the side of “right”—and “might.” The “police,” the “military,” “ICE,” and leather-clad “Bikers for Trump” are the armed enforcers of that new order. Any resistance to his policies is equated with the weak “Antifa,” his scapegoat, and must be met with the “strength” of those forces he considers allied with his cause. He wants his followers to internalize and accept that.
And judging from their reaction, they do:
Trump is tantalizing his supporters with the prospect of bloodshed. Their side has been set upon, and yet despite all their strength, he imagines some form of excessive restraint has held them back from administering to their tormentors the beating they so clearly deserve. He is wafting into the air the scent of blood.
As Chait points out, this is simply the latest in a string of attacks on the press, and on Democrats, as “enemies” who are both violent and illegitimate. It is a theme that has previously been taken up by Trump and other Republicans as well, in their portrayal of Democrats as a “mob.”
Chait believes that the media’s singular failure in assessing the threat posed by Trump is the failure to accept the fact that he wants violence; that violence—or the potential for violence– is not an “unintended consequence” of his rhetoric but is in fact very much the intent, and that he wields the threat of violence as a deliberate weapon.
His response to the attempted pipe-bombings, as well as the the Tree of Life synagogue murders, was to blame the media’s criticism of him for the violence. As nonsensical as that sounds, it is clear from speeches this weekend that he believes that if the media continues to criticize him, then any violence that ensues will be wholly justified. When asked if he ever considered that violence could result from his rhetoric about the press and about Democrats, his response was that this was the only “way he could fight back.”
This is exactly how fascists justify inciting their followers to violence, by portraying it as something justified:
…reporters seem to think that Trump will tone down by rhetoric if he can be made to understand that it is goading his supporters to violence.
It’s not that he doesn’t understand. Trump understands the connection between incitement and response perfectly well. It’s not even that he doesn’t care. Trump calculates that the threat of bombs and bullets will force reporters to bend the knee. This is what he means by “fighting back.”
This monster is on every ballot in tomorrow’s election, even if his name can’t be found there.
He has to be stopped. Here. Now.