Rethinking TrumpPosted: March 14, 2016
I wrote just a few days ago that Trump was a lot like the rest of the Republican party, and more moderate if anything on certain policy issues, and that we should be cognizant of this rather than solely emphasize his choice of rhetoric. I said this because I worried this focus on rhetoric would make his party competitors seem less crazy when they held equally destructive policy beliefs.
However, over the last few days, my thinking has changed based on recent events. The other presidential candidates in his party, like other leaders in the party from the past, are largely responsible for the terrible turn of events. By claiming repeatedly that their country was being taken in apocalyptic terms; by portraying every election as a matter of spiritual life or death; by claiming Obama was purposefully trying to ruin the country; and by using racism subtly and not so subtly, they have created this current monster and his followers. But at this point, the only candidate who has advocated for violence is Trump, and that has me rethinking my classification of him as the least bad option from the party.
Policy choices are meaningful, and they can ultimately impact real lives in small and large ways. But someone who incites and advocates violence and who aspires to hold the highest office in the country, leading the executive branch and all its limbs, would be decidedly destructive and dangerous in ways I have trouble thinking about. So I was wrong about Trump: rhetoric does matter.
I guess this started at a Trump rally when John McGraw, a 78 year-old man, punched a protester as he was being escorted out. The protester was held back and wrestled to the ground by police officers. Afterwards, when video came to light, McGraw was arrested. In an interview, McGraw stated:
Number one, we don’t know if he’s ISIS. We don’t know who he is, but we know he’s not acting like an American, cussing me… If he wants it laid out, I laid it out. [. . .] Yes, he deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don’t know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization.
I hesitate to associate a single man with Trump. But throughout the campaign, Trump has expressed support for exactly this kind of thing:
“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you?” Trump said, drawing cheers and laughter. “Seriously, OK? Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. I promise. They won’t be so much, because the courts agree with us too — what’s going on in this country.”
I thought it was a dumb thing, more talk to whip up support among his followers, but nothing to be taken very seriously. Just Trump being Trump. I was wrong.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Trump was asked whether he would pay McGraw’s legal fees, as he once offered to do for supporters who rough up protesters.
“I’ve actually instructed my people to look into it, yes,” Trump responded.
There’s really nothing more to say. What I worry about is the other Republicans. They have stated that they don’t like what’s being done, but that they would support the nominee, whoever he is. They have to change their minds fast if they care even the slightest about, I don’t know, democracy and civic discourse. But maybe that’s not likely. Josh Barro writes about Rubio powerfully:
[Republicans] have spent seven years running around the country, accusing the president of being a fifth columnist hell bent on destroying our country. If Obama’s America were as bad as people like Rubio say it is, the civil unrest fomented by Trump would be justified.
Now the Republicans who fed this narrative are watching in apparent horror as they see voters have taken them all too seriously.
Rubio says the idea of supporting Trump as the nominee is “getting harder every day.” [. . .] “I think we all need to take a step back and ask whether we’re contributing to this,” Rubio said Saturday about the unrest. He should start with himself.