The President of the United States is Inciting Violence and People are Dying

Donald Trump actively pushed the rhetoric that inspired both the shooting in Pittsburgh and the series of attempted assassinations against high-profile Democrats and journalists. In the wake of those attacks, he doesn’t seem to have any intention of stopping.

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A few weeks ago, the nation was less than shocked by a slew of acts of political violence both indicating and resulting from an atmosphere of hostility, violence, and paranoia that President Trump has stoked repeatedly.

A man to whom I will refer to as Jeff Smith* attempted to assassinate some of Trump’s most notable targets. Though several of Trump’s media allies, including commentator and convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza (whom Trump pardoned in May 2018) and Fox Business commentator Lou Dobbs, claimed that the bombs were false flags sent by Democrats―a hypothesis that Trump himself seemed to suggest in a tweet shortly before Smith’s arrest―it became extremely clear after Smith’s arrest that they were no such thing. Smith left an extensive pro-Trump footprint on social media and drove and lived in a van covered in stickers emblazoned with such unambiguous messages as “MY PRESIDENT...It Was A 306-Tsunami [sic]” (a reference to Trump’s electoral college margin, which ranks in the 23rd percentile of electoral college margins) and “CNN SUCKS.” Smith was systematically and deliberately trying to kill those he believed were a threat to Donald Trump and was doing so out of support for Trump.

In the interest of giving credit where it’s due, I should note that Trump decried the attempted bombings, saying: “[A]ny acts or threats of political violence are an attack on our democracy itself. No nation can succeed that tolerates violence or the threat of violence as a method of political intimidation, coercion, or control. We all know that. Such conduct must be fiercely opposed and firmly prosecuted. We want all sides to come together in peace and harmony. We can do it. We can do it. We can do it. It will happen.” But that’s where the due credit ends.

After a week during which a deranged supporter of his tried to assassinate 12 of his critics and a news network, Trump, rather than taking some time for introspection, went straight back to the rhetoric that had inspired Smith in the first place. Mere hours after Smith’s arrest, he was at a rally chanting “Lock her up.” This was a reference to Hillary Clinton, of whom multiple FBI investigations have found no grounds for prosecution. He even decided to take the stance that the anger that had motivated Smith, despite clearly being directly inspired by Trump, was actually the media’s fault, an astonishing but unsurprising case of victim-blaming.

Frankly, even if Trump were right about the news media and Democrats (he’s not), his behavior in response to the attacks was unacceptable and dangerous. Any Trump supporters with feelings similar to Smith’s came out of the debacle more emboldened and more likely to commit further violence. We now know for certain that there are people out there who hear the President call Democrats and the news media “the enemy of the people” and decide that they ought to take violent action against their enemy. Trump’s response to the confirmation of this (pretty obvious) fact was to continue his rhetorical assault on the news media. More of Trump’s critics will be targeted, and we may not be so lucky as to have their targeter be an incompetent bombmaker next time. And if people die because of Trump’s espousal of rhetoric well-established to be inflammatory, it will be his fault.

But we need not speak about the violent threat that Trump’s rhetoric poses in hypotheticals. The day after Smith’s arrest, 11 people were shot dead at the Tree Of Life―Or L’Simchah (“light of happiness”) Congregation in Pittsburgh. When information about the shooter, to whom I will refer to as Arthur Brown, started to come out, Trump’s defenders were quick to point out that he was no fan of Trump, and he frequently posted anti-Trump memes on social media. What these defenders failed to point out was why Brown hated Trump. It wasn’t that he particularly disliked Trump’s rhetoric or public persona―quite the opposite. In fact, Brown described Trump’s persona as being “a good, strong white leader.” What he didn’t like about Trump’s rhetoric wasn’t the content itself, but the fact that he thought it wasn’t genuine―he thought that Trump had been assigned his role by the Jews.

In fact, Brown was directly inspired to commit his atrocity by a conspiracy theory that Trump has been pushing over the past several weeks: Jews, notably George Soros, have been funding the migrant caravan coming from South and Central America in an attempt to destroy American society. This is the latest in a long history of “the Jews want to destroy the White race” mania, and now, it has killed 11 people.

Those who wish to depoliticize explicitly political violence have tried to argue that this isn’t a political issue but a mental health issue: crazy people are going to do crazy things, regardless of politics, these people argue. But every country has mental illness. When a society has an unusual amount of violence, this is indicative of something about the society. And the recent uptick in political violence is a result of an environment in which extremism is tolerated and violence encouraged.

That Trump has contributed quite a bit to this environment is nothing new. During his presidential campaign, he repeatedly encouraged rally-goers to assault protesters. In March 2016, The New York Times compiled some of Trump’s greatest hits, ranging from the nostalgic (“In the good old days [protesting] doesn’t happen because they used to treat them very, very rough, and when they protested once...they would not do it again so easily”) to the lamentatious (“Part of the problem is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore”) to the explicitly encouraging (“Knock the crap out of them...I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees”).

Trump seems to have a nostalgia for 1968, when Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were shot and the country was engulfed by riots. He has repeatedly encouraged and, as usually happens when the President encourages something, inspired violence. People are dying and will continue to die unless he changes his violent tune, something he seems to have no intention of doing.

The correct response to this is not to respond in kind. Recently, I saw someone on Facebook say that Trump “needs a pipe bomb.” That is wrong and dangerous. But it is imperative that we recognize what Trump is doing and resist.

The best way to resist? Firstly, talk. Don’t be someone who “doesn’t really talk about politics.” We can’t afford that. Secondly, because I’m writing for a high school periodical, you probably can’t vote, so volunteer instead. Knock on doors. By the time this article is printed, the midterms will have come and gone. But there will still be special elections, and, perhaps most importantly, there will be the 2020 presidential election, which will act as a referendum on Trump even more than the midterms. It is likely that the Democratic nominee will not be your ideal candidate. That doesn’t matter. Even if you believe the candidate to be corrupt and in the pocket of Big Pharma or what have you, that’s still preferable to a man whose rhetoric is killing people.

And, if you’re an adult or a recent graduate reading this, vote. Please. As someone who has no voice at the polls, I need you. You have a tremendous power. Please use it.

*I will not use the actual names of terrorists who have been apprehended by authorities. Terrorists want their names published in the media. It gives them glory and martyrdom.