What kind of leader incites violence for the sake of applause?
What kind of leader publicly invites the assassination of his rival?
What kind of leader actually enjoys fomenting hatred between citizens?
What kind of leader intentionally creates a civil war within his own country?
What kind of leader is Donald J. Trump, anyhow?
He is leading America toward a rash of violence against public figures, that’s what kind of leader he is. If he continues to goad and taunt and mock, something is going to blow. His words create volcanic feelings in both his followers and those who are appalled by him:
- “Part of the problem is no one wants to hurt each other anymore.”
- “Knock the crap out him, would you? I promise you, I will pay your legal fees.”
- “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is—I don’t know.”
Assassinate Hillary Clinton? Did he really suggest that? Ask the person who just left a bomb in her mailbox. Why lock her up when you can blow her up.
Because Donald Trump is officially and legally the leader of the United States of America, some folks will choose to follow his lead–will choose to be led by him no matter what he says. Some will beat up journalists. Some will make death threats against critics or accusers. And it was inevitable that some weak-minded would-be patriot would take the next step and try to kill Hillary Clinton. Now that has happened, but the effort included the top ten on Trump’s enemies list. Only the failure of these devices to explode prevented the worst mass assassination in our history. But there is surely more to come.
The only question is which side will score the first actual assassination.
Because, tens of millions of people who are horrified by Donald Trump’s fascist tirades and heartless actions and incitement to violence are eager to stop him in his tracks, somehow. And to stop his minions in theirs, fed up with arrogant Republican toadies aping his goading and taunting and mocking. When a Mitch McConnell boasts of singlehandedly defying President Obama’s nomination of any Supreme Court judge, it could make someone crazy enough to do crazy things.
The name John T. Hodgkinson may not ring a bell, but only a year ago he shot up some Congressional Republicans playing softball. Now you remember, don’t you. They are alive only because Hodgkinson lost a gunfight with fast-acting D.C. police.
What kind of “leader” would play fast and loose with a people who proved the efficacy of gunplay by creating their country at gunpoint with “the shot heard ‘round the world” in 1776 and have kept themselves well-armed with hundreds of millions of guns ever since?
This country is a shooting gallery. Nearly 11,000 Americans killed other people with guns last year. (Did you get that? Let it sink in: Nearly 11,000 Americans killed other people with guns last year.) In our non-stop internecine fusillade, we sometimes wound or kill political figures: Lincoln, JFK, RFK, Reagan and more than a dozen members of Congress. And Timothy McVeigh showed us that we don’t even need guns—just a truck full of fertilizer and a fuse killed 168 federal employees. But it doesn’t take a truckload. The Clintons and the Obamas and others Trump publicly names as enemies of America now know that a bomb will fit inside their mailbox.
We are a people prone to violence, as H. Rap Brown so chillingly reminded us: “Violence is a part of America’s culture. It is as American as cherry pie.”
Again, what kind of maniac would use his leadership position to stimulate violence within and among his own people? Fomenting fear and hatred are Donald Trump’s primary tools of the trade. Goading, taunting, mocking—all the actions known to push people over the edge.
We who remember the cataclysmic assassinations of the 1960s recognize with horror that he has brought America to what is called, chillingly, a trigger moment. Donald Trump has accomplished what he set out to do: make America hate again. And he thinks it’s a joke. At his rally the night the bombs were discovered, he mocked his own earlier statement (read from a Teleprompter) that decried violence and implied that he was all for unity. “By the way, do you see how nice I’m behaving tonight? Have you ever seen this? We’re all behaving very well!” Sick.
What might stop us from plunging into the next tragedy? Paradoxically, the league that Donald Trump hates and that stages the most violent (and most popular!) sport in our country is trying to address this. Consider the National Football League’s Rule Book, Section 3, Article 1, Act (c). It stipulates that, in the course of NFL players’ ferociously aggressive smashing into each other with impunity for sixty minutes each week, there is one thing they are forbidden to do: “Using baiting or taunting acts or words that engender ill will between teams.” One violation gets the offender a penalty and a fine. A second violation gets him thrown out of the game.
We can pray that it doesn’t take an assassination for Donald Trump to get a grip. But don’t count on it. All we can do is what we ourselves can do, which is to re-commit ourselves to understanding. That means to stand under. Not above. Not to look down, to shout down. It means to listen, to inquire, to respect. It means to presume that others’ positions make sense to them, even if not to us. Our task of understanding is to invite them to tell us how they came to their position. And then to seek a compromise where we meet as neighbors and fellow citizens in mutual support of the better angels of America’s nature.
Sadly, compromise is a word that has become tainted. We must uncover its noble origin: “com/promise” = “communal” + “promise”. Communal. Community. Us. We are the people referred to in “government of the people, for the people, by the people.” We must make promises together. And we must hold those in power to account for what they are doing to us. As the Kikuyu adage reminds us, When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.
From this day forward, we the people must see to it that no one is elected to power in this country unless they, too, seek first to understand and then to lead in ways that unite the people of the United States of America.
(I don’t know how to feel about the fact that I wrote the first draft of this about a month ago—the working title then was “Something’s Going to Blow”—long before last week’s bombing campaign. It must mean that whatever I was sensing was indeed “in the air” where others were also inhaling it. Some, like me, may have been shuddering in anticipation of the worst. Others, like Cesar Sayoc, sensed it was high time to do their duty to their President. Or, God forbid, are sensing they must stop this President at all costs. When anger and hatred and fear-mongering are that palpable, it is surely a call for all of us to throw ourselves unstintingly into the healing of our country in whatever constructive ways we can. It must be Job #1, or we’re pretty much done for.)