Trumpism Sucker-Punches America

HICKORY, NC - MARCH 14: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump exits the stage during a campaign rally at Lenoir-Rhyn
HICKORY, NC - MARCH 14: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump exits the stage during a campaign rally at Lenoir-Rhyne University March 14, 2016 in Hickory, North Carolina. The North Carolina Republican primary will be held March 15. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

This is Donald Trump's America. What happened in Fayettesville, NC, Wednesday evening exemplifies the danger to our democracy that is Trumpism. Rakeem Jones, who is African-American, attended a Trump rally with what he described as a "diverse" bunch of friends -- a gay man, a Muslim, and a white woman. According to Ronnie G. Rouse, one of the members of Jones' group, a Trump supporter targeted them and yelled, "You need to get the f*ck out of there!" Within seconds, eight officers emerged and began escorting the group out.

On the way out, Jones raised his middle fingers to the crowd. Not exactly his finest hour, to be sure, but a non-violent act of protest nonetheless. Then he got sucker-punched. By a white man with a ponytail wearing a cowboy hat. Oh, and do you want to guess which of the men got tackled and, according to the Washington Post, handcuffed?

To repeat: The cops on the scene appear to have done absolutely nothing to the only person who actually committed a crime. (John McGraw was arrested and charged with assault as well as battery and disorderly conduct on Thursday, after video of his attack went viral). The only one they laid their hands on was Mr. Jones. As important as that is, the real focus here is Donald Trump. As Shaun King put it:

This is Trump's fault... in Donald Trump's America, white violence against black bodies is being openly encouraged again.

Trump's response to the sucker-punch incident came from campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks: "That has nothing to do with us." Right. Nothing at all.

This is not the first time a Trump rally has seen violence. And it's not happening in spite of Trump. He's been encouraging it. The examples abound. In November, a man stood up at a Trump rally in Atlanta and began chanting "Black lives matter." Trump supporters hurled racial epithets while beating him with their hands and feet. Trump's response: "Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing."

After a protester was thrown out of a Las Vegas Trump event, the candidate offered: "I'd like to punch him in the face, I tell ya," and added: "You know what I hate? There's a guy, totally disruptive, throwing punches [NOTE: he hadn't punched anyone according to what reporters found], we're not allowed to punch back anymore. I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They'd be carried out on a stretcher." Of a New Hampshire rally that witnessed violence between supporters and protesters, Trump reflected: "It was really amazing to watch." After protesters interrupted him in Michigan, he issued this command: "Get him out. Try not to hurt him. If you do I'll defend you in court."

Going back to last summer, after Black Lives Matter activists took over a Bernie Sanders event in Seattle, Trump explained how such an attempt would play out at one of his rallies: "That will never happen with me! I don't know if I'll do the fighting myself or other people will, but that was a disgrace."

In addition to the hateful rhetoric he's been spewing about Mexican immigrants and Muslims, Trump's calculated statements condoning and even advocating violence make clear what Trumpism really represents: Fascism. And, as Peter Beinart pointed out, when Trump says he "loves the old days," he's clearly thinking of George Wallace, whose rallies often featured the candidate encouraging and even threatening violence against those who opposed him. Think of the parallel between what Trump said he'd have done in response to the BLM/Sanders disruption in Seattle and the language Wallace used in 1968:

And when [President Lyndon Johnson] was in California, a group of anarchists lay down in front of his automobile, and threatened his personal safety, the president of the United States! Well, I want to tell you that if you elect me the president and I go to California or I come to Arkansas and some of them lie down in front of my automobile, it will be the last one they'll ever want to lie down in front of.

One week before Rakeem Jones was sucker-punched, Mitt Romney offered a wide-ranging condemnation of Donald Trump, and specifically mentioned the matters under discussion here. That is to Mr. Romney's credit. The Republican Party collectively -- and Messrs. Cruz, Rubio and Kasich specifically -- need to do much more.

To their shame, each of them pledged one week ago to support Trump should he become the Republican nominee. Furthermore, each of them -- when specifically asked about it in Thursday night's debate -- refused to either criticize Trump for encouraging violence or call out his supporters for perpetrating it against non-violent protesters. Yes, there were political considerations. Who cares? How about considering the future of American democracy? None of them were willing to stand up for that in a debate watched by 12 million.

Finally, after even worse violence at Trump events on Friday in St. Louis and Chicago, Cruz did call out Trump on his rhetoric -- although he couldn't resist attacking President Obama as well, characterizing the president as another politician who divides Americans by race and class. On Meet The Press Sunday morning, Cruz again criticized both Obama and Trump for being divisive. When Chuck Todd asked Cruz whether what Trump has been doing is worse, his reply was: "To be honest, I think it's very much the same." Likewise, Rubio on Friday criticized both Trump and Obama along similar lines. Kasich at least appears to have limited himself to blaming Trump for what happens at Trump rallies.

Regarding Chicago, where a Trump rally was cancelled after numerous violent clashes broke out, Rachel Maddow persuasively argued that the Trump campaign "created this event. They created the dynamic of violence between their own supporters and protesters. They set this thing up ... put it in motion ... It's their own creation, their own deliberate creation." Maddow added: "trying to gin up political violence for its electoral utility is inarguably what we are seeing here." If that sounds conspiratorial, consider that Trump said to Chris Matthews on Friday evening that two "experts" told him that "this increases the vote for Trump."

As for Trump himself, when confronted on Thursday with his own violent words by debate moderator Jake Tapper the first words out of his mouth blamed the victims: "We have some protesters who are bad dudes, they have done bad things." No one has presented evidence of a protester initiating violence at a Trump rally to that point, but why would he suddenly start allowing truth to get in his way? Then he transitioned to: "And, by the way, speaking of the police, we should pay our respects to the police because they are taking tremendous abuse in this country and they do a phenomenal job." As smooth-talking demagogues go, this guy makes George Wallace look like a piker.

When it comes to the Trump campaign, violence is not a bug, it is a feature embedded into its core. Violent rhetoric is central to his message, to his pitch that he's a take-charge guy who'll make things right -- in addition to "great" -- in America again. As Beinart wrote, he has "turn[ed] his treatment of the activists who seek to disrupt his events into a parable for how he would restore order in society at large." Donald Trump bears responsibility for bringing violence into this year's presidential election process. This didn't happen by accident. He did it on purpose. He is a fascist.

Finally, if all this wasn't enough to convince you, Trump went full fascist early Sunday morning when he all but commanded his supporters to go and disrupt the campaign events of Bernie Sanders -- whom he baselessly accused of being behind the protests at Trump events. Encouraging chaos and violence at his own events is bad enough. Trying to thwart other campaigns in this way, trying to thwart the democratic process itself, well, that's Fascism 101.

If Trump is the nominee of the party whose own extremism and indulgence of hate birthed him in the first place, the stakes this November will be higher than in any election since 1964, or perhaps 1932. Maybe even 1860. Trumpism is simply not compatible with democracy. A President Trump would turn our country into a place where violence becomes a tool used by the government in order to maintain authority, just as it was, to cite the most egregious example, during the era of Jim Crow.

We must not let that happen.

Cross-posted at Daily Kos. Links are at the original.