Legitimizing Violence is Not Acceptable
Donald Trump’s temperament leaves much to be desired. He’s erratic and prone to bizarre outburts that leave him screaming at the television or blowing smoke on Twitter. But unlike a regular old goon tweeting demented sentiments, Trump is (somehow) the President of the United States, so his actions have meaning and many look to him as a signal of moral authority. The actions and endorsements of the leader of the free world carry weight.
So when Trump retweets images or memes of violence against his political opposition, the norms of democracy fall. Political violence has no place in a dignified, liberal democracy. That means not encouraging rally-goers to assault protesters; no encouraging “Second Amendment people” to rid the nation of an alleged threat to it; no driving through protesters in your car (or urging others to do so); and not glorifying those who wantonly punch Nazis, much as they may deserve it.
Trump Sees a Violent, Hobbesian Struggle
But Trump doesn’t see it that way. He doesn’t view politics through norms of civility — he likens the political world to a Hobbesian struggle of survival wherein (political) conflict becomes the norm until a Leviathan arises and asserts total dominance. So naturally Trump enjoys images of him wresting to the ground the so-called “fake news media” or him hitting a golf ball and knocking out Hillary Clinton.
That’s not acceptable. Humans may tend towards violence, but we rightly hold elected leaders to a higher standard, one in which reasoned and dispassionate discourse guide political decision making and hopefully trickles down to the laypeople — the voters — as they see logic, empiricism, and refined values trump the primal nature of ignorance.
Seeing a president so openly embrace violent imagery — having a president descend to the demos and turn legislative conflict into a more physical form — normalizes such actions. It riles up a base eager to cultivate some sort of enemy readily used a foil for Trump, for a foil of American greatness. And, while not to many, but to enough, seeing the president’s approval of such action — feeling a call to perceived greatness — they may actually act.
People Act When Violence Seems Accepted
Before you laugh such a happening off as ridiculous, remember that a deranged man who fell into the right-wing fever swamps came to so fervently believe the “pizzagate” conspiracy that he drove to the parlor, armed, and shot his gun in the restaurant, ready to kill anyone he thought at all connected to the fabrication.
Or see the left-wing loon who tried to massacre Republican members of Congress as they practiced for the congressional softball game.
Crazies exist and they on prejudice and emotion, especially when a revered leader signals acceptance for such action.
That’s why we can’t simply shrug off Trump’s Twitter antics. They have no place in a civilized and democratic society. Nothing the president does is a joke; his words can quickly devolve to stochastic terrorism.
All citizens — and especially all lawmakers — must condemn and do what they can to preserve what history has proved to be a system never more than a generation away from being flung into the throes of political violence and chaos.