Anger and frustration have been the underbelly of the 2016 presidential campaign since its start last spring. Now those twin emotions are front and center, exploding in violence that is both horrifying and predictable.
What is happening here?
In a name, Donald J. Trump. These incidents of violence are occurring only at his rallies, and his divisive rhetoric has encouraged supporters and inflamed opponents. You cannot sow seeds of hate and expect them not to bear fruit.
There is fault on all sides. While some Trump protesters have been peaceful and silent, others have been noisy and disruptive and succeeded in forcing the cancellation of a rally in Chicago. Being angry does not give them the right to stop someone they disagree with from exercising his or her constitutional right to free speech. Still, some Trump supporters have hit, cursed, manhandled and, in one case, sucker-punched a protester being led out of a North Carolina rally by security.
But it all begins with Trump. He shrewdly has tapped into the economic hardship and resentment gripping parts of this country. But his vitriol pits victims against one another. Trump has disparaged whole groups of people, and that air of intolerance has been embraced by some protesters who now seek to shut him down.
One man leaped a barricade Saturday in Ohio but was tackled before he reached the Manhattan billionaire. In Kansas City, Trump was repeatedly interrupted by protesters while police outside used pepper spray to control other demonstrators. The near-mayhem that unfolded Friday on national television in Chicago was scary, unnerving and eerily recalled the violence at the Democratic National Convention in that city in 1968.
But Trump created this brew of belligerence and confrontation by acting more like George Wallace, who that year ran as a third-party populist with the same undertones of racial resentment. Trump’s fans thrill to his repeated exhortations at campaign rallies to “get him outta here” and his public longing to punch one demonstrator in the face. They revel in his fond memory of protesters being taken out on stretchers in “the good ol’ days.” Each is a dog whistle, and his supporters get the message.
This has to stop. Those who disagree with Trump must protest respectfully and not disrupt. Trump’s supporters must respect their opponents’ right to present an opposing view. And Trump needs to start acting like the leader he says he will be. He must understand his words are leading this nation into a deep well of discord that is turning into hatred.
His response so far is appalling. He continues to drive the wedge deeper by saying those opposed to him do not love this country, when most are acting out of fear for what this country might become under Trump. And he says he does not condone violence — a difficult claim when he admits he would pay the legal fees of the man arrested for sucker-punching the North Carolina protester.
Trump says he is merely a messenger for the nation’s anger. But he vastly understates his role. His campaign fuels that anger. If he doesn’t change his ways, it might careen out of control. — The editorial board