In the immediate aftermath of the discovery of bombs targeted at Democratic political leaders, media outlets and personalities critical of Donald Trump, I found myself thinking about that old rhyme, “…sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never hurt you…” Well, it turns out that was a lie; names and words do hurt.
Trump’s immediate reply to the discovery of the bombs was to call for unity and then, once again, attack the media, as if the media is the source of the growing political tension. Yet what was missing was any acknowledgement of the impact of his own words. Take, for instance, his support of a Republican Congressman—Greg Gianforte—who assaulted a journalist. To praise such a person, even if Trump was joking (and I have no reason to believe that he was joking) sends a message that physical assault is permissible. Or, consider what took place last year in Charlottesville with the march of the neofascists. When Trump condemned both sides equally, failing to acknowledge that it was the neofascists who not only provoked violence but killed a demonstrator, he was sending a dangerous signal.
It is not a giant step between approving physical assault and members of his base believing that it is permissible to up the ante and plant bombs.
I hasten to add that as soon as the bombs were discovered, many Trump supporters jumped forward describing this as a “false flag” operation, i.e., something made to look as if it originated from the political Right but actually came from the Left. This has been the response of the political Right generally when right-wing terrorist plots or actions have been discovered. What we do know is that since 11 September 2001, the preponderance of terrorist actions in the USA have originated among right-wingers (rather than jihadists), so the likelihood is that the actions did arise from the Right.
So, not only do we now know that the alleged bomber was a Trump supporter but that this attempt at mass assassination has coincided with the murder of two African Americans in Kentucky and the massacre of Jewish worshipers in Pittsburgh. Trump’s language has encouraged an obnoxious, offensive and dangerous behavior among his supporters, a behavior which he has either failed to condemn, explained away or minimized. His behavior and language have encouraged the open use of racist and sexist rhetoric; it has encouraged the mocking of the disabled; it has encouraged assaults and harassment of various racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, not to mention the harassment and vilification of women. And even when he chooses to condemn any action taken by a domestic terrorist, his words ring hollow, as former President Obama noted last week.
So, let’s be clear that this is not a moment to ignore the words of demagogues. This is not a moment to question the thinking of President Trump or his intent. His intent is obvious insofar as he lays the groundwork for his followers to go forth and engage in a range of actions that have no place in a society that calls itself democratic. This is a moment to challenge the words of a demagogue and the actions of his followers directly and create an environment in which racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and religious bigotry is never tolerated. There is no middle ground on this.