A Terrorizing Minority Must Not Be Normalized
Letting it happen is how authoritarianism takes root and democracy dies
We’re seeing it unfold in real time: Harassment and abuse at school board meetings, toward election officials, and directed at hospital workers. Good people who have dedicated their time and lives to education, democratic elections and keeping people alive—they are being paid back with verbal attacks, death threats and more. You know the thuggery is going to get worse because these combatants are still being fueled by Trump and other Trump-wannabe “leaders” who abandoned their responsibilities as public servants and are motivating citizens to emulate the hostility, cruelty and violence of their sociopathic models.
This trajectory need not be inevitable. But that means, by necessity, being tougher, not assuming good faith from this angry bunch which has been empowered to exploit weakness and employ violent intimidation to try and get what they want. They may not care, but this is still a democracy; there is still rule of law; and the majority does still expect basic decency in the public sphere.
You might not be witness to the violence in your daily dealings, but look around and you can see the ripple effects of this Trump-style bullying and grievance-filled hostility. Consider this sign as visitors enter a medical clinic, next to the receptionist, in an affluent neighborhood in Arizona: “Please show RESPECT and KINDNESS to patients and staff. We have a zero tolerance policy for aggressive behavior and violence.”
These days you might not notice it—or just gloss over it—but this is a sign of the times; and it’s important not to normalize this and accept that this is just the way it is. Getting people to accept violence and intimidation as a way of life in America—indeed as righteous duty—is how authoritarians degrade the public sphere and justify their power grab. “Fight like hell,” Trump told his mob before their death march to the Capitol.
It didn’t start there, of course. Let’s remember the climate of violence that Donald Trump fueled at his rallies, over and over and over. Remember November 2015 when a Black protestor shouted “Black lives matter,” and Trump barked, “Get him the hell out of here! Get him out of here! Throw him out!” The response? Trump supporters kicked and punched him.
And the next day on Fox News, Trump doubled down, blaming the protestor and justifying the response: “Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing. I have a lot of fans, and they were not happy about it. And this was a very obnoxious guy who was a troublemaker who was looking to make trouble.”
You also may remember a February 2016 rally in Iowa when Trump told the crowd, “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Just knock the hell out of them. I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise.”
At the risk of dragging us through the dark days of Trump’s violence, consider this summary from Hussein Ibish in his Atlantic article entitled, “When They Fantasize About Killing You, Believe Them.”
“Trump’s indulgence in violent rhetoric, threats, and fantasies has been amply documented. He urged his supporters to assault protesters, police to brutalize prisoners and shoot demonstrators, and soldiers on the border to shoot migrants. He frequently voiced his admiration for, and even envy of, the brutality of foreign despots. Trump used the bully pulpit to preach the gospel of bloodshed like no other American president in history.”
This is the man that 62,984,828 Americans voted to lead the country from the highest office. This is the man that aggrieved citizens and representatives alike continue to emulate, the man who fed them the violent talk of patriotism and relishes members of Congress who minimize or deny the deadly reality of January 6.
Remember the rhetoric of Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks at the rally before the deadly attack on the US Capitol: "Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass!" he shouted. "Our ancestors sacrificed their blood, their sweat, their tears, their fortunes and sometimes their lives...Are you willing to do the same?"
Recall the violence of Georgia’s Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, responding this summer to the Biden plan for health care workers to go door-to-door to encourage vaccinations. Southerners, she said, “love our Second Amendment rights, and we’re not real big on strangers showing up on our front door…they might not like the welcome they get.”
We can take solace in the fact that only a minority listens to this reckless talk. But a dangerous, weaponized minority—no matter how small—cannot be ignored.
In the coming weeks, I’ll have more to say about the path that Democrats are on. Fixing this problem may chiefly be up to the shrinking collection of Republicans who see their party devolving into a death cult for radical extremists who think political violence is the answer to their world of victimization and danger from an increasingly diverse America. But that’s a thin reed to hang on.
As someone who by nature believes in treating others with good faith, I increasingly think that the crucial response to this terrorizing minority is prosecution of the high-profile guilty and maximizing the moment while Democrats still have the majority. That requires ending the filibuster; passing federal voting rights legislation; prosecuting the inciters, organizers and funders of January 6; and accepting that there’s only one governing party in America that remains committed to democracy and the rule of law. That means acknowledging that civility and bipartisanship are tools for Republicans to exploit and hasten the end of the American democratic experiment.
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