Violence and threats of violence emanating from the Trump campaign are multiplying by the day.
In Virginia, a Trump supporter, taking advantage of his state’s open carry laws, positioned himself in front of the storefront window of a Democratic congressional candidate’s campaign office. For nearly twelve hours, he brandished a firearm, intimidating volunteers working there.
In Milwaukee, a sheriff called for insurrection with this tweet: “It is incredible that our institutions of gov. WH, Congress, DOJ, and big media are corrupt & all we do is b—h. Pitchforks and torches time.”
At a Trump rally in North Carolina on Friday, things got even worse, with a self-proclaimed member of “gays for Trump” viciously beating a protester.
In an entirely different order of magnitude, in Kansas, three men — members of a militia known as the Crusaders — were busted on Friday by the FBI for plotting a mass-casualty attack on the Muslim residents of a Somali-American apartment complex. “I personally back Donald Trump.” one of the conspirators explained on Facebook.
Writing for the Boston Globe, Matt Viser reports that Trump supporters, envisioning an impending Hillary Clinton victory, are “openly talking about violent rebellion and assassination.”
These alarming developments have not emerged in a vacuum. As his numbers in the polls have begun to sink, and with the prospect of defeat staring him in the face, Donald Trump has been whipping his supporters into a frenzy with incessant claims that the “system is rigged.” He warns of electoral fraud on a mass scale and has invoked the specter of a global conspiracy to do him in. “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich her donors,” are the astounding actual words of the Republican nominee for president.
Obviously, Trump is playing with combustible materials. And just as obviously, as he lurches toward what could be an epic electoral collapse, he is not going to stop. Indeed, egged on by his alt-Right aides, and unwilling to face the consequences of his own folly, he is almost certain to intensify his incendiary rhetoric. This will not end well.
American history from the beginning has been punctuated by assassinations and violent riots. We’ve enjoyed a long, relatively tranquil period since the fires of the 1960s, but social peace is not preordained. As the Trump campaign plummets into the gutter, we should not be surprised if people get hurt and blood is shed.
Now is the time for political leaders to act to avert a calamitous conclusion to the Trump circus. But will they?
Some truly are irredeemable. Senator Jeff Sessions, one of Trump’s early backers and close advisers, has done nothing but echo Trump. “They are attempting to rig this election” are the reckless words with which this United States senator roiled the crowd at a recent Trump rally. Newt Gingrich speaks of a “coup d’etat.” Rudy Giuliani warns of widespread voter fraud.
Paul Ryan is on a better track. “Our democracy relies on confidence in election results, and the speaker is fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity” was the statement put out by his office in response to Trump’s effort to delegitimize the election. That implicit rebuke of Trump is at least a start if a characteristically timid one from the Republican party’s supposedly bold new leader. The main point is that Ryan fails to condemn Trump’s frighteningly dangerous game, and continues to endorse for president the man who is playing with matches.
Paul Ryan is one voice. Where is the rest of the Republican party when it comes to defending our electoral system from charges that it is rigged? The thunderous silence may have something to do with some Republicans’ sorry history of leveling trumped up accusations of voter fraud, part of a broader effort to limit voting access in some areas of the country where they perceive a disadvantage.
Especially derelict are the politicians and intellectuals who have full-throatedly backed Trump and unswervingly defended his every ridiculous twist and turn. It’s truly shocking that a group of conservative thinkers — Scholars and Writers for America — have signed their name to a document asserting that Donald Trump is the candidate “most likely to fulfill the promise of America,” a proposition so ludicrous as to be a cruel joke. Their choice to associate themselves with him in the first place — and their subsequent failure to disassociate themselves from him now as he threatens our democracy — will be a permanent stain on their judgment and character.
Donald Trump’s corrosive brand of politics has no place in our country. It is already a scar on our history, and it is a clear and present danger to American values and institutions. We’ve learned from Trump and his supporters that in this era of mass communication and social media, ugly forces can be set in motion by a moronic pied piper. Our democracy is more fragile than any of us ever dreamed.
Schoenfeld is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former senior adviser to the Romney campaign in 2012.