Introducing Donald Trump's fire-eaters: How the Republican Party made the mob that the GOP frontrunner exploits

Trump supporters are getting increasingly violent. But that doesn't mean the extremism is only just beginning

Published March 15, 2016 9:58AM (EDT)


Prior to the American Civil War, southern pro-slavery demagogues known as "fire-eaters" predicted the advent of harrowing slave revolts incited by Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionist movement. In truth, the feverish screeching of men like Edmund Ruffin, Robert B. Rhett and William L. Yancey amounted to nothing more than disinformation and agitprop, completely exaggerating the threat to the southern way of life. The extremism on display by the fire-eaters led directly to popular support for secession and the ill-fated and ultimately self-destructive rise of the Confederacy -- and, with it, the deadliest war in American history.

Likewise, it's been modern-day fire-eaters within the conservative movement and the Republican Party who gave rise to the Tea Party and, subsequently, the ascendancy of Donald Trump. To be clear: The Trump candidacy might not exist were it not for the GOP laying the groundwork for his campaign through a decade or more of fire-eating demagoguery. To be even more clear: The demagoguery is based almost entirely on propaganda bearing little or no resemblance to reality, be it the reality of the Obama presidency or the reality of the socio-economic condition of the United States.

This is precisely why the Republican Party -- the party of personal responsibility -- must accept responsibility for both Trump and the violence he's inciting as a new feature of American politics. If no one on the GOP side, be it movement conservatives or the party itself, accepts responsibility for what Trump has wrought, and if Trump he skates on by to the nomination, then we've truly entered the post-scandal age, where nothing sticks any more. If this is allowed to pass unchecked by conservative leadership, it can only be seen as acceptance by omission. Merely rending its garments over a brokered convention isn't enough. The Republicans need to finally own their violent, eliminationist rhetoric or go home.

Is it really any wonder why it's more or less permissible for Trump to repeatedly encourage his mob of disciples to take violent action against protesters and unfriendlies? And is it any wonder why they're accepting Trump's commands with such unthinking fealty?

Multiple generations of Americans have been indoctrinated by preemptive war and gun culture, both of which are central features of the GOP. For decades, the GOP has been built around shooting first and asking questions later. In the past 16 years alone, the Republicans have led us down the path of at least one unnecessary war, ballyhooed by proto-Trump demagogues in the conservative entertainment complex. Their takeaway: The only solution to a conflict, whether imaginary or not, is shock-and-awe. And Trump is all about shock-and-awe. Likewise, any time there's a mass shooting, pro-gun GOP rhetoric is amplified against sensible gun control measures as gun sales skyrocket. In a sane world, reasonable Americans would rise up in unison against gun fetishists who've cumulatively made the AR-15, the Sandy Hook weapon, the most popular firearm in America. In a sane world, reasonable Americans would've condemned lawmakers like former U.S. congressman Steve Stockman, who, in the wake of Sandy Hook, held two online contests in which the prize was an AR-15. But it’s no longer a sane world, and terrible behavior by one of our two major political parties is allowed to continue without serious repercussions.

Worse, how often have we heard characters like Bill O'Reilly using violent language while demagoguing against abortion doctors like George Tiller? How often has Sarah Palin blurted out the catchphrase, "Don't retreat, reload!" and how often do her fanboys repeat this nonsense on social media and elsewhere? When we hear Trump blurting obnoxious commands to his people, it's impossible to not recall a member of Congress shouting "You lie!" at President Obama, or NRA board member and GOP campaign surrogate Ted Nugent calling the president a chimp, or establishment Republicans violently destroying the tax code or the Affordable Care Act with firearms and wood chippers. The second-place GOP candidate for president, Ted Cruz, famously produced a video in which he cooked bacon using a semi-automatic rifle. The Republicans love their stunts, but they love their violence more. And yet the conservative movement is wringing its hands over why Trump is doing so well?

Trump, like the Republican Party, has deliberately deceived his followers about the current climate in America, and especially the record of the Obama administration. In doing so, both factions provide more fuel for outrage among their brainwashed people. The irony being that it's Trump who is "fundamentally transforming America" and not Obama, but that doesn't stop the projection tactics and falsehoods by Trump and his party, suggesting that liberals are the true racists; that liberals are angry hatemongers; that liberals are destroying white flyover culture. Anyone who manages to infiltrate the GOP bubble as a representative of the truth is immediately targeted by Trump without hesitation, and that targeting is dutifully carried out by followers who hilariously believe Trump is just like them, and therefore everything he says must be true. The truth is that Trump is possibly more dishonest than the GOP itself, which Trump supporters appear to be rejecting. They're trading a less dishonest batch of characters in favor of a wholly dishonest character, while citing the dishonest establishment as the reason.

In order for the cocktail of ignorance and violence to work for Trump, it had to have been cultivated by the GOP, and the GOP has given us George W. Bush, Sarah Palin and Fox & Friends. If you'd like to witness the evolutionary precursor to Trump's brand of mayhem, review the YouTube videos of the Palin rallies and crowds eight years ago. That's where both the Tea Party and the Trump campaign strategy began. Then, as with today, nobody in the D.C. media took seriously how bad it was until after it was too late.

For Trump to exist, there needed to be a softening of expectations with regard to the intelligence, veracity and decorum of GOP's A-listers. The modern conservative movement unchained itself from such things years ago. Today, it's okay for Republicans to appear less intelligent -- indeed, conservatives are encouraged to be folksy, while inarticulate doofuses are too often elevated to high profile stations. (See Brian Kilmeade, for example.) It's okay to be less than honest, too, as long as dishonesty is well-deflected to the other side. It's okay to behave inappropriately, as evidenced by Palin's inchoate rants and Glenn Beck's ridiculous stunts. At any other time in recent history, a candidate like Trump would be laughed off the stage as nothing more than a clown in words and appearance. Not any more, thanks to the usual suspects.

The most pervasively dangerous aspect of the GOP's manufacturing of the Trump phenomenon, short of the violence itself, is that the conservative entertainment complex has successfully distorted the truth well enough that there are now two realities in America: the artificial reality fabricated by the Republicans and their frontrunner, Trump, and the objective reality perceived by everyone else.

In this alternate Trumpverse, unemployment is disastrously high, even though 8.7 million jobs have been created under Obama and unemployment has been cut in half since 2010; America doesn't win any more, even though manufacturing is up, our energy production is up and the Dow and the S&P are at historic highs; and of all Western nations, America's recovery from the Great Recession has been considerably more robust. Therefore, Trump and the GOP have no choice but to make it up. Even Mitt Romney did it four years ago, telling his supporters without questioning from the mainstream news media, that Obama doubled the deficit when, in fact, he reduced it -- with the budget deficit falling by a trillion dollars since 2010. They'll tell their people that Benghazi was a vile Obama conspiracy, even though numerous GOP-led investigations found nothing. They'll tell their people that Planned Parenthood is selling fetus parts on the black market even though nearly a dozen state investigations failed to find any wrongdoing, and the fraudulent sting videos themselves have been debunked by numerous nonpartisan fact-checkers. The list goes on and on. And they repeat all of it with so much frequency that the press, as admitted by The Huffington Post's Sam Stein on Friday night's "Real Time with Bill Maher," simply can't keep up. Trump knows this and he exploits it, while cozily fire-eating from within the protective surface-tension of the GOP bubble.

And yet, the news media gatekeepers (insofar as they exist any more) continue to root for a dramatic primary season by giving Trump and the GOP a virtual free pass. Sure, there are questions, but even with the chaos in Chicago and elsewhere, there's never an honest evaluation of how dangerous and unprecedented it is. Even Marco Rubio, who blasted Trump the other day, failed to look inward at his beloved party, not to mention the Tea Party that helped Rubio get to this place in his career.

The fire-eaters are winning and, with it, so is mob rule. And as long as it continues without accountability, it's only going to get worse.

By Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.


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