President Trump, lacking any legislative achievements and finally under some weak fire from some in his own party, got out of town last week and went to speak before the Boy Scouts, turning their annual jamboree into a crude Trump rally. He even regaled them with the thrilling highlights of his Electoral College victory and stories of his rich friends and their decadent adventures, saying, "The Boy Scouts know life." You literally cannot take him anywhere.
As disturbing as that was, it was Trump's other rallies last week that made the hair on the back of civil libertarians' necks stand up. He went to Youngstown, Ohio, and said this to a swooning crowd of screaming admirers:
The predators and criminal aliens who poison our communities with drugs and prey on innocent young people, these beautiful, beautiful innocent young people, will find no safe haven anywhere in our country. And you’ve seen some of these stories about some of these animals.
They don’t want to use guns because it’s too fast and it’s not painful enough. So they’ll take a young, beautiful girl, 16, 15, and others, and they slice them and dice them with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die. And these are the animals that we’ve been protecting for so long. Well, they’re not being protected any longer, folks.
Trump has been talking about the "aliens" who are polluting our country, raping and killing with abandon, since the day he descended that escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy. He has a very vivid and violent imagination, and he loves to display it in front of big crowds. He used to get them all charged up as he told the stories of "Beautiful Kate" and "Jamal" and a "66-year-old veteran who was raped and sodomized" by an illegal immigrant.
He also spent hours on the campaign trail relaying gory tales of ISIS fighters "drowning people in steel cages" and "chopping off heads." He promised to fight fire with fire, and torture and kill them right back. He repeatedly told the apocryphal story about Gen. Jack Pershing in the Spanish-American War, who supposedly dipped bullets in pig's blood and executed hundreds of Muslim prisoners to teach the population a lesson, as an illustration of smart anti-terror tactics.
Trump is obsessed with blood-soaked imagery and came back to it time and again to elicit a febrile excitement in his followers during the campaign. Today he is the president of the United States, and he is in a position to make good on his promise.
MS-13 is a dangerous, violent gang that is, in fact, benefiting from Trump's crackdown on the immigrants who are the victims of their violence. Many such immigrants are now too afraid to come forward to the authorities and are even more vulnerable than before. As with everything else in this world, this administration's policies are making things worse.
Trump is in trouble, and now he is turning to the demagogue's favorite ploy to get his crowds revved up. We all know how it was done in Germany in the 1930s or in China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. We saw it happen before our eyes in Rwanda just 20 years ago, using exactly the same language of "slicing and dicing." Needless to say, we had centuries of these calls to violence here in the United States with someone riling up the locals about young black males allegedly molesting virginal white women. We all know what that was about too.
Trump is taking this to another level with his speech to Youngstown and another one last Friday before a crowd of police officers in Brentwood, New York. In both speeches, to one extent or another, he exhorted the police to use extrajudicial violence, complimenting them for "liberating" American towns from "the enemy."
In Youngstown he said:
We’re doing it rough. Our guys are rougher than their guys. I asked one of our great generals, “How tough are our people? How tough are they?” He said, “Sir, you don’t want to know about it.”
He never mentions the rule of law, the judicial process or the legal system at all. In New York, where he described the Long Island suburbs as "blood-stained killing fields," he went even further:
When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough. I said, "Please, don't be too nice." Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting the head. You know? The way you put the hand over [the head], like "Don’t hit their head" and they’ve just killed somebody, "Don’t hit their head."
I said, "You can take the hand away," OK?”
The cops at the rally cheered wildly.
To their credit, police departments all over the country have rejected or protested against the president's irresponsible comments.
As it happens, one of Trump's favorite world leaders was in the news this weekend, a man who has also made his name by evoking violent, grisly imagery in his speeches and has unleashed unprecedented police and vigilante violence in his country. That would be Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, in office just over a year, the man whose drug policies impressed Trump so much that he invited him to the White House.
This past weekend alone, 15 people were killed in a late-night police "raid" in Ozamiz City, one of whom was the mayor -- an official named on a published list of 150 politicians Duterte claimed were involved in the drug trade. He's the third mayor on Duterte's list to be murdered by police. It's a big list and it's growing -- Duterte claims to have a private list with over a million names on it.
When Duterte ran for president, he famously said, "Forget the law on human rights." He has done so, sanctioning the murders of thousands of his own citizens -- and is reportedly more popular than ever.
Donald Trump is an amateur compared to Duterte at this point, but his impulses run in the same direction, and their rhetoric is uncomfortably similar. Considering the cheers Trump receives among his supporters -- including many police officers, when he encourages brutality and dehumanizes immigrants and others -- no one should feel complacent. It's not as if the United States is immune to outbreaks of brutal, racist violence.