Forget "civility": Take Donald Trump's threats of violence seriously, before it's too late

History has a lesson: Courtesy and "civility" are no way to oppose creeping authoritarianism. They only enable it

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published July 3, 2018 11:30AM (EDT)

 (Getty/Justin Sullivan)
(Getty/Justin Sullivan)

Last weekend, on the Fox News program "Sunday Morning Futures," President Donald Trump struck a new note in his constant authoritarian posturing. He vowed that his supporters would retaliate against Democrats and any others who dare to disagree with him. Given the increase in right-wing political violence in the United States since Trump began his presidential campaign three years ago, this is not an idle threat. This is what the president told the Fox News audience:

You know, there’s probably never been a base in the history of politics in this country like my base. I hope the other side realizes that they better just take it easy. They better just take it easy because some of the language used, some of the words used, even some of the radical ideas, I really think they are very bad for the country. I think they're actually very dangerous for the country.

This is only the most recent example of Trump's violent inclinations. We could list all the threats he has made against immigrants, protesters, political opponents and members of the press. Last week, Trump appeared to threaten Rep. Maxine Waters, a long-serving Democrat from California, attacking her on Twitter:

Congresswoman Maxine Waters, an extraordinarily low IQ person, has become, together with Nancy Pelosi, the Face of the Democrat Party. She has just called for harm to supporters, of which there are many, of the Make America Great Again movement. Be careful what you wish for Max!

Trump found an audience: After receiving specific threats of harm -- including references to lynching -- Waters canceled several public appearances.

Perhaps even more disturbing was Trump's event at the White House the previous Friday. The president honored his "angel families" by sharing autographed pictures of people (mostly white people) who had allegedly been murdered by "illegal immigrants." This was more than another example of Donald Trump's malignant narcissism: It was a macabre ritual in which Trump, the authoritarian strongman, made a blood pact of revenge with his public.

Despite dishonest claims to the contrary, Donald Trump feels no real concern for those Americans who have been victims of crime. He has neither hosted nor attended rallies or other events to condemn the numerous mass shootings committed by white men during his time in office. But the obsessive scorn and rage he expresses towards Latino "illegal immigrants" who commit violent crimes give him tremendous power over his racially resentful, nativist supporters.

"We're gathered today to hear from the American victims of illegal immigration. You know, you hear the other side. You never hear this side," Trump told his audience at that event. "These are the American citizens permanently separated from their loved ones. The word 'permanently' being the word that you have to think about. Permanently -- they're not separated for a day or two days, these are permanently separated because they were killed by criminal illegal aliens."

This a continuation of Trump's eliminationist language towards nonwhites -- especially Latino and Muslim immigrants -- he has frequently employed, both during his 2016 campaign and as president. For Trump and his supporters, black and brown people and Muslims come with a vast array of negative epithets. They come from "shithole countries." They are "rapists," "criminals," "snakes" and "vermin." They "infest" the United States, like a horde of insects or a viral epidemic. By Trump and his allies' logic, Democrats and others who oppose his policies are aiding and abetting this human poison. By implication, they are guilty of betraying the United States and should be punished accordingly.

Adolf Hitler and the Nazis also called attention to real or alleged Jewish criminals as a means of legitimating widespread and systematic violence against the Jewish people as a whole.

Trump's eliminationist language and resulting policies have already hurt people. The children of migrants and refugees have been torn from their families and put into de facto concentration and prison camps. They are likely to suffer lifelong negative emotional and physical health consequences. Some children have reportedly attempted suicide or become the victims of abuse.

Some people who have been deported because of Trump's "soft" ethnic cleansing campaign have reportedly been killed in their countries of origin. At least one father took his own life in custody after his child was stolen from him. ICE officers and other enforcers have been involved in numerous incidents which have directly resulted in migrants, refugees and undocumented residents suffering grievous bodily harm and even death.

As documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other watchdog groups, there has been a large increase in hate crimes -- including assault and murder -- committed by white supremacists and others who identify with the white-supremacist "alt-right."

On a larger scale, Trump's efforts to close America's borders to refugees and other immigrants are likely to serve as a literal death sentence for an unknowable number of people.

We find ourselves in a situation where the president of the United States is both directly encouraging and indirectly participating in ethnic violence against nonwhites. The Republican Party has done nothing to oppose these efforts and largely supports them. Trump's voters are positively enthusiastic about his campaign of ethnic cleansing. They share collective responsibility for Trump's cruelty and his crimes against human decency and international law.

None of this should be a surprise. Donald Trump previewed his twisted and malevolent version of America's past, present and future in his infamous acceptance speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention and again in his "American carnage" inaugural address.

Yet in the face of this blatant contempt for human decency, democracy and civil rights, many liberals and moderates insist on enforcing imaginary standards of civil discourse: We must be "respectful" and "polite" when confronting Trump and his corrupt regime.

But the famous Michelle Obama mantra -- "When they go low we go high" -- is a recipe for defeat when facing fascists and other authoritarians. Kindness will not defeat the cruelty that the Trump administration and its allies and supporters revel in. In their hands, the concept of civility becomes a weapon to use against their enemies, allowing them to claim that civil disobedience and self-defense are "rude," unfair or unjust.

History has many lessons for those who believe that civility and kindness are an effective response to those who advocate eliminationist policies and other forms of political violence.

As reported by the Jewish Telegraph Agency and The New York Times in June 1934, Henry Cadbury, who was chairman of the American Friends Service Committee -- an honorable Quaker organization -- spoke at the 45th annual convention of the Central Conference of American Reform Rabbis. He cautioned the Jewish people against resisting Hitler in angry or forceful fashion:

Persecution of the Jews in Germany by Hitler and his Nazis can be ended not by the hate that the Jews may display but by the good will which they should show. By hating him and trying to fight him, you will only help make him worse in his attack on the Jews. But if the Jews the world over would try to convey to Hitler and the people of Germany their ideals and appeal to their conscious sense of justice, the problem would be solved much sooner.

History would suggest that Cadbury's advice was tragically and spectacularly misguided. When we hear today's versions of Cadbury urging us to be civil, considerate and polite toward Donald Trump and his supporters, we should bear that in mind.

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By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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