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Mass shootings are more than hate: Trump's politics of vengeance stokes violent grievance culture

Trump curiously shares the immature, entitled worldview that also motivates many of these violent mass shooters


Heather Digby Parton
August 7, 2019 12:00PM (UTC)

In the wake of the mass shootings In El Paso and Dayton over the past weekend, the news media has responded slightly differently than the usual ritualistic wall-to-wall coverage. Because the El Paso killer provided an online screed explaining his white supremacist beliefs and murderous intentions toward Latinx people in the U.S., there has been a greater willingness to use plain language to talk about the president's demagogic rhetoric and racist worldview.

There have been exceptions, of course, most glaringly by the New York Times which made an egregious mistake with a headline that implied Trump was seriously changing his ways based upon his dry canned speech on Monday which looked like a hostage video. And presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, who hails from El Paso, responded with raw incredulity when asked by the press if the president is a racist, making it clear that the time for such questions is long past.

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He is. Of course he is. The only question now is whether, after watching his despicable behavior as president, enough people in the country agree with him to re-elect him for another four years.

This all came about within a few weeks in which the outlines of the Trump re-election campaign came into full view, with attacks on four progressive women, two of whom are Muslim, one a Latina, and one African American. By homing in on those four women, known as The Squad, he checked off all the wingnut boxes. He followed that up with a verbal assault on African American Congressman Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and then took aim at his district, the city of Baltimore.  This all happened within the context of a three year, non-stop rhetorical offensive against immigrants of all stripes.

The only thing surprising about the mass killing at the border last weekend is the fact that it didn't happen sooner. Experts predict there will be more. The white nationalist movement is real and it is growing.

But there have been many mass shootings in America over the past few years and not all of them are politically or ideologically motivated.  In fact, most are not. Yet almost all of them have something else in common with Donald Trump: a massive sense of grievance at what they perceive as unfair treatment. The attackers feel entitled to attention, loyalty and reward and what motivates many of these people to take violent action is a desire for vengeance against those who fail to give it to them.

Donald Trump has never used physical violence but he shares that thought process. I've never seen a grown adult whine and complain about "unfairness" as much as the President of the United States does. To hear him tell it, the media, neutral investigators, his political opposition, world leaders, random celebrities and members of the public are all arrayed against him and he has no choice but to reflexively unleash a fusillade of enraged insults and tirades, threatening to sic the authorities on them, sue them, jail them or otherwise make them pay for saying things he does not like.

This is not new. His guiding philosophy of life isn't "make the deal" it is "get even." As far back as 1992 he told talk show host Charlie Rose:

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Trump: Some of the people who have been the most loyal to me are the people I didn't think would be. The people are the most disloyal to me are the people, I think I would have treated them differently. I would have wiped the floor with the guys that weren't loyal, which I will now do, which is great. I love getting even with people.

Charlie Rose: Hold up. You love getting even with people?

Trump: Oh absolutely. You don't believe in the eye for an eye? Yeah you do, I know you well enough, I think you do.

Back in October of 2015,  I wrote a piece for Salon about Trump's revenge fantasies in which he would regale his crowds with stories of his macho prowess with a gun:

He said, "I have a license to carry in New York, can you believe that? Somebody attacks me, they're gonna be shocked," at which point he mimes a quick draw:

As the crowd applauds and cheers, he goes on to say "somebody attacks me, oh they're gonna be shocked. Can you imagine? Somebody says, oh there's Trump, he's easy pickins..." And then he pantomimes the quick draw again.

He then led the crowd in the chant "Death Wish," the 1970s revenge fantasy film starring Charles Bronson.

The historian Rick Perlstein has theorized that Trump's place in the conservative movement is as an Avenging Angel, come to clean up the streets and purify our decadent cities of all the vermin and trash that polluted them. And NBC's Benjy Sarlin observed just before the election that Trump's worldview could be summed up in on simple phrase: "The world is a violent place, and it demands a violent response."

Sarlin quoted Trump telling Fox News, "what happens is they hit me and I hit them back harder and, usually in all cases, they do it first. But they hit me and I hit them back harder and they disappear. That's what we want to lead the country."

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I'm not suggesting that Trump is inspiring mass shootings with his guiding philosophy of grievance and revenge.  But perhaps it's not a coincidence that a recent study found that there was a 226 percent increase in reported hate crimes in counties that hosted a Trump rally in 2016 over similar counties where Trump did not appear. Donald Trump is someone who shares the immature, entitled worldview that also motivates many of these violent men and he reiterates it every day on social media and television.

As we have seen far too often, this psychology is lethal when it's held by someone under emotional stress with easy access to guns. It's terrifying to contemplate what the most powerful man in the world with the same set of beliefs might do if he comes to believe that a foreign country has crossed him.


Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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