The poison of Trump's "intolerant language": Violent rhetoric is a road to civil war

Chris Christie is right. Donald Trump's dangerous speech keeps resulting in danger for people

By Heather Digby Parton


Published November 27, 2023 10:01AM (EST)

 (Getty/Nicholas Kamm)
(Getty/Nicholas Kamm)

It seems like only yesterday that the entire Republican Party was calling for smelling salts over the shocking decision by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that senators would no longer be required to wear suits and ties on the floor of the Senate. The keening and wailing from the members of both chambers over the loss of decorum could be heard from coast to coast. How could the nation survive such a blow to the dignity of the U.S. Congress? 

Republicans were so outraged they sent a letter to the majority leader registering their “supreme disappointment and resolute disapproval” of the decision. The outcry was so overwhelming that the chamber voted to restore the old dress code so that the Senate would once again be a place of honor and tradition. 

How absurd it all was in light of what commonly happens these days in those same sacred halls — mostly at the hands of the Republicans themselves.

Just a week or so ago we had a senator from Oklahoma challenging a witness at a congressional hearing to a fist fight, right there on the Senate floor. Supreme Court nominees are blatantly lying under oath about their intentions and beliefs and suffering no repercussions from the supposedly co-equal branch. A single freshman member has completely shut down military promotions in order to force the Pentagon to change a policy the majority in the government and the country support. And let's not forget that fateful day when thousands of Republican voters stormed the Capitol and trashed the place in order to force Congress to refuse to follow the Constitution and install their Dear Leader for a second term. Decorum you say?

And why wouldn't they believe that acting like barbarians is acceptable behavior? The leader of the GOP has become downright lewd on the campaign trail and his crowds are delirious with delight. 

This was very dignified as well:

Those are actually more unusual examples of Trump using crude adult language. Generally, he sticks to childish insults, referring to his rival, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, as a "birdbrain" and repeatedly mocking former Gov. Chris Christie as "a fat pig" (something he calls his former Attorney General Bill Barr that as well). 

His boorishness is rubbing off on the people who work for him. When confronted with a recent article in which many of Trump's closest advisers in the first term said they are shocked that none of the exposés and revelations about his manifest unfitness have made a dent in his popularity among Republicans, Trump spokesman Steven Cheung issued this statement:

“These media whores are always looking for their next grift — whether its book deals or cable news contracts — because they know their entire worth as human beings revolve around talking about President Trump..."

For the record, Kelly hasn't made even one appearance on television that I'm aware of nor has he written a book. 

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Trump's rhetoric has always been violent and lurid going back to the days when he proclaimed, "I love waterboarding," and regaled his audiences with tales of generals in days gone by summarily executing dozens of Muslim prisoners with bullets dipped in pigs' blood. But recently, he's adopted the language of fascists from the 20th century, declaring that immigrants are "poisoning the blood of our country" and promising to rid the country of the “communists, Marxists, fascists and radical left thugs that live like vermin" within it. He has defied the proclamations of judges in his various lawsuits and criminal cases to refrain from intimidating witnesses and causing his rabid followers to issue threats against them. The violence is coming to a boil just below the surface. 

Trump's intolerance truly is ecumenical in that it could be any group, any individual, any foe or (former) friend at any given moment. It's entirely self-serving. 

I suspect that most journalists and pundits just shrug their shoulders and say, "oh that Trump, you know how he is." And maybe his more sophomoric rhetoric isn't really that important in the grand scheme of things, particularly compared to his actual plans and policies which are truly terrifying and require that the media pay close attention and make it their mission to ensure that the public understands the threat he poses in a second term. 

But there is an effect on our culture and our politics from his crude behavior. Chris Christie appeared on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday and said it plainly: 

When you show intolerance toward everyone, which is what [Trump] does, you give permission as a leader for others to have their intolerance come out. Intolerance toward anyone encourages intolerance toward everyone.

I think to be more precise, Trump shows intolerance toward people who disagree with him and that can be anyone. And his example has given permission to vast numbers of Americans who now believe that they have no obligation to tolerate anyone they don't like. 

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Now, it's perfectly true that there was never a time in America when everyone just got along beautifully. Our history of racism and xenophobia alone puts the lie to that. But Trump's intolerance truly is ecumenical in that it could be any group, any individual, any foe or (former) friend at any given moment. It's entirely self-serving. 

It's making more and more people embrace political violence. The recent American Values Survey from Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in partnership with the Brookings Institution think tank found that one in three Republicans agree that “because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country” – up from 15% in 2021. (22% of Independents and 13% of Democrats agree, all numbers having increased since 2021.) The truly frightening number is that among those who believe the Big Lie, 46% believe they may resort to violence, as well as 41% of Trump fans and 41% who buy into the "Great Replacement Theory." 39% of Christian nationalists are ready to take up arms to "save the country." Those numbers represent tens of millions of Americans.

I think this is part of what's making so many of the rest of us feel so off-balance right now. Sure, Trump is a classic mid-20th-century racist and xenophobe in the old Archie Bunker mold. But over the course of the last eight years, he has created a political environment of coarse intolerance. A whole bunch of young people don't remember anything else — this is normal political discourse to them. And it's translating itself in many different ways into Trump's stated ethos of "either they win or we win" which makes a pluralistic democracy virtually non-functional. "My way or the highway" isn't a joke. It's the road to civil war. 

By 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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Chris Christie Civil War Commentary Congress Donald Trump Gop Maga Violence