Donald Trump has made yet another red — as in bloody — mark during his short stint as president. University of Pennsylvania researchers just released a study showing that after every Trump rally — ones that get the crowd angry and irritated — host cities experienced an average of 2.3 more assaults than usual.
This phenomena is unique to Trump rallies. “Things got vicious, no matter how much Mr Trump liked to claim his events were ‘love fests,’” one observer noted in The Independent.
Political rhetoric plays a significant role in normalizing or promoting violence, the study’s authors write. Language matters. Words intended to unleash actions of hate and harm do just that.
In these rallies a pattern of behavior, of language use, emerges. And it is cyclical: rally speeches are designed to electrify the audience and encourage aggression, which in turn both condones and fosters a culture of violence.
Tweets follow this same pattern: regular provocations directed at an endless array of people, including sports stars and sometimes their parents, authors, Cabinet members, governors, actresses and actors, international leaders, and corporate executives.
Making his “opinions known in a very forceful way” is his signature, he says in his 1987 book, “ The Art of the Deal.” “In the second grade,” he writes, “I actually gave a teacher a black eye — I punched my music teacher because I didn’t think he knew anything about music and I almost got expelled.”
So, what words and phrases does Trump use that incite his audiences? At a 2015 campaign rally in Birmingham, Alabama, Trump commented on a Black Lives Matter protester who was punched and kicked, saying “Maybe he should have been roughed up.”
At a rally on the day of the Iowa caucuses in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Trump remarked that rally goers should “knock the crap out of” would-be hecklers at the event. “Seriously, OK? Just knock the hell … I promise you I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise.”
At a Las Vegas rally in March 2016, Trump said security guards were too gentle with a protester: “He’s walking out with big high-fives, smiling, laughing … I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.” A similar situation unfolded at a rally that month in Warren, Michigan.
Using whatever pulpit is available, he has made disparaging comments to, personally attacked and bullied media critics; verbally threatened political rivals and protesters; praised people using physical force at his rallies as “appropriate”; and dehumanized anyone he doesn’t like. The list goes on. And the behavior continues.
We see these effects rippling into Maine. A Falmouth theater putting on a play about the Holocaust got a call saying: “I don’t want to see a play about those [expletive] Jews.” Republican Leslie Gibson, a former candidate for Maine House District 57, tweeted that a young girl whose 17 friends and teachers were killed in a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, was a “ skinhead lesbian.” After dropping out of the race, he said “I am not walking away with my head hung low. I am walking away with my head held high.”
I would like to say that in a civilized society such vile words and vicious actions, used with only the intent to maim and harm, are despicable. Violent language begets violent actions. But then I must stop and admit that we are no longer living in a society that has some degree of respect and humanity.
Trump has made sure of that. And we must make sure that it stops.
Luisa S. Deprez is professor emerita of sociology and women and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.
Follow BDN Editorial & Opinion on Facebook for the latest opinions on the issues of the day in Maine.