History’s rhymes: The violence of hateful rhetoric

by Jessy Hegland

heglandje@mnstate.edu

Last year, when I read that Donald Trump was running for President, I thought it was a brilliant con or a marketing scheme. Afterall, this was Trump: a lead conspiracy theorist, a failed steak and vodka vendor, a man who has filed for bankruptcy four times.

But to many Americans, the Trump is synonymous with success. To them, Trump is a living testament to the vitality of that nostalgic ideal of the American Dream.

Today, to stadiums of thousands, he shouts tangents against political correctness. His adoring followers eat it up, thrilled to have a candidate who “speaks his mind.”

Trump’s rhetoric paints a troubling picture. It’s a discriminatory take on the American Dream — sexist, racist, nativist, homophobic, paranoid, fearful, angry and xenophobic. Criticisms of political correctness, like Trump’s, are used primarily to shut down discussion. The idea that political correctness is unnecessary conveys a total misunderstanding of freedom of speech.

Interviews with Trump fans often include declarations that “you can no longer call a spade a spade.” People who cry over political correctness are really just mourning the loss of what was once a verbal free-for-all. In the past, people like them could say whatever they wanted, without allowing others the right to call them out on it.

If you want to say racist, sexist and homophobic things backed by out-right lies, go right ahead. You won’t get arrested, but you’ll be called out and told why that’s messed up. I have that right, too.

Trump saying whatever he wants, without any social consequences, has fueled a slow-burning fire that has been smoldering for generations. Trump can say any hateful thing, and it only makes his fans love him more. He can be at a debate and talk about the size of his wiener like a schoolyard bully or boys in the locker-room. He can fling mud and call his opponents names. Still, it doesn’t change his fans’ opinion of him. 

Trump’s only notion of a foreign policy is a plan to build a big, scary wall, mass deport immigrants, put all American Muslims into a database, close our boarder to refugees, murder children and families in the Middle East, and use dehumanizing — not to mention internationally illegal — methods of torture to stop ISIS. 

It’s like someone applying for a job, going to the interview and insulting their potential employer. Trump has blatantly told the country he’s not going to follow its rules — in fact, he’ll be intentionally breaking them. Who would hire someone like that? Why is America considering hiring this man when we all know, despite his big talk, he’ll slack off on his job — and have access to nuclear weapon codes.

When comments like his are left unchallenged in the unsettling, violent, xenophobic echo chamber of Trump and his supporters, it becomes necessary for other Americans to show up at his rallies and call him out. Trump has responded to protesters against him, saying things like, “I’d like to punch him in the face.”

Trump has been heard waxing nostalgic about the “good old days” when protestors would get “roughed up.” He’s even encouraged people to “knock the crap out of” protesters and promised he’d pay their legal fees. It’s not just harmless rhetoric.

Trump’s behavior has emboldened his supporters to put their hands on people they don’t agree with. One man sucker-punched a protester in the face and, on camera, said how good that felt, and how “next time we might have to kill him.” Hair has been pulled, voices scream “Go back where you came from!”  and “Light him on fire!” When asked about these instances, Trump has said his followers are just “passionate.”

Violence doesn’t just occur at Trump’s rallies.  Last year, two men beat up a homeless man and urinated on him while spouting pro-Trump sentiments.

Just last week in Kansas, a man beat up two students — one Bangladeshi, the other, Hispanic — who were filling their tank at a gas station. He yelled that they were “brown trash” and needed to leave. They stood up to him, saying this was their country, too.  The man got on his motorcycle and circled them, also chanting his support for Trump.

It’s only a matter of time before this happens to someone I know, to a student here at MSUM or even to me.

Recently, Trump said if he didn’t win the nomination, his supporters were likely to riot. In American presidential politics, if you have to resort to violence, your argument is already lost. Trump lost a long time ago, but, to his supporters, “knocking the crap out of” the people they disagree with, who don’t look white, straight, and Christian, is synonymous with ‘success.’

Mark Twain once said history doesn’t repeat — it rhymes. This year, an alarming poem has been written. We need to speak in its silent stanzas.

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