The violence Trump incites

Peter Beinart writes: Asked last August about a Bernie Sanders event in which Black Lives Matters protesters spoke at length from the stage, Trump called the senator from Vermont’s response “disgusting.” He added: “That will never happen with me! I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting myself or other people will, but that was a disgrace. I felt badly for him. But it showed that he was weak. Believe me, that’s not going to happen to Trump.”

It’s no coincidence that Trump raised the specter of violence. The Black Lives Matter disruptions had been peaceful. But as Trump’s campaign took off in the summer and fall of last year, he began depicting entire categories of overwhelmingly peaceful people as a physical threat. Undocumented Mexican immigrants were potential “rapists.” Syrian refugees were “strong, powerful men” who might be a “trojan horse” for ISIS.

Trump’s supporters exhibit high levels of what political scientists call “authoritarianism.” Authoritarians are unusually fearful of disorder and favor simple, brutal methods of quashing it. As Amanda Taub has noted, “When many Americans perceived imminent physical threats, the population of authoritarians could seem to swell rapidly.” So by fanning popular fears of chaos, especially violent chaos, Trump wins yet more votes.

He does this, in part, by turning his treatment of the activists who seek to disrupt his events into a parable for how he would restore order in society at large. [Continue reading…]

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