Donald Trump’s Troubling History Of Violence
The President equates physical aggression with power, so it’s no surprise his supporters feel emboldened to commit violent acts
As America holds vigils in the wake of Charlottesville’s tragic violence, an unshakable sense of disbelief permeates the national consciousness. The headlines seem less like current events and more as if they were ripped from an ugly chapter in history. Torch carrying white supremacists marching through a Southern town and Nazi flags and salutes on full, abhorrent display. Protesters being bloodied and killed in the streets while holding signs that read “Love” and chanting about equality and racial justice.
But this is our country and it is time for hard truths. Trump and his breed of toxic masculinity were on parade in Charlottesville and it is a contagion that is doing great harm to America.
Donald Trump presents a cartoon-like version of a macho man, with his swaggering bluster and aggressive posturing under any perceived threat. Known for his ridiculous, wrangling power handshakes that mimic a gorilla beating his chest in a show of dominance, Trump’s tenure in the White House seems to put the bully back in bully pulpit.
But Donald Trump’s taste for aggressively immature displays of physical power is nothing new. A former classmate of Trump Jr. said the Donald once slapped his own son so hard he fell down in front of his entire freshman dorm at UPenn. According to his book, The Art of the Deal, Trump has been relishing “roughing” people up since his school days.
“Even in elementary school, I was a very assertive, aggressive kid. In the second grade 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.”
While this story has since been debunked, it’s exactly the sort of tough guy image that Trump wants to project.
Ultimately, this macho persona is an unconvincing fraud. Despite a thirst for aggressive military solutions and criticism of legitimate war heroes like John McCain, Trump is the same tough guy who deferred military service five times during the Vietnam War. His real aggression seems to be confined to blow-hard rhetoric that establishes an ongoing pattern of provoking violence extremely dangerous in a President.
Let’s inspect the ways in which Donald Trump has both condoned and fostered a culture of violence, both on the campaign trail and beyond.
“Knock the Crap Out of Them!”: Violence Against Protesters
When it comes to squashing dissent, Trump’s authoritarian approach resonates with Republicans. And as he hit the campaign trail in 2016, Donald Trump let loose, ratcheting up the aggressive sound bytes and tapping into his increasingly bloodthirsty base.
“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
– Donald Trump, Campaign Rally in Iowa, January 2016
Sadly, it seemed Trump was correct. Campaign rallies grew increasingly violent, causing clashes between supporters and protesters that resulted in arrests. And Trump did more than condone it. He encouraged it.
The above clip, from February 2016 at a Cedar Rapids, Iowa middle school is one of more than a dozen instances where Donald Trump specifically called on the crowd to physically assault protesters. Here are just a few of the most egregious incidents of violence from the campaign trail.
August 11, 2015: Press Conference in Michigan:
In response to Bernie Sanders allowing Black Lives Matter activists to disrupt his speech and hold the stage to voice concerns.
“I thought that was disgusting. That showed such weakness, the way he was taken away by two young women. That will never happen with me. I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting myself, or if other people will, but that was a disgrace.”
November 21, 2015: Campaign Rally in Birmingham, Alabama
A protester wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt is assaulted at the rally by several white Trump supporters, who punch and kick the man before being escorted off the premises. No charges were filed.
November 22, 2015, Interview with Fox and Friends:
In response to being questioned about the incident at his rally in Alabama.
“I don’t know. Rough up? Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
January 7, 2016, Campaign Rally in Burlington, Vermont:
In response to protesters shouting Bernie who were being escorted out of the rally.
“Throw them out into the cold. Don’t give them their coats. No coats! Confiscate their coats. It’s about 10 degrees below zero outside. … You can keep his coat; tell him we’ll send it to him in a couple of weeks.”
February 23, 2016, Campaign Rally in Las Vegas, Nevada:
In response to a protester being escorted out of the rally.
“The guards are very gentle with him. He’s walking out, like, big high-fives, smiling, laughing…I’d like to punch him in the face, I tell ya.”
March 1, 2016, Campaign Rally in Louisville, Kentucky:
“Get ’em out of here!” Trump says in response to protesters in the crowd, who are then shoved by one of his supporters wearing a Make America Great Again hat. Both the protester and the Trump supporter are now suing the President. The lawsuit by the Trump supporter alleges that the Donald “knew what he was asking for.”
March 9, 2016, Campaign Rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina:
At a rally where Donald Trump called protesters “professional troublemakers,” a black man was sucker punched by 78-year-old Trump supporter John McGraw, who was caught on camera and later charged with assault.
“You bet I liked it, knocking the hell out of that big mouth. We don’t know who he is, but we know he’s not acting like an American, the next time we see him, we might have to kill him.”- John McGraw, Interview with Inside Edition
Trump later stated he was looking into paying McGraw’s legal fees, an offer he ultimately did not follow through on.
March 11, 2016, Press Conference in Palm Beach, Florida:
“It’s politics. And it’s fact. Let me tell you, we’ve had some violent people as protesters. These are people that punch. These are people that are violent people…And you know what? The audience swung back. And I thought it was very, very appropriate. He was swinging. He was hitting people. And the audience hit back. And that’s what we need a little bit more of.”
March 11, 2016, Speech at Peabody Opera House outside of Ferguson, Missouri:
“Part of the problem and part of the reason it takes so long [to kick them out] is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore. There used to be consequences. There are none anymore. These people are so bad for our country. You have no idea folks, you have no idea.”
March 12, 2016, Campaign Rally in Kansas City, Missouri:
“I don’t know if I would have done well, but I would have been out there fighting, folks. I don’t know if I’d have done well, but I would’ve been — boom, boom, boom. I’ll beat the crap out of you.”
March 12, 2016, Campaign Rally in St. Louis, Missouri:
“These are not good people and I heard this was going to happen. These are people that are destroying our country.You know part of the problem and part of the reason it takes so long is no one wants to hurt each other anymore and they’re being politically correct the way they take them out so it takes a little longer.”
When Trump became the GOP nominee, he toned down the violent fanfare at his rallies, but the undercurrent of aggression towards anyone who might offer dissent remained. Donald Trump is currently being sued by protesters who were injured at his rallies, with both the victims and the accused agreeing that Trump’s encouragement was a motivating factor in the assaults.
“Locker Room” Talk: Violence Against Women
One of the obvious ways in which Donald Trump exhibits toxic masculinity is through his treatment of women. The President made headlines during the 2016 campaign when hot mic audio from “Access Hollywood” emerged of Trump describing his preferred method of sexual assault.
While many dismissed the comments as “locker room” talk, it’s exactly the kind of misogynistic attitude that toxic masculinity fosters. After this footage was made public, nearly a dozen women came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct or assault dating back to the 1980s.
In a 1993 book, Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald Trump, Ivana Trump details an incident that occurred during her marriage. The “violent assault” by Trump as it is described in the book certainly meets the legal definition of rape.
“What followed was a ‘violent assault,’ according to Lost Tycoon. Donald held back Ivana’s arms and began to pull out fistfuls of hair from her scalp, as if to mirror the pain he felt from his own operation. He tore off her clothes and unzipped his pants.”
Ivana has since clarified her statements, insisting that “I referred to this as a ‘rape,’ but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.” Nevertheless, various accounts corroborated by dozens of women over several decades indicate this wouldn’t have been out of character for Trump.
We Need “Rough Guys”: Violence Against Immigrants
During his campaign, Donald Trump stoked fear of immigrants to a fever pitch. His speeches are riddled with thinly veiled xenophobia that seem to connect to a nasty underbelly of hate and disenfranchisement among rural voters. Trump was adept at taking the face of difference and depicting it as the “bad guy,” a shadowy figure of threat looming at the edges of American life.
In addition to painting Mexicans as “rapists,” and Syrian refugees as “strong men” who might act as Trojan horses for ISIS, Trump has encouraged the profiling of immigrants in America as criminals. In concert with his now infamous travel ban, the Trump administration expanded ICE arrests while simultaneously removing protections to ensure the humane treatment of those detained. And in March, Trump ordered the Homeland Security Secretary to begin producing lists of crimes committed by immigrants, to be circulated among local law enforcement and used to dox illegals.
Under a Trump Presidency, this kind of anti-immigration rhetoric seemed to embolden racial profiling. Watchdog organizations began tracking and reporting not just incidents of hate crimes, but a growing number of white supremacist and nationalist groups that were taking root across the country. Some of these same groups are the ones that seized the streets of Charlottesville last week and turned them into a sea of violence.
And then there was the speech to law enforcement officers a few weeks ago in Long Island, New York, in which Trump advocated the use of force against suspects in police custody.
Many felt Donald Trump’s comments praising the more aggressive tactics from ICE officers condoned police brutality. While law enforcement officials and police departments were quick to condemn the comments, the enthusiastic cheers at the speech indicate this kind of “tough talk” may embolden officers in the field to respond with increased aggression.
“Lock Her Up!”: Violence Against Political Opponents
If there was one rallying cry that galvanized Trump’s base, it would have been the vehement assertion that Hillary Clinton should be punished. His campaign rallies were filled with chants of “Lock Her Up!” and an assortment of more aggressive threats. Trump himself flirted with not only condoning this violent rhetoric but encouraging it. His comments on the campaign trail about using the second amendment to combat Clinton resonated as a barely disguised call to arms.
The bloodthirsty comments among his inner circle were more virulent and much harder to dismiss. Al Baldasaro, a Trump campaign adviser from New Hampshire, once said Clinton should be “put in a firing line and shot for treason” and Roger Stone, another high profile Trump ally, and supporter, lobbied for Clinton’s death in 2014.
Gruesome calls for execution don’t end with Hillary Clinton. Trump’s former butler, Anthony Senecal, was investigated by the Secret Service for his social media posts suggesting Barack Obama should be “shot as an enemy agent.”
While Trump has publicly distanced himself from Senecal, he has refused to denounce either Stone or Baldasaro. This kind of silence translates into a tacit approval that is shocking and sets a dangerous precedent.
In fact, anytime Trump’s masculine ego is placed in a position of vulnerability, either from an opponent outsmarting him or another court decision that strikes down his agenda, he tends to throw tantrums. Just take a look at his reaction in the final debate against Hilary Clinton, in which many felt he was handed a resounding loss.
These types of knee jerk, hot-headed reactions are what make this President so dangerous and ultimately undermine the trust, not just of Americans, but of the world.
#FakeNews: Violence Against the Press
Trump’s true passion, however, seems to be inciting violence against the press. His long standing battle with what he terms “fake news,” looks less like a media war and more like a petulant child, lashing out at any criticism.
“And these people in the media, the most dishonest human beings on Earth. They are the worst.”- Donald Trump, Speech at the CIA, January 21, 2017
Journalists who followed Trump on the campaign trail were alarmed not just by the constant accusations hurled from the podium, but the increasingly hostile crowds. During a rally in West Palm Beach Florida, CNN reports swastika emblazoned signs were left in the press box. While journalists often face challenges abroad, this represents an unprecedented level of aggression in America that is usually reserved for authoritarian regimes.
Many assumed that once Trump was elected, his targeting of the media as opponents would have to be curtailed to align with the responsibilities and dignity of the office. Instead, Donald Trump declared war on what he termed “fake news,” and stacked his administration with plenty of people who seemed to embrace the antagonism he felt for the press. Here’s Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly suggesting how Trump might use this ceremonial sword from the US Coast Guard to combat fake news.
Trump regularly demonizes journalists and news organizations in tweetstorms, but has singled out CNN for particular attention. In early July, he stepped into the ring on Twitter with this parody clip that struck a particularly sour note.
FraudNewsCNN #FNN https://t.co/WYUnHjjUjg
The Trump Train may have found the WWE style tweet all in good fun, but most of the country remained alarmed by the depiction of a President assaulting a member of the press.
Mr. President, your tweet was beneath the office and represents what is wrong with American politics, not the greatness of America.
Less than a month before, a special election in Montana was dominated by an incident in which GOP candidate Greg Gianforte body slammed a reporter. Gianforte’s subsequent conviction for assault resulted in a $50,000 donation that founded The US Press Freedom Tracker, a website devoted to recording attacks on freedom of the press in the Trump era.
Currently, the United States ranks 43rd in the world on the 2017 Press Freedom Index, citing worsening conditions for journalists since Trump declared the press an “enemy of the American people.”
This morning, three days after Charlottesville’s terror attack against peaceful social justice activists, Donald Trump retweeted this.
Trump RT'd this pic showing a CNN journalist hit by a train days after a white nationalist ran his car into activists, killed Heather Heyer.
The insensitivity of posting such an incendiary image while the nation reels in the wake of a tragedy is typical Trump, but it also points towards a much more troubling question. Is Trump merely incapable of understanding the ramifications of his own actions or does he intentionally stoke the fires of anger to incite chaos and violence?
While Trump may have delighted in the raucous crowds of his campaign and in needling the press, his election in November opened the floodgates for the angry mob mentality that terrorized Charlottesville. Mayor Mike Signer lays the blame for the tragic death of an activist and dozens of others injured directly at the feet of the President.
Trump’s initial response was to call for unity, insisting that both sides were equally responsible for the violence that unfolded. But to equate property destruction or peaceful resistance to an act of terrorism by a Neo-Nazi who murdered a protester in cold blood is a grotesque false equivalency.
“We’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides.”- Donald Trump, August 12th, 2017
There is only one side here as far as history is concerned, and it is not standing shoulder to should in solidarity with men carrying swastikas. It is not with our President, a madman whose toxic masculinity has infected his base with rage. It is with activists like Heather Heyer, standing up to hate and carrying on with the work of making our country better, one peaceful step at a time.
And there is so much work to be done. Because even if the Resistance and the Trump-Russia investigation pushes this President out of an office he is not fit to serve in, we’ll still be left with this country. A place in which 25% of our fellow citizens gleefully ride the TrumpTrain, smashing the things we hold dear like a free press and the right to protest with unapologetic fury. The real work will be when Trump is out of office and we have to take a hard look in the mirror and acknowledge the contagion of violence that infects this country and this culture. And decide what on earth to do about that divide.