Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.
Speaking with Breitbart News, President Donald Trump delivered a garbled but nevertheless disturbing statement in an article published Thursday that many interpreted as a prediction — or possibly a threat — of political violence.
Though the outlet didn’t provide an outright transcript or quote the questions Trump was responding to, it said the following remark came in a discussion about “how the left is fighting hard”:
You know, the left plays a tougher game, it’s very funny. I actually think that the people on the right are tougher, but they don’t play it tougher. Okay? I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad. But the left plays it cuter and tougher. Like with all the nonsense that they do in Congress … with all this invest[igations]—that’s all they want to do is –you know, they do things that are nasty. Republicans never played this.
This is…a threat of fascist violence by the President ?” said MSNBC host Chris Hayes, responding to the remarks on Twitter.
Writing for the Washington Post, Greg Sargent reminded us that Trump has played this game before, most notably when he suggested that ‘Second Amendment people” might somehow be able to stop Hillary Clinton from appointing judges if she were elected president.
We shouldn’t casually accuse the president of threatening political violence. But Trump’s garbled vagueness, his apparent inability to express a complete thought at times, often serves his purpose better than explicit threats would. Members of his party might have to actually say something against him if he genuinely threatened that he’d use the military or the police or a group of violent supporters to maintain his grip on power. So he won’t say that explicitly. But he’ll plant the seed of the idea — enough to provoke and inspire fear, but not enough to earn condemnation.
Lawrence O’Donnell, another MSNBC host, responded to Hayes’ comment by arguing that Trump’s remarks seem to be more a “hope” than a threat.
“Trump’s supporters aren’t as bad & violent & criminal as he hopes they are,” he said. “They peacefully watched President Obama inaugurated twice. They’ll do that again for the next Democrat. Let’s not help him fan his imaginary flame.”
Others have been critical of the idea that Trump is slouching toward authoritarianism, pointing out that he’s actually a particularly weak leader. His defeat in the Senate on Thursday, for example, showed that he has much less control over elected members of his own party than he might hope for.
But Trump’s weakness is not a counterpoint to his authoritarian streak. In fact, that weakness may be a necessary condition of it. If Trump were a powerful leader within democratic strictures, maintaining the ability to convince lawmakers and voters to support his agenda and expertly overcoming legal objections, he’d have no need to resort to authoritarian measures like the exploitation of the National Emergencies Act to seize funds for a border wall.
It’s when he’s at his weakest — when his party abandons him, when the rule of law threatens to constrain him — that he’s most likely to lash out and break the bonds of normal democratic governance. That’s when his off-hand suggestions of violence and his dismissal of the legitimacy of any opposition become truly scary.
There’s a new Republican Party coming to town — specifically, to Cleveland, Ohio.
As Donald Trump prepares to take the stage at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, a mass of grassroots militant groups will be following him there. True to Trump’s crusade against “establishment politics,” the convention will mark these fringe conservatives’ entrance onto the mainstream political stage.
After riots broke out between some of these groups and anti-Trump protesters outside a rally in San Jose in early June — and safety concerns cancelled another campaign stop in Chicago — tensions are expected to run high this weekend.
One prominent group of Trump advocates already drawing attention is the white nationalist Traditionalist Workers Party, whose members were involved in the San Jose brawl but blamed anti-Trump protesters for the violence.
“We’re essentially just going to show up [at the convention] and make sure that the Donald Trump supporters are defended from the leftist thugs,” the group’s spokesman, Matt Parrott, told McClatchy Washington Bureau.
The party’s platform advocates an end to “discrimination against whites” and racial integration and counts Matthew Heimbach, who shoved a protester while calling her “leftist scum,” among its more prominent figures.
“White Americans are getting fed up and they’re learning that they must either push back or be pushed down,” Heimbach wrote online regarding his attack on the black protester, according to The Washington Post.
Despite the Traditionalist Workers’ violent track record, Parrott told McClatchy that he didn’t anticipate violent incidents during the convention, not counting “a couple of isolated skirmishes.” Meanwhile, a member of another group, Citizens for Trump, said the city’s government — not these militia groups — would be responsible if there were incidents.
As speculation rises over the possibility of a Republican mutiny against Trump, many of his supporters are also traveling to Ohio to ensure that Trump does in fact secure the nomination. Two organizations expected to be in full force next week are named “We Will Walk” and “Stop the Steal.”
Roger Stone, a friend and advisor to Trump and an organizer, said in April that he would leak the hotel room numbers of convention delegates who broke commitments to vote for Trump.
Chris Cox, founder of Bikers for Trump, known for serving as vigilante security at his rallies, said in a Reuters interview that the group’s “role will change” if Trump is denied the nomination — or if protesters on the other side get out of line.
“The moment that we are assaulted the tone will definitely change,” Cox said in an April Politico article on the Bikers’ security efforts. “We’re certainly not going to get punched and back down.”
The group, which expects to bring thousands to Cleveland, encourages its motorcycle-riding supporters not to act violently, but alleges on its website that “paid protestors” who rally against Trump are being fed “untruthful propaganda.”
As Politico noted, the Trump campaign is aware of their “security” efforts — Cox is close with Trump’s head of security — suggesting that these groups are not as independent from the main operation as they may seem.
The first expected appearance for these militia Trump supporters will be at a demonstration on the first day of the convention, the “America First Unity Rally.” Speakers at the event lack the same violent track record but seem to hold the same racist beliefs.
Organized by former Trump adviser Roger Stone and a white nationalist group, “America First” will feature individuals such as Jan Morgan, a self-proclaimed Second Amendment advocate who boasts about banning Muslims from her shooting range and calls Islam a theocratic “terrorist organization.”
Morgan won’t be the only Islamophobe in attendance. Another headliner, Guido George Lombardi, co-founded Citizens for Trump and posted on Twitter that the organizer of the Dallas Black Lives Matter rally is an “Islamic agent.” Fellow speaker Wayne Dupree, meanwhile, suggested that Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed because they wanted to “show off for their friends with disrespect.”
So far, the Trump campaign has not publicly commented on any of these efforts.
Photo: A man carries a sign for Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump at the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally to highlight POW-MIA issues on Memorial Day weekend in Washington, U.S. May 29, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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