This piece originally appeared in Media Matters.
“Light the motherf*cker on fire.” — Trump supporter yelling at rally protester.
Donald Trump’s rallies may have reached a new apex of bigotry and intolerance last week when on two occasions protesters were set upon by agitated Trump supporters. In Lowell, Massachusetts, they tore up a “God Bless President Obama” sign, and then hurled insults at a Muslim woman wearing a “I Come In Peace” t-shirt who was escorted out of a Trump rally in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
According to tweets from inside the South Carolina event, jacked-up Trump supporters were anxious to randomly kick out lots of other people from the rally, even if the targets of their wrath weren’t protesting the event.
The two ugly episodes last week join a long list of nasty and shocking physical skirmishes that have come to define Trump’s political road show. In fact, here are some of the menacing utterances and taunts that have reportedly been yelled by Trump’s supporters at rallies recently: “Go home n****r.” “Sieg Heil.” “Kick his ass.” “Light the motherfucker on fire.” “Scum!” And “get him the hell out of here.”
Actually that last taunt came directly from Trump, currently the Republican Party’s frontrunner.
I’m comfortable in suggesting this kind of habitual ugliness — it’s a Trump feature, not a bug — is unprecedented in mainstream American politics. The idea that people are regularly being attacked, threatened and accosted at campaign rallies for a major party frontrunner is just off the charts in terms of modern American politics.
Last month, Talking Points Memo published a helpful round-up of the violent outbursts, explicitly noting, “Racist and bigoted language has become commonplace at the rallies, both from Trump supporters and the candidate himself.”
Since then, the ugly phenomenon has only escalated, yet the press seems unsure of how to deal with it. Yes, journalists type up the here’s-what-happened-dispatches. But where’s the outrage? Where are the endless pundit panel discussions about the outrageous behavior Trump is purposefully fermenting? Where are the deep, front-page dives into what the cauldron of Trump campaign violence reveals about his possible presidency?
Note that during an extended interview on Meet The Press on Sunday, Trump wasn’t asked about the litany of altercations at his rallies, including two upsetting ones last week. But Trump was asked to discuss allegations about Bill Clinton’s sex life from the 1990s.
I can still hear people insisting the story about Trump rally violence is being covered. After all, I just linked to several news accounts that detail the mob rally actions, right? So that proves the press is adequately covering the campaign story, yes?
First of all, too much of the coverage tiptoes around the looming threats of the Trump mobs. Following the incident in Lowell, where two men simply held held up signs that read “America Is Already Great” and “God Bless President Obama,” only to have their signs torn up by a mini-mob of Trump supporters before being escorted out by cops — the Washington Post suggested the incident was just another one of the “colorful ejections” that have come to define Trump rallies. The Post also suggested the sign-holding men had “disrupted the event,” not the Trump thugs who turned on them.
Meanwhile, Politico last week cheered the violent Trump events as being “fun.”
And as Media Matters noted last month, look at how CBS News reported on a Trump rally beat down:
— CBS News (@CBSNews) November 21, 2015
A “fight” broke out? All available evidence suggests a black protester who interrupted Trump’s speech was quickly jumped and then beaten, kicked, and choked by a crowd of white Trump supporters.
Secondly, I’m talking about what’s routinely absent from the thuggery coverage; the crime of omission.
For anyone who thinks the coverage has been pitch perfect, just imagine, for instance, if Hillary Clinton supporters were roughing up conservatives at her rallies, punching and choking them. Imagine if Bernie Sanders supporters were kicking and taunting attendees at Sanders rallies who were protesting the Democrat’s agenda. Imagine if conservatives quietly protesting Clinton and Sanders were being hauled out of events by cops while mobs of Democrats hurled insults at them.
Cardiac arrest barely begins to describe the type of communal meltdown that would occur within the Beltway press if any of those things had taken place under the auspices of the Democratic Party. Let alone if they took place over and over and over again.
More script flips? What if:
- Clinton or Sanders went on national television after violence at one of their rallies and said “maybe [protesters] should have been roughed up.”
- Clinton or Sanders stood at rally podium and called protesters “bloodsuckers.”
- Clinton or Sanders supporters were seen on video dragging a protester across the floor by the collar of his shirt.
I’ll answer the what-ifs: If any of that hallmark ugliness occurred on the Democratic side (let alone all of it), the Beltway press would essentially demand the offending Democratic candidate drop out of the race because they weren’t qualified to be president. Period.
So no, the press has clearly not given the Trump thugs and mobs the proper amount of attention or raised adequate concerns and objections. The press hasn’t demanded that the Republican frontrunner fix the problem of hovering political violence that permeates his campaign.
The press seems too nervous to call out the dangerous and disgusting behavior. People who cover politics know that what’s unfolding at the Trump rallies is unheard of. They know it’s extraordinary. They know it’s potentially very dangerous.
Yes, we keep getting updates about who was assaulted at which Trump rally. But there’s little connectivity and not enough outrage. Instead, we’re told Trump rallies where Democrats get physically assaulted are “fun.” (They’re not boring like “stodgy” Clinton events, am I right?)
This is bonkers. And it might be the best, most depressing, example yet that too many in the campaign press have walked away from wanting to hold Trump accountable.
Photo: Edward Champigny leads a sing-along about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump before a campaign rally in Lowell, Massachusetts January 4, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Originally published in Media Matters.