That question has gone conspicuously unasked as we enumerate the possible outcomes of November’s election. The potential impact on the nation’s economy, its foreign policy and its standing in the world have all been duly analyzed. But there has been little, if any, discussion of the potential for violence.
It is, of course, Donald Trump’s name on the ballot that necessitates the discussion. His rallies have erupted into brawls with depressing frequency; his followers assaulting demonstrators while he eggs them on.
And then, there’s this: Last year, two South Boston brothers — Scott and Steve Leader — were arrested after allegedly peeing in the face of a homeless, 58-year-old Mexican immigrant sleeping on a bench. They beat him with a metal pole, breaking his nose. Authorities say Scott Leader explained himself thusly: “Donald Trump was right. All these illegals need to be deported.”
Trump’s initial response was simply to note that his followers “love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.” If that is the sort of “passion” a few rallies and speeches incite, how much worse would it be in the event — God help us all — of an actual Trump victory? How emboldened in their bullyboy behavior would people like the Leader brothers become with one of their own in the White House?
And that’s not even the worst-case scenario. What if the far more likely thing happens? What if Trump loses? His followers are already filled with fury and an exaggerated sense of their own victimhood and entitlement. What happens if an embarrassingly emphatic repudiation is added to that mix?
Hate crimes might be the least of our problems. The greater worry might be terrorism.
In a nation conditioned to think of terrorism as the exclusive province of Muslim fanatics with difficult names, the idea will strike some as ridiculous. But to be sanguine about the danger of radical right violence is to pretend Cliven Bundy’s armed standoff in Nevada and the armed takeover of federal property in Oregon never happened. And it is to ignore a litany of radical right terror plots enacted or interdicted in recent years.
From the Oklahoma City bombing to the Atlanta Olympics bombing to a New York state plot to murder Muslims by radiation poisoning, to a massacre at an African-American church in Charleston, to the attempted bombing of a Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane, to the crashing of an airplane into an IRS office in Austin to a mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs to, literally, dozens more, the radical right has hardly been shy about using violence to frighten people as a means of achieving their political goals — the dictionary definition of terrorism.
Small wonder Mark Potok, editor of Intelligence Report, the magazine of the Southern Poverty Law Center, does not laugh off the possibility of violence from aggrieved supporters of Donald Trump. Radical right terror, he says, “is a worry anyway, as we go through this huge demographic transition in the United States. But the thing about Trump’s voters is that they are angry, they are riled up, and they are expecting to win.” If and when they don’t, he says, terrorism might well be their response.
It’s not as unthinkable as some of us will want to believe. Too often, as the right has descended into tribalistic incoherence, the rest of us have underestimated the crazy, baselessly reassuring ourselves that they’ll go this far, but surely no further. And too often, we’ve been wrong. Maybe it’s time to abandon baseless reassurance. Maybe it’s time to take crazy at face value.
Will there be blood? Here’s a better question:
Will you honestly be surprised if there is?
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2016 THE MIAMI HERALD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Costa Mesa, California, U.S., April 28, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson