(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Opinion writer

It is no longer an open question: President Trump knows full well that his rhetoric and conspiracy theories are putting people’s lives in danger — and in one case might have already helped incite mass murder — yet he continues to push them anyway.

Axios just posted a new exchange from an interview with Trump that is set to air this weekend. You should watch the video. It is profoundly awful to witness Trump blithely shrug at his own role in inciting violent behavior and more broadly at the deep damage he is doing to this country. Here’s the exchange, with reporter Jim VandeHei:

VandeHei: To be honest, what scares the crap out of me is that when, if you’re saying, “enemy of the people, enemy of the people” —

Trump: Well I have to fight back. You’re right —

VandeHei: Hold on a second. God forbid that like somebody — you’ve got fervent supporters. They love you. Listen to you. “Enemy of the people” —

Trump: They like me more because of that.

VandeHei: They like you more, but what happens if all of a sudden someone gets shot? Someone shoots one of these reporters?

Trump: I fully —

VandeHei: You don’t think we’re the “enemy of the people,” do you?

Trump: I don’t. I don’t. But if you gave me false reports, I would say that’s not a good thing for our country.

VandeHei: But don’t you worry at all? You are like the most powerful man in the world. And if you say that word, “enemy, enemy, enemy” — literally tens of thousands of people go into a stadium to listen to you. And then people go on social media and get themselves so jazzed up. There’s gotta be a part of you that’s like, “damn, I’m scared that someone is going to take it too far.”

Trump: Jim, it’s my only form of fighting back. I couldn’t be here if I did that.

VandeHei: You won! You have the presidency!

Trump: No, no, no. But I did this before I won.

Again, watch the video. When Trump is asked by a visibly worried fellow human being to display awareness of the dangerous impact his own actions and rhetoric have on others — when he is asked to show a conscience about this — Trump visibly chafes. He can only process and respond to the question by flipping into a mode in which all that matters is how his conduct makes his supporters like him more and about how it is absolutely justified as a response to the way he is treated.

The impact that Trump’s wielding of the power and megaphone of the presidency is having on others — and on the country he leads — is, for Trump, simply not worth addressing for a passing second. Perhaps he is incapable of addressing it. Trump responds thusly not once, not twice, but three times.

Perhaps you think this merely represents Trump digging in and refusing to cave to a reporter, because (as he put it) this makes his supporters “like me more.” But this would not be mitigating in the least.

We already know Trump’s rhetoric is driving people toward violence

Here’s why: We already have direct confirmation that Trump’s “enemy of the people” rhetoric may, in fact, be inspiring real people to actively consider murdering reporters.

A few weeks ago, Robert D. Chain was arrested for allegedly threatening to murder journalists at the Boston Globe — while mimicking Trump’s language. According to FBI documents, Chain allegedly snarled into one employee’s voicemail: “You’re the enemy of the people, and we’re going to kill every f–––ing one of you.”

Trump has kept on repeating this very same “enemy of the people” language after that happened. This is the context for understanding Trump’s new comments to Axios: Trump has seen actual evidence that people appear to be contemplating acting on his rhetoric with murderous intent. Yet he defends it on the grounds that it is a justifiable response to aggressive media scrutiny of him and his administration — which is what the press is supposed to be doing — and even confirms he keeps this up anyway because it tightens his bond with his supporters.

If this is true, which it appears to be, what does that say about his supporters?

Trump keeps feeding conspiracy theories after they incite violent behavior and murder

Before departing on a final campaign swing Wednesday afternoon, Trump was asked by reporters whether he stands by the suggestion that the “caravan” of migrants moving through Mexico is orchestrated. Trump fed the conspiracy theory that George Soros is behind it:

Question: Do you think somebody is funding the caravan? Do you think somebody is paying for the caravan?

Trump: I wouldn’t be surprised. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Question: George Soros? Who’s paying for it?

Trump: I don’t know who. But I wouldn’t be surprised. A lot of people say yes.

The man who allegedly gunned down 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue did so after unleashing deranged rants to the effect that Jews “bring in invaders” — that is, refugees — who “kill our people.” This is a standard white-nationalist trope, which imagines a conspiracy in which “globalists” (read: Jews) are engineering a demographic invasion of the United States, to racially infect and undermine the “real” American people. Trump himself has used the “globalists” language while hate-mongering about the Central American migrants and casting them as a national emergency in veiled white-nationalist terms.

Recently, a man with a van covered in pro-Trump stickers allegedly tried to murder Soros with a pipe bomb mailed to his home, along with the homes of many prominent Democrats. Now Trump is again feeding the Soros-is-orchestrating-the-migrants conspiracy theory. Multiple Republicans continue to do the same.

Chain, the man who allegedly threatened to murder journalists, didn’t merely agree with Trump that they are the “enemy.” He also trafficked in a Trumpian conspiracy theory. He allegedly told a newsroom employee: “Why don’t you call Mueller, maybe he can help you out.” In this, Chain indulged the theory that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is conspiring with the media against Trump. After the news broke about this, Trump strode forth at a rally and repeated a version of this very same conspiracy theory.

Trump knows exactly what he’s doing. It isn’t just that he is actively, concertedly and deliberately inciting civil conflict on as many fronts as possible. Nor is it just that he does this precisely because (as he again confirmed to Axios) that he believes his supporters thrill to it, the damage to the country be damned, as independent reporting has verified again and again.

It’s also that Trump does all of this in the full knowledge that it not only might, but likely already has, inspired one madman to seriously consider murdering multiple journalists, and probably helped feed a climate of hate that apparently pushed two other madmen to actually attempt to carry out mass murder, one of whom succeeded.