The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump cannot be allowed to incite his way to reelection

President Trump speaks at the White House on Thursday on the final night of the Republican National Convention. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

President Trump and his cronies are like the cartoon villains in movies who not only unleash dastardly plots but then helpfully explain them to the audience. Thus on Thursday, the president’s outgoing counselor, Kellyanne Conway, told Fox News: “The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order.”

Seldom has a more cynical or sordid thought been publicly expressed by such a senior White House aide. As Democratic nominee Joe Biden said, Trump is “rooting for more violence, not less,” because he views it as politically beneficial in his quest to scare White America into voting for him.

You can see this horrifying spectacle unfolding over the past few days. On Thursday, in his acceptance speech, Trump castigated all of the “rioting, looting, arson and violence we have seen in Democrat-run cities.” On Friday, at a campaign rally in New Hampshire, Trump again calumniated protesters as “anarchists,” “rioters” and “looters.” On Saturday, a caravan of Trump supporters gathered outside Portland, Ore., and drove through the city, firing paintballs and pepper spray at bystanders.

Before long, a battle broke out between the Trump supporters and Black Lives Matter supporters, with punches thrown and debris hurled. The Post reported: “Trump supporters in trucks were at one point blocked in by the Black Lives Matter activists and began exiting their vehicles, precipitating the violence.” Eventually one person — wearing the hat of a far-right group called Patriot Prayer — was shot dead.

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Trump’s reaction? On Sunday morning, he tweeted “GREAT PATRIOTS!” in support of the pro-Trump agitators who instigated this violence and wrote approvingly: “The big backlash going on in Portland cannot be unexpected after 95 days of watching [an] incompetent Mayor admit that he has no idea what he is doing.”

So spare me the moral equivalency. I have been hearing far too many otherwise sober commentators suggest that the Democrats have a big problem because they are seen as supporting violent protesters. That is, in fact, the baseless propaganda that Trump is pushing. As the president said in his acceptance speech: “Joe Biden and his supporters remained completely silent about the rioters and criminals spreading mayhem in Democrat-run cities.”

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That’s simply not so. Joe Biden has never supported antifa or violence of any sort. He stated his position very clearly in a video released after Kenosha, Wis., police shot a Black man in the back seven times, leading to protests, arson, and looting. “Protesting brutality is a right and absolutely necessary,” Biden said. “Burning down communities is not protest — it’s needless violence, violence that endangers lives, violence that guts businesses and shutters businesses that serve the community. That’s wrong.” On Sunday, after the clash in Portland, he repeated his opposition to violence.

Yes, there are some left-wing radicals who support looting and rioting. But they are unlikely to be fans of Biden (author of the 1994 crime bill) and Kamala D. Harris (a former prosecutor). Violence has been consistently renounced and denounced by the entire Democratic leadership. The only way the Trump campaign can suggest otherwise is by twisting the words of Democrats. In other words, by lying.

By contrast, while Trump condemned the killing of George Floyd, I don’t hear him consistently castigating police officers who engage in brutality against minorities. Instead, he has encouraged police brutality. I don’t even hear him condemning right-wing terrorists such as the suspected shooter in Kenosha, Kyle Rittenhouse, a Trump fan who stands accused of killing two people during a Black Lives Matter protest.

Indeed, some of Trump’s most ardent fans are celebrating Rittenhouse’s alleged crimes. Tucker Carlson, the most popular TV host in America, said: “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?” Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) said Rittenhouse’s alleged acts were “100% justified self defense.” Author Ann Coulter said she wants Rittenhouse “as my president.” Trump himself “liked” a tweet that said, “Kyle Rittenhouse is a good example of why I decided to vote for Trump.”

I get that attacks on Biden as the candidate of lawlessness and disorder may be causing some voters to gravitate to Trump. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), for example, reports seeing lots of “Blue Lives Matter” signs in her suburban Detroit district. Sarah Longwell, founder of Republican Voters Against Trump, has heard from a few women in focus groups that recent unrest makes them more likely to vote for Trump. And I get the need for Biden to be more vocal and visible in denouncing looters and rioters, as George Packer urges in the Atlantic.

But we in the media need to be clearer about communicating the difference between perception and reality. The horrors that Trump claims will unfold in Biden’s America are actually happening right now in Trump’s America — and the president is doing all he can to create those conditions for personal and political gain. Only one presidential candidate this year is fomenting violence — and it’s not Joe Biden.

How do conspiracy theories and racism move from the fringe to a political platform? The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has found the way. (Video: Parjanya Christian Holtz/The Washington Post, Photo: Markus Schreiber / AP/The Washington Post)

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