Our View: Hateful rhetoric can have scary consequences

In late October, more than a dozen Democrats and known critics of President Trump, including two former presidents, were the targets of explosives, mailed to them by a conservative extremist and Trump supporter.

Many media outlets have pointed fingers at the increasingly hateful rhetoric that has abounded during the Trump administration as cause for blame. Republicans have said this accusation is unfair, that the blame should never be cast on members of the suspect’s community, but the suspect alone. However, though their argument is generally true, this is a separate situation. We must look at the variables.

Since Trump’s presidential campaign and subsequent election, political rhetoric has become increasingly toxic, infiltrating American life as we know it. Trump himself regularly encourages violence, jokingly and otherwise. He has encouraged his supporters to “knock the crap out of” any protesters at his rallies. He commended a GOP congressman who body-slammed a reporter. Similarly, his disrespect for the media is frightening. Any left-leaning news organizations are “fake news media” and the “enemy of the people.” His insensitive accusations often lack any substance. He has promised to put Hillary Clinton in jail, despite her never being convicted of a crime. He has called protesters of Brett Kavanaugh’s supreme court nomination “evil” and “morally defective.”

There’s a line, albeit sometimes fuzzy, between challenging the status quo and stirring up violence. However, Trump has crossed this line. His rhetoric obviously cannot be directly tied to the actions of Cesar Sayoc, Jr., the Florida man who is suspected of sending the bombs to Trump critics last month. But though there is no direct causation, there is absolutely some correlation.

“Speech can inspire violence,” National Review senior writer David French said. “It can. It’s one reason why civility and a sense of proportion in your speech aren’t just abstract, sanctimonious, or elitist concepts. They’re moral responsibilities for people with any kind of meaningful platform. Not all listening ears are sober-minded or entirely rational. And when they hear a public figure they admire thunder against his political opponents with extreme language, sometimes they’ll take extreme action in response.”

It would be unfair to discredit Trump’s skills in persuasion. In fact, for what he is trying to accomplish, his rhetoric has been extremely skilled and effective. However, his method of persuasion is often fear and anger. His campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” implies that America was once great, and we must revert to some bygone era instead of progressing forward. Through acceptance and understanding, America is getting better for groups like racial and ethnic minorities, women, and the LGBT community. It has only been consistently “great” for the WASP, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, in which Trump and many of his supporters fit snugly. Trump has turned his supporters against entire countries through passing the travel ban and demanding we must “build that wall.” He has declared war against news media. Just as French said, this fearmongering can fall on the wrong ears, with harrowing results.

The way in which Trump incites fear through his words can prompt action from those who have always wanted a reason to act hatefully, adding fuel to the fire. Trump is not condoning the October bombings or the synagogue shooting or any number of other terrible events that have occurred in the past few years. But he does have a responsibility as one of the most-watched men in the world to err on the side of caution, realizing that he cannot control how his words are taken once they leave his mouth.

The Carrier’s editorial opinion represents the views of the senior members of the Campus Carrier and Viking Fusion news staff.

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