Trump’s rhetoric encourages ‘violence and white nationalism’ — here's how: New York Times columnist

Trump’s rhetoric encourages ‘violence and white nationalism’ — here's how: New York Times columnist
Donald J. Trump/Shutterstock
Donald J. Trump/Shutterstock

The death toll from the Friday, March 15 terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand has climbed to 50. Although President Donald Trump posted a tweet on Friday condemning the attack, some of his critics have been pointing out that one of the white nationalist suspects had described Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” And in his most recent column for the New York Times, journalist David Leonhardt stresses that while Trump was not directly responsible for the attack in Christchurch, his inflammatory rhetoric is promoting an environment in which extremists feel empowered.


“The president’s continued encouragement of violence—and of white nationalism—is part of the reason that white-nationalist violence is increasing,” Leonhardt writes. “Funny how that works.”

For his column, Leonhardt interviewed some people he considers “experts in democracy and authoritarianism”—including Steven Levitsky (a political science professor at Harvard University in Massachusetts) and Daniel Ziblatt (co-author of the book “How Democracies Die”). And their assertions, Leonhardt found, indicate that “Trump’s words are still corroding democracy and public safety.”

According to Leonhardt, Ziblatt finds that Trump’s attacks on political opponents fit an “historical pattern.” Trump, Leonhardt stresses, resorts to “lies about his political opponents” and “allusions to a patriotic, violent response by ordinary citizens”—noting, “Latin American autocrats, including Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, have used this combination. So did European fascists in the 1930s.”

Leonhardt quotes Levitsky as saying, “Violent talk can, at minimum, encourage lone-wolf violence. It can also slowly normalize political violence, turning discourse and ideas that were once unsayable and even unthinkable into things that are sayable and thinkable.”

Leonhardt adds that “these risks are not just hypothetical,” pointing out that in 2017, Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte “body-slammed a reporter who asked a probing question” and has been “praised” by Trump “for the assault.”

The New York Times columnist goes on to say that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has reported a 73% increase in “extremist-related killings” in the last four years—and that most of them are coming from the right, not the left.

“Not all attacks come from people who identify with the political right, obviously,” Leonhardt explains. “The 2017 attempted mass murder of House Republicans on a baseball field is one horrific example. But most politically motivated attacks do indeed come from the right. Last year, 39 of the 50 extremist killings tracked by the ADL were committed by white supremacists, and another eight were committed by killers espousing anti-government views.”

Leonhardt concludes his column on a sobering note, asserting that Trump continues to encourage “white nationalism.”

“It isn’t very complicated: the man with the world’s largest bully pulpit keeps encouraging violence and white nationalism,” Leonhardt writes. “Lo and behold, white-nationalist violence is on the rise. You have to work pretty hard to persuade yourself that’s just a big coincidence.”

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