The violence at the most recent political rallies for Donald Trump must be taken as a message of great social importance. Initially the media and many Americans believed that Trump’s candidacy was a stunt and would soon fizzle out. Trump, however, has proved that his candidacy is serious. He is has tapped into a vein of raw anger, if not rage, that threatens the very life of our republic.
Now, finally, many people realize that Trump and his rhetoric of hate is dangerous, but what is more dangerous, to my mind, is that millions of Americans are attracted to Trump’s demagoguery. His message is simple: He is going to make America “great” again. He is going to do this by building a wall on the border with Mexico and applying his self-declared negotiating brilliance to global politics.
In fact, Mr. Trump has revealed few details of any serious policies or plans. The notion of a wall with Mexico is ludicrous. It has been discussed for years and always rationality has prevailed. The type of wall Mr. Trump favors would be financially impossible to build and impossible to police were it somehow to be built. The idea that we will force Mexico to pay for it is even more ludicrous. How will we do this? Will we declare war on Mexico?
At the heart of the Trump campaign is also a simple idea: hatred and scapegoating. Many Americans are depressed and desperate. The effects of the crash of 2008 are still being felt. Many Americans are seeing their jobs disappear. Many Americans are discovering that their skills do not fit in with the new, changing economy and that they are unable to go back to school to acquire new skills.
In such a situation it is comforting to be told that there is a single cause of all this grief. And the cause, of course, is some group of “foreigners” who are stealing jobs from Americans. But where is the factual basis for these claims? Trump has learned that scapegoating attracts support. The Nazis knew this. Now Trump knows it. And he is using the rage of everyday Americans to further his own ambitions regardless of the results.
What was deemed to be political burlesque has become deadly serious and violent. There seems to be little chance that the violence breaking out at Trump rallies will decrease unless Trump himself changes his rhetoric and stops fueling ordinary Americans’ rage and fear.
We need a president who has constructive ideas and who can provide solutions to the very real problems that have made so many Americans so angry. Hatred, racism, violence; these will not solve the problems we face as a nation. They will only make them worse.
— Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.