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Trump’s many dog whistles about unrest and violence

Before the 2016 election, Marco Rubio warned about it. Ted Cruz warned about it. Nikki Haley warned about it. Rick Perry even previewed it in an eerily prescient way.

All of these prominent Republicans linked Donald Trump’s rhetoric to the potential for political violence. Then we saw such violence on Jan. 6, 2021.

Despite the predictability of it — and indeed, the fact that it was predicted — Trump has wrangled control of the Republican Party again, and he continues to not-at-all-subtly raise the specter of unrest and violence as a political bargaining chip.

The most recent example: In his first interview since being convicted on 34 felony counts in Manhattan, Trump this past weekend addressed the possibility of being imprisoned or put under house arrest by saying, “I’m not sure the public would stand for it.”

“I think it would be tough for the public to take,” Trump told Fox News. “You know, at a certain point, there’s a breaking point.”

This is vintage Trump. He’s not explicitly advocating unrest. He’s not even explicitly mentioning unrest in this case. But he is suggestively pointing to something very bad around the corner if he doesn’t get what he wants.

And as with his recent “bloodbath” comment, the point is not that this comment is a particularly egregious example of a dog whistle to his supporters; it’s that it’s merely the latest in a long line of suggestive comments. The context is key, and the track record is unmistakable.

Trump wants his foes to worry about things getting ugly — and to perhaps adjust their behavior accordingly. The problem is that we’ve seen how supporters can take his comments as a call to action. (And Trump’s comments, crucially, almost never come with an admonition to stay peaceful.)

Let’s recap that long line.

March 2016 (warning about being denied the Republican nomination)

“I think it would be — I think you’d have riots. … I think you would have problems like you’ve never seen before. I think bad things would happen, I really do. I believe that. I wouldn’t lead it, but I think bad things would happen.”

August 2016 (warning about Hillary Clinton picking judges)

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

March 2019

“I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

May 2020

Amid racial justice protests, tweets a video featuring a supporter saying, “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat” (the supporter clarified he wasn’t being literal). A day later, tweets, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

September 2020 (when challenged to condemn white supremacists and militia groups threatening violence)

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what: Somebody has to do something about antifa and the left.” (The Proud Boys later led the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, with several being convicted of seditious conspiracy.)

November 2020 (responding to an adverse ruling from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court)

“The Supreme Court decision on voting in Pennsylvania is a VERY dangerous one. It will allow rampant and unchecked cheating and will undermine our entire systems of laws. It will also induce violence in the streets. Something must be done!”

August 2022 (after the search of Mar-a-Lago)

“People are so angry at what is taking place. Whatever we can do to help because the temperature has to be brought down in the country. If it isn’t, terrible things are going to happen.” (Even Fox News’s conservative hosts were skeptical that Trump was in fact interested in taking down the temperature.)

February 2023 (amid talk of disqualifying Trump from holding office)

Reposts a supporter who warns that advocates of disqualification “will have to figure out how to fight 80,000,000 + it’s not going to happen again. People my age and old[er] will physically fight for him this time. … They got my 6 and we Are Locked and LOADED.”

March 2023 (before his Manhattan indictment)

“What kind of person can charge another person … with a Crime, when it is known by all that NO Crime has been committed, & also known that potential death & destruction in such a false charge could be catastrophic for our Country?”


January 2024

“I think they feel [prosecuting Trump] is the way they’re going to try and win, and that’s not the way it goes. It’ll be bedlam in the country. It’s a very bad thing. It’s a very bad precedent. As we said, it’s the opening of a Pandora’s box.” (A Washington Post reporter asked Trump as he was walking away if he would tell his supporters not to get violent. Trump ignored the question.)

April 2024 (on whether there will be violence if he loses)

“I don’t think we’re going to have that; I think we’re going to win. And if we don’t win, you know, it depends. It always depends on the fairness of an election.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post
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