Trump’s hate rhetoric has consequences

     Scott Leader (left) and Steve Leader (right) (Image via Suffolk County District Attorney's Office/Boston Globe)

    Scott Leader (left) and Steve Leader (right) (Image via Suffolk County District Attorney's Office/Boston Globe)

    This was bound to happen:

    According to police in Boston, two white guys beat the crap out of a homeless Mexican. They also smacked him in the head, repeatedly, with a metal pole. They also urinated on his face. When they were arrested, shortly after the Wednesday attack, one of the guys told police that it was OK to assault the man, simply because he was Hispanic.

    And why was it OK? Because, as one of the assailants told police, “Donald Trump was right – all these illegals need to be deported.”

    I know that a candidate shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of every racist moron. But surely we can agree that when a candidate repeatedly employs xenophobic hate rhetoric – smearing undocumented immigrants as rapists, vowing to throw 11 million people out of the country (“they’ve got to go”), insisting that the country is going to hell unless we conduct mass deportations – he increases the odds that racist morons will violently lash out. Check the history books. This is the kind of thing that happens when demagogues command the public square.

    Just as disturbing was Trump’s reaction to the attack. (The two guys, South Boston brothers, were charged yesterday with criminal assault and indecent exposure.) At first, Trump seemed poised to mouth an appropriate response: “I haven’t heard about that. It would be a shame, but I haven’t heard about that.”

    It would be a shame….That wasn’t a bad start. Surely the rest of his response was going to be something like this: “However strongly we might feel about the serious issues facing this country, there is no excuse whatsoever for violence. The actions of those two assailants in no way reflect or represent my beliefs, and I categorically condemn what they did.”

    But that’s not what Trump said next. Not even close. Ladies and gentlemen, your Republican frontrunner:

    “I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate, I will say that.”

    In other words, the aspiring strongman deems it an act of patriotism to urinate on an Hispanic person. If you target an Hispanic person for a beatdown, you can cite your “very passionate” impulse as a mitigating circumstance. If you grab a metal pole and pound the person repeatedly in the head – hey, it’s perfectly understandable because, after all, you love your country and you want this country to be great again. All you need do, to justify your violence, is metaphorically wrap yourself in the American flag.

    Hey, great Republican message! Rest assured that somewhere in America, another hater has heard it.

    The current conventional wisdom is that Trump is just a summer fling, that he’ll fade when GOP primary voters get serious about their ballots. And plenty of GOP-friendly pundits believe that even if Trump manages to win the nomination, his anti-immigrant rhetoric would doom him. For instance, Charles Krauthammer: “Republicans have an unusually talented field with a good chance of winning back the presidency. Do they really want to be dragged into the swamps – right now, on immigration – that will make that prospect electorally impossible?”

    But a demagogue who isn’t confronted will only go stronger. Republicans need to step up and condemn Trump’s message of “passion.” They need to condemn his hate speech and reclaim Ronald Reagan’s sunny optimism. If not, they risk being dragged into the swamp with the rest of us.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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