Some voters are being drawn to a candidate who uses dangerous language. Donald Trump puzzles and frightens many people throughout our nation and the world. Who are his fans?
We know from Dr. Bob Altemeyer’s research that many fit the definition of authoritarian followers – people who eagerly and blindly follow someone they see as forceful and combative. They want someone who will destroy their perceived enemies. They are motivated by pervasive fear and endorse harsh punishments for anyone they think is a threat. Trump supporters see anyone outside their self-defined white American tribe as their enemy. Even people who simply disagree with their leader deserve violent hostility.
Too many Republicans prefer domineering and “winning” to cooperating and forming coalitions to solve national and world problems. They are attracted to Trump’s righteous justification of belligerence, intimidation and threats, and his ridicule of civility, rational discussion and calm demeanor as weak.
Words have power, and some words are dangerous. Political statements that have been made in the past few years and can be found on the Internet include, “joking” about decapitating a political journalist, assassinating our President, killing a film maker with one’s bare hands, hoping a congressperson would burn to death, and hoping that the President’s next birthday will be his last. Pundits and politicians have called their political opposition traitors, tyrants, Nazis, and a great and powerful evil and have justified eliminating, destroying, killing, lynching, or giving them “what Kennedy got.” These statements were uttered deliberately to incite emotional reactions and violence.
Donald Trump incites those who are emotionally susceptible when he says, “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, OK? Just knock the hell – I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. I promise.” And as a protestor was leaving a Trump rally, “Next time we see him, we might have to kill him.” He even appealed to “the old days” when demonstrators would be “carried out on a stretcher, folks.” Even labeling people he doesn’t like as weak, dumb, crooked, lying, rapists, terrorists, etc. dehumanizes them and makes them easier to attack.
Such demagoguery has consequences. A Trump supporter punched a protestor as he was being escorted out of a Trump rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina by security personnel. Other supporters have called reporters disgusting, sleazy, and terrorists. Tension and violence have become common at Trump rallies.
Donald Trump is a dangerous demagogue. We need leaders who are firm without being ferocious, assertive without being aggressive, determined without being dogmatic, bold without being belligerent, and can disagree without being disagreeable. Great leaders are civil, cooperative, prudent, and persuasive rather than bombastic, brash, combative, or obstinately obstructive.