By Avi Bueno
Three years. That’s how long we’ve endured a collective experience of nonstop violent rhetoric from Donald Trump. Throughout these three years, we’ve seen and heard Trump promote violence against everyone from his political opponents, to news outlets, to everyday citizens.
And now, those three years of increasing and unending violent rhetoric have come to a head as the targets of Trump’s incessant public ire became the targets of a serial bomber.
Amidst the national turmoil, when asked whether the president bears any responsibility for this frightening escalation, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters: “Look, the president’s condemned violence in all forms and has done that since day one….”
Sanders’ comments are a clear attempt to rewrite our collective memory and erase the onslaught of violent rhetoric that has been imposed upon us continually for the better part of three years.
From the very beginning Trump made it clear that violence was going to be a primary feature of his rallying cries. This was perhaps most visible at his campaign events, even those as early as January 2016, when he told attendees that they should “knock the crap out of” people who appeared to be heckling, going as far as to offer to pay the legal fees of anyone arrested for engaging in violence at his direction.
In the same vein, Trump spent rally after rally lamenting “PC” culture and longing for the “good old days” when, as he framed it, the need to refrain from harming nonviolent protesters was nonexistent and police and rally-goers could freely attack anyone they deemed unwelcome.
And it was far more than just protesters who were subject to Trump’s calls for physical and political violence. He routinely led chants of “lock her up”, directed at his political opponent, Hillary Clinton, and, infamously, at an August 2016 rally in North Carolina, suggested that “second amendment people” — a reference to weapon-toting, gun rights advocates — could do something to stop her if she were elected and appointed judges who favored gun control.
Trump has also taken to Twitter to engage in incitements to violence, tweeting or retweeting memes that depicted violent attacks against Hillary Clinton, as he did in September 2017, when he retweeted a GIF of him hitting Secretary Clinton with a golf ball.
In addition to political opponents and protesters, journalists have been another major group bearing the brunt of Trump’s calls to violence, on Twitter and off. Just a month before he tweeted a meme depicting violence against Clinton, the President — and he was the President of the United States at this point — shared a GIF of his appearance at a professional wrestling event, with “CNN” superimposed over the face of a man Trump body-slammed and punched repeatedly. He did this while simultaneously referring to the media as the “enemy of the people”, something he continues to do to this day.
More than simply sharing GIFs, Trump, at a rally just last week, celebrated Montana Republican Representative Greg Gianforte’s body-slamming of Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs for committing the unspeakable sin of…. asking him a question about healthcare.
Ironically, while Trump has been inciting violence against this plethora of groups, he has spent an inordinate amount of time condemning non-existent violence and only doing so when fabricating perpetrators and exaggerating dangers suits his political ends through fearmongering.
Still, with all of this clear in our minds, Sarah Sanders would like us all to believe that what we know to be true is a lie… something Trump himself admits is untrue.
In a moment almost designed to verify all we’ve experienced, the night before Sanders’ comments, Trump as much as admitted that he has been engaging in overtly violent rhetoric, repeatedly praising himself for how well he was behaving and mourning the fact that he couldn’t return to his usual calls to violence that have become staples of his rallies.
More still, on the day the bomber was arrested by the FBI, Trump hosted at an event at the White House, where — just moments after feigning a call for unity — he participated in a chant of “lock him up” directed at billionaire Democratic donor George Soros, one of the many Trump critics to have received an explosive package just days earlier.
“Look, the president’s condemned violence in all forms and has done that since day one….”
We’ve all been here since day one. We’ve been here for the more than 1,200 days it’s been since Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015 and, Sarah, we remember Trump’s incitements.