Supporting Trump Means Supporting a Culture of Violence

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Over the weekend, Donald Trump sent out a video with an image of Joe Biden bound like a hostage, and linked to an article with a photo of the daughter of the judge in his hush-money trial in New York. Voters need to confront the reality of what supporting Trump means.

First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:

‘Is This Who You Are?’

On Good Friday, Donald Trump shared a video that prominently featured a truck with a picture of a hog-tied Joe Biden on it. I’ve seen this art on a tailgate in person, and it looks like a kidnapped Biden is a captive in the truck bed.

The former president, running for his old office, knowingly transmitted a picture of the sitting president of the United States as a bound hostage.

Of course, Trump’s spokesperson Steven Cheung quickly began the minimizing and what-abouting: “That picture,” he said in a statement, “was on the back of a pick up truck that was traveling down the highway. Democrats and crazed lunatics have not only called for despicable violence against President Trump and his family, they are actually weaponizing the justice system against him.”

I cannot recall prominent elected Democrats calling for hurting Trump or his family. The closest Biden got was when he once lost his temper six years ago and said that if he and Trump were in high school, he’d have wanted to beat him up behind the gym, a comment Biden later said he regretted. And there is certainly no evidence to suggest that Biden or his spokespeople ever promoted the idea that the 45th president should be taken hostage. Over the weekend, Trump’s defenders took to social media to keep raising the 2017 picture in which the comedian Kathy Griffin held up an effigy of Trump’s severed head. So let us all stipulate: Her stunt was ghastly. Griffin’s comedy—or parody, or protest art—was in bad taste and potentially a risk to a sitting president. She paid for it: The Secret Service investigated her, and her career at CNN was torched.

But Griffin is not a former president seeking once again to become commander in chief of the armed forces and the top law-enforcement authority in the United States. And Griffin did not incite a mob of rioters—some of whom were bent on homicide—to attack the Capitol. Donald Trump is, and he did.

Meanwhile, Trump also had words last week for the people trying to hold him accountable—or, more accurately, for their children. The day before he promoted imagery depicting the torture of the sitting president, Trump fired off a Truth Social post in which he mentioned the daughter of Juan Merchan, the judge presiding over his hush-money criminal trial: “Judge Juan Merchan is totally compromised, and should be removed from this TRUMP Non-Case immediately,” Trump wrote. “His Daughter, Loren, is a Rabid Trump Hater, who has admitted to having conversations with her father about me, and yet he gagged me.”

Then, on Saturday, Trump blasted out a New York Post article that included Loren Merchan’s picture to his followers.

Trump’s fan base will shrug off its leader’s condoning of violent fantasies and implied threats of violence as more harmless lib-owning. But what Trump is doing is dangerous, and the time is long past to stop treating support for his candidacy as just one of many ordinary political choices. As the historian of authoritarianism Ruth Ben-Ghiat posted on Friday on X: “This is an emergency. This is what authoritarian thugs and terrorists do. Trump is targeting the President of the United States.”

Other Americans are well within their rights to wonder if this is what Trump supporters actually want to see in 2024.

Perhaps a thought experiment might help: Would today’s Trump supporters think it hilarious, say, to see Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter bound in the same way that Biden was depicted? Perhaps Bill Clinton or the Bushes tied up like hostages? (We can only begin to imagine what kind of ugly end the truck Rembrandts might have portrayed for Barack Obama.)

After seeing Trump post this video, I found myself wanting to ask his voters the questions that always occur after one of his outrages: Is this okay with you? Is this something you’d want your children to see?

Trump’s apologists—especially those who claim to be against Trump but are sympathetic to the movement he leads—will complain that such questions are un-American, and that we should not judge other citizens for their choices. This is disingenuous caviling: Every day, both in politics and in our daily lives, we reach moral conclusions about one another’s choices. More to the point, tolerating and even celebrating violent images and despicable language is a perfectly legitimate cause for looking down on the people who engage in such behavior.

(The whining about judgment is particularly ironic coming from Trump adherents, who constantly judge others while cheering on Trump’s descriptions of other Americans as “vermin” and “thugs”—all the while constantly complaining about how others are judging them.)

Another thought exercise might clarify the problem. Imagine someone who seems, in every way, like a perfectly good neighbor, but in a discussion he says that his favorite candidate for president would be the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke. (He ran for the U.S. Senate and governor in Louisiana as a Republican in 1990 and 1991 and ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 1992.) Or, to take a more recent example, Ye (formerly known as Kanye West), another former presidential candidate whose career as a musical act has been eclipsed by his anti-Semitic and racist comments.

I doubt many of us, faced with a neighbor who supports a racist and former Klansman, or idolizes a rambling anti-Semite, would shrug and take comfort in how neat he keeps his lawn. We might start to suspect that such a neighbor is not a good citizen—and, given the hate that he supports, maybe not a good person, either.

Such thoughts are unpleasant—in part because of how many millions of Americans, including people we may know and care about, have repeatedly voted for Trump. But at some point, we have to decide when to levy a moral judgment that puts these choices beyond the realm of a normal political argument.

Unfortunately, we’re not getting much help in making those determinations from some of the media. On Sunday morning, for example, Kristen Welker of Meet the Press noted that Trump had “stepped up his attacks on the judge and his family in the New York hush money case” and is “falsely calling the criminal proceedings ‘election interference.’” Her verdict: “It is yet another reminder that we are covering this election against the backdrop of a deeply divided nation.”

Well, sure, that’s one way to put it. More accurately, however, we might say that a mostly coherent and decent nation is under electoral assault from a violent seditionist minority that has captured one of our two national parties, and its leader encourages and condones threats against officials at every level across the country, including threats of violence against the sitting president of the United States.

Every ardent Trump supporter should be asked when enough’s enough. And every elected Republican, including the sad lot now abasing themselves for a spot on Trump’s ticket or in his possible Cabinet, should be asked when they will risk their careers for the sake of the country, if not their souls. We have reached an important moment—one of many over the past years, if we are to be honest. After all we have learned and seen, and all of the questions we might ask of Trump supporters, perhaps only one simple and direct question truly matters now:

Is this who you are?


Today’s News

  1. An air strike on the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria, killed at least seven people, including multiple top commanders from Iran’s Quds Force, according to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps. The New York Times reported that Israeli and Iranian officials said that Israel was behind the attack.
  2. The Florida Supreme Court upheld the state’s current 15-week abortion ban, a decision that allows legislation outlawing abortion after six weeks to go into effect in 30 days. In a separate case, the court ruled that a constitutional amendment enshrining abortion rights can appear on ballots in November.
  3. Texas’s Department of State Health Services announced that a person in Texas had contracted bird flu after being exposed to dairy cattle that were presumably infected with the disease. The individual is the second person to be diagnosed with highly pathogenic avian influenza in the U.S.; the first case took place in 2022.

Evening Read

Students in caps and gowns with a FAFSA form in the background
Illustration by Ben Kothe / The Atlantic. Source: Harold M. Lambert / Getty.

Colleges Are Facing an Enrollment Nightmare

By Rose Horowitch

For years, Senator Lamar Alexander was known for theatrically unfurling a paper document so long that he could hold it above his head and still see it drag along the chamber floor. It was the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, a form that every college student and their family must complete to be eligible for federal grants and student loans. Detractors argued that its length (more than 100 questions) and complexity (experts joked that you needed a Ph.D. to complete it) deterred students from getting aid and attending college. In December 2020, on the eve of Alexander’s retirement, Congress finally passed legislation to simplify the form, with implementation ultimately scheduled for the high-school class of 2024. It was a rare win for bipartisan, commonsense governance: less paperwork, more kids going to college.

That was the idea, anyway. In practice, seemingly every phase of the implementation has gone wrong.

Read the full article.

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Stephanie Bai contributed to this newsletter.

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