Toxic Trump is also a superspreader of hate

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, October 11, 2020.

Stop the presses: on Thursday, the FBI charges 13 American citizens for conspiring in a domestic terrorist plot to kidnap and potentially murder Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. They then wanted to start a civil war fuelled by white supremacy and discontent with lockdown restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They’d begin with an assault on the state capital. Overwhelm the legislature. Attack police officers and, if the mission failed, invade Whitmer’s residence and kill the duly elected governor of the 10th largest state.

But the presses hardly stopped at all. And that’s because what should have been a “man bites dog” story was nothing more than another day in Donald Trump’s America.

The sad fact is, since the Trump-inspired rise of hate groups and “militias,” the term “domestic terrorism” is thrown around like confetti.

It is not at all random that this kind of depraved action follows in the wake of Trump’s insistent refusal to condemn white supremacy and his ratcheting up violent rhetoric about his political enemies.

Shortly after the attack was revealed to Americans, the president and his proxy, Jason Miller, wait for it, actually criticized Whitmer in the same terms as her would-be kidnappers: for the action she had taken to address the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan.

Are you kidding me?

After all, Whitmer is hardly alone. Over the past six months, every level and every stripe of government in Canada and the United States has made difficult policy decisions in the name of public health.

Conservatives, New Democrats, Liberals, Republicans and Democrats alike have taken responsible but unpopular decisions to stem the chaos of the pandemic. All of which makes them easy targets of fringe groups across the country.

But what the hell is going on when the president of the United States publicly disparages a public servant hours after a potential attempt on her life? What kind of a Kafkaesque world are we living in when the president cannot condemn the planned attack for what it is: domestic terrorism, planned and quite nearly perpetrated on American soil.

Well, the time has come to bell the cat. David Gergen, the man who has been a counsellor to more presidents than any other said it first: there is a madman in the White House.

Full of vitriol and heavy steroids, the diminished emperor king is left to careen around the halls of the White House; halls left empty because of the virus he spread.

The president has become the super-spreader of hate and in that regard, the verdict is in. Donald Trump has emboldened dangerous elements of America’s far right and in doing so he has become the very root of the problem.

We’ve seen it again and again — from his response to Charlottesville to his repeated and pathetic claims that he “doesn’t know” about people like David Duke and the Proud Boys. Well, he does know. And what’s more, he knows exactly how to speak to them in code.

Countless Americans have had their participation in public life threatened by the president’s cronies-by-proxy. For example, in Brooklyn on Wednesday, before the attack on Whitmer had been revealed, a mob of Orthodox Jewish Trump supporters attacked journalist Jacob Kornbluh.

In our world, with information coming at us daily from every direction, it has become easy to discount political language as window-dressing, disingenuous, perhaps mendacious.

Trump himself has spent five years reminding us that politicians are all crooked — except for him of course — and that the words they use are not worth the paper they’re printed on.

This is the greatest deception of all. Words matter. In politics as in everyday life, they have the power to galvanize us, to inspire us and to drive us toward despair. They move markets and set the direction for cultural change.

In Trump’s case, they also reinforce the notion of an America where this kind of action, fuelled by racist hatred and political division, is acceptable. It is not acceptable.

Enough.

Jaime Watt is executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist. He is a freelance contributing columnist for the Star. Twitter: @jimewatt