Is he serious? Does President Donald Trump really think there will be “violence” from the left if Republicans lose control of Congress in the November midterms? Isn’t the whole point of winning an election to get what you want without turning to violence?
Yet, “violence” was in Trump’s forecast in a closed-door meeting with evangelical leaders last week at the White House, according to audio obtained by NBC and the New York Times.
“They will overturn everything that we’ve done, and they’ll do it quickly and violently, and violently,” Trump said. “There’s violence. When you look at antifa, and you look at some of these groups – these are violent people.”
Sometimes. But antifa, a loosely knit, far-left movement, tends to live up to its name, which is short for “anti-fascist,” by showing up at far-right-wing events, such as the infamous rally by torch-bearing white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., last year.
Remember? After one of the neo-Nazis drove his car into a peaceful crowd of counter-protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring 19 others, Trump put “blame on both sides,” and then shamelessly added that there also were some “very fine people on both sides,” including the side that included the neo-Nazis.
Is Trump serious? Or is he just describing a movie that’s playing in his own head?
After all, Trump has hardly been a peacenik when it comes to cheerleading for violence. After a protester interrupted a Las Vegas rally in February 2016, he growled, “I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell ya.”
“Get him out!” he said as a protester was escorted out of another rally in Warren, Michigan, in March 2016. “Try not to hurt him. If you do, I’ll defend you in court.”
At a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he told supporters to “knock the crap out of” would-be hecklers. At another rally, less than a month after Trump said he wanted to punch a protester in the face, one of his supporters did.
Yet, Trump told the religious leaders, “The level of hatred, the level of anger is unbelievable” on the left, as if his own habit of rooting for violence was not well known.
But talking about the ragtag antifa group helped Trump avoid other awkward issues, such as his own rather unchaste Ten Commandments violations alleged by stripper Stormy Daniels.
Expressing a willingness to look the other way as long as Trump delivers with his appointment of conservative Supreme Court justices, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council famously said of the Daniels case that Trump should “get a mulligan … get a do-over.”
Trump may well get another mulligan for urging the Christian leaders in the White House meeting to break federal law by openly supporting him from the pulpit.
Among other achievements that he said they must preserve, he claimed to have overturned the provision in federal tax law known as the Johnson Amendment that bars churches from endorsing political candidates. He not only cannot overturn a law without congressional approval, but the executive order he signed is worded in a way that leaves the Johnson Amendment untouched.
It’s not nice to spread falsehoods, especially to religious leaders. But as they are encouraged by today’s culture wars to feel like an oppressed minority, it’s not shocking to see evangelicals view him as a secular “savior,” the label some Trump conservatives have used to mock Barack Obama’s supporters.
As for Trump, his desperation appears to be showing. It is not antifa that has fear percolating in his heart. It’s Democratic voters. They’re energized and well-positioned to take back at least one house of Congress in November.
His disapproval rating hit 60 percent, a new high, in a poll released Friday by the Washington Post and ABC News. Embarrassing revelations about his personal lawyer and others in his orbit did not help his image in the dog days of summer.
Even his declaration at recent rallies that, “Yes, we’re building the wall” (the one he promised on the U.S.-Mexico border) is a falsehood – and Mexico still isn’t paying for it.
But his words apparently do have an impact. Robert Chain, 68, of Encino, Calif., was arrested and charged Thursday with making “credible” threats of violence to Boston Globe employees, calling the newspaper the “enemy of the people.”
Yes, that’s the Stalinesque label Trump gives to media that deliver news that Trump doesn’t like. We media workers are not enemies of the people. We’re just people Trump wants to call his enemy.
Clarence Page is a member of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.
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