The US electoral campaign was full of dangerous speech. It brought violence and may be followed by more, according to US scholars who usually study political violence abroad, not at home. The most famous and influential U.S. dangerous speaker is President Donald Trump, of course.
Over and over, Trump has inspired his supporters to attack people he paints as their enemies. “Knock the crap out of” anti-Trump protestors, he said during a rally in 2016. The next year, in one of many times Trump has demonized journalists and incited violence against them, he praised Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) for assaulting a reporter. (Congratulating people for violence they have already committed, as Trump regularly does, is often tantamount to encouraging more of it). Then in April of this year, he tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” That was his way of undermining the Democratic governors of those states who had issued stay-at-home orders in response to COVID-19. A few months later, a group of Trump supporters indeed plotted to kidnap the governors of those states.
These are only a few of many times when Trump has encouraged others to commit violence in his name and on his behalf. Not surprisingly, dozens have actually done so. If Trump didn’t mean to incite violence and thuggery, he should have clearly, publicly demanded that it stop.
On the contrary, he has never stopped or even slowed his dangerous speech. Instead, he cheers on people committing violence and thuggery in his name – even on the brink of election day. On Friday, October 30, Trump supporters’ vehicles nearly forced a Democratic campaign bus off the road in Texas. As a result, Joseph Biden had to cancel two events. The president’s response: “I love Texas!” and “in my opinion, these patriots did nothing wrong…”
As we await election day – tomorrow, at last – and its aftermath, we’re thinking about how to improve future campaigns. We have studied electoral codes of conduct, which are used in many countries to reduce the risk of electoral violence. We’ve made a set of specific new proposals for the United States, such as requiring politicians to repudiate dangerous speech and violence by their own supporters.
A link to the report and accompanying database of 31 codes of conduct can be found here.
1. Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). 2020. “Mid-Year Update: 10 Conflicts to Worry About in 2020” Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). https://acleddata.com/2020/08/18/mid-year-update-10-conflicts-to-worry-about-in-2020/#1597759650330-f3890636-9943 [https://perma.cc/M8FS-PZHV]
2. Eggert, David; Kathleen Foody; and John Flesher. 2020. “Agent: Michigan, Virginia governors mentioned in kidnap plot.” AP. https://apnews.com/article/virus-outbreak-kidnapping-michigan-gretchen-whitmer-arrests-b0d90b827be272781239f8e841d635dd
3. Cineas, Fabiola. 2020. “Donald Trump is the Accelerant.” Vox. https://www.vox.com/21506029/trump-violence-tweets-racist-hate-speech
4. Swaine, Jon and Juweek Adolphe. 2019. “Violence in the Name of Trump.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2019/aug/28/in-the-name-of-trump-supporters-attacks-database
5. Marfin, Catherine. 2020. “Biden campaign canceled two events in Texas Friday after vehicles with Trump flags surrounded campaign bus on highway.” The Chicago Tribune. https://www.chicagotribune.com/election-2020/ct-nw-biden-campaign-bus-texas-20201101-4bvnr7xeg5hypimatt45vhi5bi-story.html