A considerable portion of Trump’s advocates and many other Americans on the left and right are under the false impression that burning our current political system to the ground is the best option. One liberal journalist, who voted in the Democratic presidential primaries for Bernie Sanders, described the situation:
“What’s needed now in American politics is consternation, confusion, dissension, disorder, chaos — and crisis, with possible resolution — and a Trump presidency is the best chance for this true progress. This is a politics of arson. I’d rather see the empire burn to the ground under Trump, opening up at least the possibility of radical change, than cruise on autopilot under Clinton….It’s the risk of the wild card. TRUMP! Let the fire burn how it will.”
There is no positive historical precedent for this. By looking at virtually innumerable examples in cultures from all eras, one can see that when one destroys the infrastructure and foundations of a system or society, there is nothing close to a guarantee that it will be put back together in any reasonable or healthy form. It’s been much more common for societies to fail at recovery and reconstruction. As has been said many times, modern republican democracy is the worst system of government – except for all of the others. Anarchy has been tried, along with revolutions of numerous types. Most of them have caused so much pain and destruction and created such a weak environment for improvement because they were starting from scratch that it’s clear to most people in hindsight (when they’re not stirred by particularly worried feelings about the future) that it would have been far wiser to work within the system to gradually enhance quality of life for everyday citizens. The French Revolution and America’s recent Iraq War and subsequent “nation building” are prime examples of this misguided attempt to reinvent the culture from the ground up without recognizing the basic principles demonstrated at many points of history in how to develop sustainable social and political change. When the structure of civilization is annihilated during mass upheavals, the poor and marginalized people that many extremist activists with sincere motives likely sought to help will suffer the most. The rich and powerful have the resources to protect and sustain themselves in diverse and deep ways.
In real comparison to something like 99% of political arrangements in global history, the American system has been incredibly successful. What is needed and sane is for us to challenge qualified leaders to be more ethical, transparent and respectful of facts and evidence. We must put pressure on them to behave more humanely and honestly. We also must be realistic, something that Trump is apparently incapable of. He sincerely believes that our nation’s problems are apocalyptic and only his magnificent wisdom and expertise can rescue us from continued disaster.
In response to Trump’s doomsday negativity and years of similar speech on the right, the level of anger within the conservative movement is so intense as to easily mix with hate and violence. For example, Slate has compiled a list of 20 violent incidents during Trump rallies. Trump encourages this kind of behavior by the aggressive and paranoid language he uses regularly. He continues to say things like “maybe he should have been roughed up” and “knock the crap out of them” and “I’d like to punch him in the face”. When speakers at the Democratic National Convention said things he didn’t like, he declared that he’d enjoy hitting them “so hard…one guy in particular…so hard his head would spin.” Whether or not he would ever act out these statements, it’s clear that several of his followers have done so. He stated, “I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting myself or if other people will.” And even, “Try not to hurt him. If you do, I’ll defend you in court, don’t worry about it.” In an interview, Trump explained that regarding a rally attendee arrested for sucker punching a protester, about paying his legal fees: “I’ve actually instructed my people to look into it.”
Appealing with nostalgia to an earlier time in American life, he asserted:
“In the good old days this doesn’t happen because they used to treat them very, very rough. And when they protested once, they would not do it again so easily. We’ve become weak. We’ve become weak.”
And this is what he sells to the public: We are all vulnerable to a disintegrating society and anti-American attacks from many corners, foreign and domestic. We must toughen up and hire him as our strongman leader. He’ll save us.
By tapping into a trend of more than 20 years by right wing media and political leaders, Trump is exacerbating and accelerating the ill-will, fear and lack of self-control. The kinds of narratives passed around this community are often filled with terror, helplessness, suspicion, victimhood and anger. It’s “Us vs Them” at the most primal level. Much of this dystopian mood and sense of epic anxiety was developed through particular GOP talking points and sources like conservative talk radio and Fox News. The Washington Post explained the situation in their article, “Trump is the GOP’s Frankenstein monster. Now he’s strong enough to destroy the party”:
“Let’s be clear: Trump is no fluke. Nor is he hijacking the Republican Party or the conservative movement, if there is such a thing. He is, rather, the party’s creation, its Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by the party, fed by the party and now made strong enough to destroy its maker. Was it not the party’s wild obstructionism — the repeated threats to shut down the government over policy and legislative disagreements, the persistent calls for nullification of Supreme Court decisions, the insistence that compromise was betrayal, the internal coups against party leaders who refused to join the general demolition — that taught Republican voters that government, institutions, political traditions, party leadership and even parties themselves were things to be overthrown, evaded, ignored, insulted, laughed at? Was it not Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), among others, who set this tone and thereby cleared the way for someone even more irreverent, so that now, in a most unenjoyable irony, Cruz, along with the rest of the party, must fall to the purer version of himself, a less ideologically encumbered anarcho-revolutionary? This would not be the first revolution that devoured itself.”
Trump continually asserts that Americans are more unprotected than ever in the face of increased crime and violent attack by terrorists, refugees and illegal immigrants under President Obama. The 2016 Republican Convention illustrated well this cloud of urgency and dread. It included very little policy proposals or typical Republican praising of military, small government and business topics. Instead, it presented an incredibly fearful view of the world.
Yet this grand doomsday view from today’s GOP is far from factual:
CRIME: The U.S. violent crime rate is half of what it was in the early 1990s (after a high crime wave begun in the late 1960s). This includes cities notorious for elevated levels of illegal activity like Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, Philadelphia, San Diego, New York City, Los Angeles and New Orleans. Even with the recent rise of murders in Chicago, referenced often in the news and in diatribes by Republicans like Trump claiming that crime is out of control because of local and national Democratic leadership, 2015 total murders were still about half as many as the average from 30-50 years ago. This happened even though the population for the City of Chicago has remained nearly the same size since the crime decline began.
ISIS: The Pentagon announced in August 2016 that approximately 45,000 ISIS soldiers had been killed by U.S.-led coalition attacks. We may compare this to the unfortunate American deaths of 4 in the armed forces and less than 70 civilians (49 of which are not truly applicable – according to the CIA, the Orlando shooter had no contact with ISIS). This terrorist organization has lost half of its revenue and territory. More than 14,000 airstrikes have been launched against them. As of November 2015, the U.S. had dropped 3-4 times more bombs and missiles on ISIS than all other coalition forces combined, so many (20,000) that our stockpiles were running low. U.S. military leaders reported that their forces had carried out 6,471 airstrikes against ISIS by November 19, 2015. The total attacks completed by all other coalition countries at that time was 1,818 (Russia, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates). ISIS was formed in 2004, one year after a highly disorganized and mismanaged occupation of Iraq directed by the Bush Administration had begun. In 2008, the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government was signed by Bush, ensuring that all American soldiers would be out of the country by the end of 2011. Obama attempted to keep 5,000-10,000 military advisers (special forces) in Iraq, but the local leaders and American public opinion strongly opposed his efforts. Not in an effort to make light of the very real threat of terrorist brutality, but simply to put it in honest and realistic perspective, we should compare the alternative dangers and adjust our level of fear and proactive response accordingly. The statistical chance of an American dying from of long list of other ways is far higher that that of a militant Islamic terrorist attack. It’s about 2 times as likely to die at the hands of an armed toddler, 3 times by lightning, 7 times by lawnmowers, 29 times being hit by a bus, 82 times by falling out of bed and 1,304 times by another U.S. citizen.
REFUGEES: Conservative libertarian think tank Cato Institute reported that out of 859,000 refugees that went through the U.S. vetting system, one of the most rigorous in the world, between 2001 and 2015, 3 people were convicted of planning a terrorist attack outside the U.S and 0 acts of violence were committed. It takes between 18-24 months to get through our refugee screening process, involving 9 different government agencies. Half of all applicants are denied access. Syrian refugees must go through an even more thorough investigation. In Germany, where compared to the U.S. the rate of overall crime is half the size and murder is 5 times lower, refugees are involved in criminal activity less than the average citizen. Official government statistics in that country for 2015 reveal that even though the number of refugees increased by 440%, the numbers of crimes only rose by 79% among these people. Those from the Western Balkans were charged with a crime much more often than immigrants from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION: The Tea Party, Trump and all of the 16 other Republican presidential candidates for the 2016 election hold and fiercely advocate for viewpoints far to the right of Reagan and Bush Sr. on several social and economic issues. This is certainly true in contrast with the far more compassionate and realistic illegal immigration policies of those two presidents. In the 1980 debate between Reagan and Bush Sr. for the Republican nomination for president, they competed with each other in trying to be more forgiving to illegal immigrants. Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, which enabled 2.7 million undocumented people to gain a path to citizenship. Both legal and Illegal immigrants from the south and elsewhere are less likely to commit violent crime or be in jail than average Americans. The Mexicans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans, are especially nonviolent and they make up the majority of undocumented people in America. Even though illegal immigration grew by 3 times during the past quarter century, the violent crime rate in America dropped by half. A larger number of non-Mexicans than Mexicans have been apprehended at the border in recent years. As for the latter, migration has been in decline and there’s been an increase in those leaving the U.S. on their own. President Obama has been called the “Deporter in Chief” by America’s largest Latino advocacy organization, The National Council of La Raza. He’s deported more illegal immigrants than any other president.
OVERALL VIOLENCE LEVEL GLOBALLY: From a long-term viewpoint, terrible things like the following are in radical decline (or in some cases have been eliminated): warfare, rape, murder, judicial torture, child abuse, legal and illegal slavery, use of the death penalty, robbery, infanticide, bullying, lynchings, corporal punishment, misogyny, theft, domestic abuse, racism, blood sports, religious persecution, burglary, debtors’ prisons, sexism, abortion, dueling, property crime, witchhunts and animal abuse. This process started when societies began to organize away from hunter-gatherer communities between 7,000-10,000 years ago into structured civilizations, but shifted to an accelerated level of reform during the 18th century’s Age of Enlightenment and afterward. By absolute numbers and percentage of population, the trend is downward in violent behavior. Even with the still unacceptable levels of violence in many parts of the world, the overall truth is that we’re living in the most peaceful time in human history.