During a rally in St. Louis Friday, Donald Trump lamented that "nobody wants to hurt each other anymore."
The topic was protesters, and Trump's frustration was clear. "They're being politically correct the way they take them out," he sighed. "Protesters, they realize there are no consequences to protesting anymore. There used to be consequences. There are none anymore."
"Our country has to toughen up folks," he continued. "We have to toughen up. These people are bringing us down. They are bringing us down. These people are so bad for our country, you have no idea."
This is more than an aside; this is the core of Trump's ideology. The protesters who interrupted his rally, the political correctness that kept the police from cracking their skulls, the press that takes the hippies' side — this is why America has stopped being great. We were strong, and we were tough, and we didn't take this kind of shit from anybody. And now we are weak, and we are scared, and we take this kind of shit from everybody.
How is a country that can't shut down a protester going to out-negotiate the Chinese? How is a country that is so afraid of hurt feelings going to crush ISIS?
"We better toughen up, we better smarten up, and we better stop with this political correctness because it’s driving us down the tubes," Trump said.
Hours after that speech, 32 people were arrested and several were injured as Trump's supporters clashed with anti-Trump protesters and police. That night, Trump had to cancel a rally in Chicago for safety reasons.
Violence is scary. But violence as ideology is terrifying. And that's where Trump's campaign has gone.
"Knock the hell out of them. I promise you I will pay for the legal fees. I promise."
On February 1, Trump made a promise to an angry crowd. You protect me, he said, and I'll protect you. "If you see someone getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Knock the hell out of them. I promise you I will pay for the legal fees. I promise."
No one threw a tomato at that rally. But a few weeks later, Donald Trump showed that he meant what he said — if you used force to protect him, he'd have your back.
Trump was leaving a rally when Michelle Fields, a reporter for the Trump-friendly Breitbart News, stepped forward to ask a question. Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump's campaign manager, grabbed her by the arm and threw her out of the way. His grip was hard enough to leave bruises on her arm. The moment was witnessed by Ben Terris, a Washington Post reporter, and there's audio and video record of it.
There were simple ways Trump's campaign could have responded to this. Lewandowski could have apologized. He could have said Fields startled him and he was protecting his candidate.
But this is the press we're talking about. "The most dishonest human beings on earth." No fucking way Trump was going to back down to them.
"The accusation which has only been made in the media and never addressed directly with the campaign is entirely false," Trump's spokesperson, Hope Hicks, said in a statement.
"Michelle Fields is an attention seeker," tweeted Lewandowski.
"This was, in my opinion, made up," Trump himself said. "Everybody said nothing happened. Perhaps she made the story up. I think that's what happened."
Donald Trump will pay your legal fees. He will believe your baldfaced lie. He is on your side against the protesters, the press, the losers who are bringing America down. He knows things get rough sometimes. He's got your back.
"People who are following me are very passionate"
"The incidents are piling up," wrote Lucia Graves at the Guardian. "A Black Lives Matters protester was sucker-punched by a white bystander at a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina. A young black woman was surrounded and shoved aggressively by a number of individuals at a rally in Louisville, Kentucky. A black protester was tackled, then punched and kicked by a group of men as he curled up on the ground in Birmingham, Alabama. Immigration activists were shoved and stripped of their signs by a crowd in Richmond, Virginia. A Latino protester was knocked down and kicked by a Trump supporter in Miami."
I would add another "incident" to Graves's list. Back in August, two young Trump supporters, Scott and Steve Leader, were charged in the beating of a homeless Mexican man. They found him sleeping outside a subway station and began hitting him with a metal pole.
According to police, Scott Leader justified the assault by telling them, "Donald Trump was right — all these illegals need to be deported."
Asked to react to the beating, Trump said he had no knowledge of it, which would have been fine. But he didn't stop there. "I will say that people who are following me are very passionate," Trump replied. "They love this country and they want this country to be great again."
"These are the people that are destroying our country"
The great mistake the media makes with Donald Trump is to pretend he has no ideology — that he's just a celebrity, a carnival barker, a reality star.
As my colleague Matt Yglesias has written, Trump does have an ideology. He does have an agenda. The core of Trumpism is "a revived and unapologetic American nationalism, which will stand for American interests abroad while defending the traditional conception of the American nation at home."
Like most nationalists, the emotional center of Trump's ideology is an Us vs. Them argument. "These are not the people who made our country great," Trump told the crowd in St. Louis. "We're going to make it great again, but these are not the people. These are the people that are destroying our country."
The Us must somehow defeat the Them — and the stakes are high, the future of the greatest country the world has ever known depends on the outcome. This is why nationalistic, Us vs. Them appeals lend themselves so easily and naturally to violence.
This is what Trump supporters hear at his rallies. They are told that America is no longer great. They are told whom to blame. They are told that the reason these losers are dragging America down is we have become too politically correct, too scared, too weak to stop them. They are told Trump will pay their legal fees if they want to do what's necessary. "There used to be consequences," Trump sighs. The crowd knows what he's asking. Make Consequences Real Again.
This is ugly, but it is coherent. What Trump is offering is an explanation and a solution, an argument and an ideology. It is dangerous, and it is violent, but it is not confusing, and it is not unclear.
And this is why Trump is something different and more dangerous in American life. He is a man with an evident appetite for suppressing dissent with violence, a man who believes America's problem is that it's too gentle on its dissidents. Trump is making an argument for a politics backed by force, for a security service unleashed from "political correctness," for a country where protesting has consequences. The results are playing out before us, night after night, on our televisions.
If Trump wins and this country goes down a dark path, we will never be able to say we didn't see it coming. We will never be able to say we weren't warned.