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Beware of the Gun-Lover-in-Chief

President Trump loves guns. They are an extension of his violent personality. It is assumed that, as a last resort, guns will be the means by which he will try to enforce his authoritarian will on Americans if he loses the election in 2020. The signs are there.

When running for president, Donald Trump said that he could stand in the middle of New York City’s Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and would not lose any voters. (Real Clear Politics, Jan. 23, 2016) He was also communicating to his voters that they could act out violently and not lose his support.

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump encouraged his Cedar Rapid, Iowa supporters to use force against protesters: “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? . . . Just knock the hell . . . I promise you I will pay for the legal fees.” At a Las Vegas rally, Trump complained that security guards were “too gentle with a protester . . . ‘walking out with big high fives, smiling . . . I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.’” (”A look back at Trump’s comments perceived by some as encouraging violence,” By Meghan Keneally, abcNEWS, Oct. 19, 2018)

In Fayetteville, North Carolina, “as a protester was being escorted out of a rally, he was sucker-punched by an attendee.” The attacker was 79-year-old John Franklin “Quick Draw” McGraw, who is white, and his victim, 27-year old Rakeem Lamar Jones, who is black, and has “long dreadlocks and tattoos up and down his arms.” Franklin was quoted as saying “that he had no regrets, and that, ‘Next time, we might have to kill him.’” (Ibid; ”Donald Trump Rally Violence Show Protester Getting Punched,” By Alana Abranson, abcNEWS, Mar. 10. 2016) )

Mr. McGraw was later arrested and charged with assault and disorderly conduct. When they met in court, a not so fast draw McGraw was quoted as saying to Rakeem Jones, “You and I both know what occurred, and I hate it worse than anything else in the world.” McGraw then “stepped closer to Jones and raised a finger,” and said, “’We got caught up in a political mess today.’” (“He was assaulted and called un-American at a Trump rally. Can he forgive the man who did it?,” By Terrence McCoy, The Washington Post, Dec. 31, 2016) “Quick Draw” McGraw “got caught up” in President Trump’s put down of “political correctness,” licensing his supporters to normalize and act out their racist attitudes

As president, Donald Trump had similar violence-encouraging advice for police. In interacting with potential criminals, he said to the Suffolk County Long Island police in a law enforcement speech:

“‘When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head you know, the way you put your hand over [their head],’” Trump continued, “mimicking the motion. ‘Like, don’t hit their head and they just killed somebody. . . . You can take your hand away, Okay?’” (“Trump to police: Please don’t be too nice to suspects,” By Meghan Keneally, abcNEWS, July 28, 2017)

In an article on “African-Americans see painful truths in Trump victory,” Jesse Washington wrote that black people “steeled themselves for life under a president who has retweeted white supremacists, promised to increase stop-and-frisk in poor black neighborhoods, falsely connected Mexican immigrants to crime, and launched his political brand by attacking the legitimacy of the first black president’s birth certificate.” Washington said that what bothered African-Americans the most was that “the election shows where we really stand. Now the truth is plain for all to see, many said – the truth about how an uncomfortable percentage of white people view the concerns and lives of their black fellow citizens.” (“African-Americans see painful truths in Trump victory,” theundefeated.com, Nov. 10, 2016)

In his law enforcement speech, President Trump continued to encourage police to act violently toward suspected lawbreakers, saying, “ ’I have to tell you, you know, the laws are so horrendously stacked against us (italics added) because for years and years, they have been made to protect the criminal,’” he said. “ ‘Totally made to protect the criminal,’” he emphasized. “ ‘Not the officers. You do something wrong, you’re in more jeopardy than they are,’ he added.” (Ibid)

President Trump is talking nonsense here, whereas Jesse Washington is truth-telling. A reported “2018 article in in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found that while roughly half of police shooting victims are white, young black Americans and Native Americans are disproportionately likely to be killed in a police shooting.” And P. R. Lockhart writes in the same Vox story that “Black people are also more likely than whites to be exposed to arrests and traffic stops that could potentially escalate into violent encounters. (“Black people are still suffering from police violence. Is America still listening,”24, 2019)

“Law and order,” like “drain the swamp,” is red meat for Donald Trump’s base. These sound bites are projections by which Trump diverts attention from the lawless swamp he continues to create.

“The laws are so horrendously stacked against us.” (italics added) It is assumed that President Trump is actually projecting on to the Suffolk County police his own grievances with the law. The law has been “stacked against” him “for years and years”: for his discriminatory housing policies, exploitive Trump University, and cheating of building contractors and laborers who provided services for his real estate properties, to name a few examples. He really hates “law and order” unless it serves his purposes; and it does in his seeking to build rapport with police by communicating an overly permissive attitude toward their law enforcement.

The relationship between President Trump’s hysterical rhetoric and people acting out violently is readily seen. He began his presidential campaign by stereotyping Mexicans who enter the U.S. as “people with lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems . . . They’re bringing drugs . . . crime. They’re rapists.”(“How Trump’s presidential; campaign debut holds up for years later,” by Jeremy Diamond, CNN, June 16, 2019)

The Trump administration’s response to immigration is a zero tolerance policy: thousands of migrants, fleeing violence and poverty in their own countries and pursuing their right to apply for asylum in the U.S., remain locked up in overcrowded cage-like detention centers and denied hygienic care, their applications for asylum deliberately stalled; children have been forcibly separated from their parents; migrants have been blocked from legal ports of entry where they are to apply for asylum; and barbed wire fences have been erected, and migrants seeking entry into the U. S. have been teargassed by U.S. soldiers sent to the border by President Trump – and with his orders, at one point, to shoot rock-throwers. His aim is to make life so oppressive for asylum seekers that others will be discouraged from coming.

Furthermore, to keep poor migrants out, the Trump administration has come up with a new rule to become effective in October: “poor immigrants will be denied permanent legal status, also known as a green card . . . if they are deemed likely to use government benefit programs such as food stamps and subsidized housing .” Seeking asylum in the U.S. is now about “merit” and not mercy, according to President Trump. People from “shithole” countries, like “Africa, Central America and the Caribbean” need not apply. (“Trump Policy Favors Wealthier Immigrants for Green Cards,” By Michael D. Shear and Eileen Sullivan, The New York Times, Aug. 12, 2019)

Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, called the new policy “a cruel step toward weaponizing programs that are intended to help people by making them, instead, a means of separating families and sending immigrants and communities of color one message: ‘You are not welcome here.’” She continued: “ ‘It will have a dire humanitarian impact, forcing some families to forego critical lifesaving health care and nutrition. The damaged will be done for decades to come.’” (Ibid)

The same warning is issued by doctors and public health experts, who say that “poor health and rising costs . . . will come from sweeping Trump administration changes that would deny green cards to many immigrants who use Medicaid, as well as food stamps and other forms of public assistance. The Trump administration’s aim is “to keep only self-sufficient immigrants in the country, but health experts argue it could force literally millions of low income migrants to choose between needed services and their bid to stay legally in the United States.” The result is more sickness among these immigrants. (“Doctors say new immigration rules will mean sicker immigrants,” By Sophia Tareen, Associated Press, www.weau.com. Aug. 19, 2019)

Ken Cuccinelli, President Trump’s acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, has reinterpreted the Statue of Liberty’s welcoming message to mean only “immigrants ‘who can stand on their own two feet.’” Never mind “Give me your tired, your poor . . . send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me,” cited in Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, New Colossus, inscribed on the Statue, which “describes people who came to America” with nothing but the clothes on their back. (Ibid)

President Trump’s violent rhetoric is believed to influence certain of those who share his views to act out violently. He repeatedly decries groups of migrants seeking asylum as an “invasion.” As reported, “he denounces immigrant gang members as ‘animals’ and complains that unauthorized migrants ‘pour in and infest’ the United States.” He says “illegal immigration is a ‘monstrosity,’” and that even four American “Congresswomen of color should ‘go back’ to their home countries.” He encourages white supremacists by saying there were “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville, Va, after white nationalists marched and chanted “the Jews will not replace us!” and a neo-Nazi plowed his car into protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 other persons. His verbal tirades against his assumed enemies is believed to have inspired “the bomber who sent explosives to Mr. Trump’s political adversaries and prominent news media figures.” Also, the man who killed 11 worshippers in a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh is reported to have “rant[ed] online about ‘invaders’ to the United States. (“El Paso Shooting Suspect’s Manifesto Echoes Paso Shooting Trump’s Language,” By Peter Baker and Michael D., Shear, The New York Times, Aug. 4, 2019)

And at a May Florida rally, President Trump obviously incited “the crowd“ by asking “for ideas to block migrants from crossing the border. ‘How do you stop these people?’” he asked.” He got the desired response: “ ‘Shoot them!’ one man shouted. The crowd laughed and Mr. Trump smiled, and said,

‘That’s only in the panhandle you can get away with that stuff.’” (Ibid) All of this incitement, along with a ban to keep Muslims out of the country and a wall to block migrants from entering.

President Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric apparently resonated with 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, a white man accused of killing 22 people and wounding dozens in El Paso. He is associated with a 2,300 -word manifesto posted online. In it he “said that he was ‘simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.’” Also reported, “The suspect wrote that his views ‘predate Trump.’” But the president’s anti-Mexican rhetoric no doubt communicated to Crusius that his views were shared – and legitimized — by the most powerful person in the United States – and millions of members of his base. As Crusius was quoted as saying, “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” He parroted Trump, who, in speeches, “repeatedly warned that America was under attack by immigrants heading for the border.” And after announcing his presidential campaign “in July of 2015, Mr. Trump tweeted at critics: “ ’WHAT U REALLY SHOULD BE ANGRY ABT IS THE INVASION OF MILLIONS OF ILLEGALS TKING OVER AMERICA! NOT Donald Trump.’” (Ibid)

The New York Times reports that Patrick Crusius also “echoed the incendiary words of conservative media stars.” Fox News’ Tucker Carlson “told his viewers not to be fooled,” that “the thousands of Central Americans on their way to the United States were ‘border jumpers,’ not refugees,” and asked, “’Will anyone in power do anything to protect America this time . . . or will leaders sit passively back as the invasion continues?’” Another is Rush Limbaugh, who “issued a grim prognosis to his millions of radio listeners: if the immigrants from Central America weren’t stopped, the United States will lose its . . .‘distinct or unique American culture identity. . . . This is why people call it an invasion.’” The Times story points out: “There is a striking degree of overlap between the words of rightwing media and the language used by the Texas man who confessed to killing 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso this month.” (“How the El Paso Killer Echoed the Incendiary Words of Conservative Media Stars, by Jeremy W. Peters, Michael M. Grynbaum, Keith Collins, Rich Harris and Rumsey Taylor, Aug. 11, 2019) These conservative pundits are President Trump’s political thermometer by which he measures the mood of his base and regulates his behavior.

President Trump characteristically resorts to denial and distraction when someone acts out his violent divisive xenophobic rhetoric. As reported, he responded to the El Paso killings with, “Hate has no place in our country, and we’re going to take care of it . . . declining to elaborate but promising to speak more on Monday morning.” And “he made no mention of white supremacy or the El Paso manifesto, but instead focused on what he called ‘a mental illness problem.’” (“El Paso Shooting Suspect’s Manifesto Echoes Trump’s Language, Ibid)

Robert Bowers, the 46-year-old white man who stormed a Synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 worshippers and wounded six (four were police officers), posted on Gab [a less restrictive alternative to Twitter] that “Jews were helping to transport members of the migrant caravans.” He repeatedly called them “invaders.” In fact “six days before the shooting,” he wrote, “I have noticed a change in people saying ‘illegals’ that now say ‘invaders’ . . . I like this.” (Hate crime charges filed in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that left 11 dead,” By Dakin And one, Jason Hanna, Joe Sterling and Paul P. Murphy, CNN, Oct. 29, 2018)

Shades of President Trump. But he distanced himself with diversion and diffusion, saying about the killing of Jews in Pittsburgh, “It’s a terrible, terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country, frankly, and all over the world.” He talked about “stiffen[ing] up laws in terms of the death penalty.” His reported response “when asked about his ties to the NRA . . . ‘if there were an armed guard inside the temple, they would been able to stop’ the shooter.” This comment also from the diffuser-and- distancer-in-chief: “This is a world with a lot of problems . . . for many years. Many, many years. You could say, frankly, for many centuries.” (“Trump laments Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, then suggests victims should have protected themselves,” By Emily Stewart, Vox, Oct. 27, 2018)

In February of 2018, after a gunman, armed with an assault rifle, killed 17 students and staff members and wounded 17 more at the Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., President Trump appeared to be open to gun control proposals. He “tweeted support for ‘strengthening background checks’ . . . promised to ban bumper stocks, talked about raising the age to buy assault weapons from 18 to 21, . . . [and] appeared to support Democrats proposals for banning assault weapons.” But Trump’s consideration of these gun control measures soon faded. He rejected the Senate Democrats suggested “background checks and started talking about arming teachers . . . a proposal plucked straight from the NRA.” (“In hindsight, Trumps reversal on gun control was entirely predictable,” By Amber Phillips, The Washington Post, March 12, 2018)

In the face of the mass killings in El Paso and Dayton, President Trump is quoted as “retreating on background checks” for potential gun owners. His first response to the shootings was that of being “prepared to endorse . . . ‘very meaningful background checks’ that would be possible because of his ‘greater influence now over the Senate and over the House.’ But after “discussions with gun rights advocates . . . including talks with Wayne LaPierre, the chief executive of the National Rifle Association, Trump shifted, saying that he “’was very, very concerned about the Second Amendment, more than most presidents would be.’” He “added that ‘people don’t realize we have very strong background checks rights now.”” And “he echoed the standard response to mass shootings delivered by the N.R.A., which since 1966 has pushed the government to focus on the mental problems of the gunmen rather than how they were able to obtain their guns.” Trump said, “’I don’t want people to forget that this is a mental health problem.’” (“After Lobbying by Guns Rights Advocates, Trump Sounds a Familiar Retreat,” By Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman, The New York Times, Aug. 19, 2019)

The gun-lover-in-chief is not about to agree to measures that limit his base’s access to guns. It is not believed to be just about his base’s votes. Consider what this would-be dictator has hinted. In 2016, he said that if he did not get the presidential nomination at the Republican convention: “ ‘I think you would have riots,’ Trump told CNN. ‘I’m representing a tremendous many, many millions of people.’” He added, “I think bad things would happen, I really do. . . . I wouldn’t lead it but I think bad things would happen.” NBC news writer Benjy Sarlin indicates the threat to the country Trump represents: “If the front-runner is concerned that his supporters would engage in violence regardless of whether he would ‘lead it,’ then he’s done next to nothing to discourage them and said plenty to indicate he’ll have their backs if they rough up political enemies.” (“Donald Trump Warns Supporters Could Riot if He Doesn’t Get GOP Nomination,” www.nbcnew, March 17, 3016)

Concerning the Mueller investigation and the threat of impeachment, President Trump is quoted as saying “there would be chaos across the country if he were impeached,” stating “‘I think that the people would revolt if that happened.’” (“Trump” People will ‘revolt I he’s impeached,” By Brent D. Griffiths, POLITICO, Dec. 11, 2018) He said on Fox News, “If I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash, I think everybody would be very poor, because without this thinking you would see numbers – you would see numbers that you wouldn’t believe in reverse.” Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer joined in with, “You’d only impeach him for political reasons, and the America people would revolt against that.” (‘Donald Trump’s Very Dramatic Case Against Impeachment,” by Chris Cillizza, CNN, Aug. 23, 2018) Trump is resorting to fearmongering to motivate his base to get out the vote; and if he loses and they “revolt,” he will resort to his repeated defense of denial: blaming the media or the Democrats or “millions who voted illegally” or whatever is convenient to hide behind.

President Trump is also reported to be “laying the groundwork to de-legitimize the 2020 election”. CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizza writes, “Even as the 2020 race begins in earnest, President Donald Trump is already suggesting that Democrats can’t beat him fairly – raising the specter that if he loses in November, he will suggest that the election was not legitimate.” He tweeted about the House Democrats’ “broad-scale investigation into him . . . The Dems are trying to win an election in 2020 that they know they cannot legitimately win.’” The aim is to “convince the Trump base that it is not possible for him to lose a fair and legitimate election in 2020. Thus, if he loses, it must be, by definition, illegitimate.” (“Donald Trump is laying the groundwork to de-legitimize the 2020 election,” by Chris Cillizza, CNNPolitics, March 7, 2019)

Chris Cillizza also reminds us that President Trump “lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes.” But, after winning the Electoral College (304-227) and the White House, he tweeted: “‘In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I would have won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.’” Cillizza writes that “Trump’s inability to accept that he could lose fair and square is far, far more dangerous” than his past exaggerations in the business world. Callizza ends by quoting the warning Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, spoke in “his congressional testimony in front of the House Oversight Committee: ‘Given my experience in working with Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power.’” (Ibid)

President Trump has demonstrated that he is not going to agree to gun control measures that would, in any way, disarm his base. He is about stirring up fear and violence in his supporters: encouraging them with, “Knock the crap out of” protesters, and, after asking, “What shall we do to stop these people [migrants],” smiling when a rally attendee shouted, “shoot them!” — and the audience laughing. He is a narcissist drunk with presidential power, and has repeatedly indicated he will not give up that power. He is assumed to be quite ready for other Americans to spill each other’s blood if he loses the 2020 election. That is believed to be a reality, and a priority that people of faith must face and confront.

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Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His new book, The Counterpunching Minister (who couldn’t be “preyed” away) is now published and available on Amazon.com. The book’s Foreword, Drawing the Line, is written by Counterpunch editor, Jeffrey St. Clair. Alberts is also author of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.

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