Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Donald Trump and dark furies

Posted By on Wed, Mar 16, 2016 at 1:19 PM

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Years ago, I covered a Ku Klux Klan rally that turned violent.

It was not long after David Duke, the Klan leader, had claimed the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Louisiana and used that as a springboard to run for president in the GOP primaries.

At the time, the Klan and other white supremacists had adopted a strategy of petitioning state and local governments to hold rallies on Statehouse and courthouse grounds. When public officials pushed back, the Klansmen filed lawsuits and won. They also received a lot of free media, which made it easier for them to lure every bigot within 300 miles to their rallies.

The rally I covered took place on the west side of the Indiana Statehouse.

The program was basic. A couple of Klan leaders shouted phrases designed to speak to their followers' burnished resentments.

Be strong in a country gone weak.

Don't let the forces of "polite" society silence you.

Make America great again.

There were protesters at the rally.

They carried signs saying everyone was equal.

They chanted "love, not hate" over and over again.

At some point, the bigots' mood shifted from ugly to violent and the crowd transformed itself into a mob. The mob moved like a snake, chasing and pummeling protesters and news photographers, pinning them against the walls of a state government office building until police could restore order.

Afterward, I did hurried interviews with Klan followers as police dispersed the crowd that had become a mob. The bigots were as hopped-up and happy as high school students whose team just had won the big game. They all said variations of the same thing.

Guess we showed them.

Some of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's recent rallies have turned violent.

This development was as predictable as the sun setting at the end of a day. As David Duke's endorsement and white supremacists' embrace of Trump's candidacy demonstrates, the billionaire's message is different from theirs only in that it is delivered with a much bigger microphone.

Be strong.

Don't be politically correct.

Make America great again.

Trump and his devotees want to pin responsibility for the violence that follows him on the protesters who are being beaten. That's like the swinging fist blaming the battered head for the impact of a punch.

The truth is Trump has flirted with these dark furies all along. He's teased the ugliness that lies beneath the surface of the American experience by encouraging followers to punch protesters in the face and offering to pay the legal fees of Trump supporters who take things into their own hands.

Not that Trump's followers need much encouragement. At a rally in Illinois last fall, they harassed and pushed an older black woman who chose to read a book as a silent protest while Trump spoke.

One suspects the word "uppity" is never far from their lips, along with other, even less savory terms.

It would be comforting to blame all this on Donald Trump, but others have stoked the same fires.

In the 1960s, George Wallace mockingly encouraged civil rights and anti-war demonstrators at his rallies to lie down in front of his limousine so he could run over them. The Dixiecrats who followed him convulsed themselves with laughter when Wallace said that.

Twenty-some years ago, when Pat Buchanan mounted a primary challenge to President George W. Bush, he delivered a speech to the GOP convention. Not long before, riots had torn apart Los Angeles following the beating of a black man by police there. Buchanan's solution to the problems caused by the excessive use of police force against African-Americans was, you guessed it, to have police use even more force.

The difference between Trump and those demagogues is that Duke, Wallace and Buchanan never came close to getting a major party's presidential nomination. Trump is the odds-on favorite to be the GOP's candidate.

Republicans like to call themselves the party of Lincoln.

The place where Trump supporters bullied a black woman for silently reading a book while their leader spoke was Springfield, Illinois.

That's the home and final resting place of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator.

I doubt Donald Trump and his followers grasped the irony.

Or, for that matter, the tragedy.

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John Krull

John Krull

Bio:
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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