The Trump-is-never-wrong crowd is trying a new tactic: pointing out that the occasional mass murderer favors a different candidate than Trump, or a different philosophy than the right-wing, anti-immigrant, white-nationalist, white-supremacist, and/or misogynist views of most of them, and trying out a facile false equivalent. The Dayton killer wanted Elizabeth Warren for president! So she is to blame if Trump is to blame for the others!

What revolting nonsense.

Of course one should not blame a particular leader just because a person who admires them commits a crime, even if it’s in their name. Deranged people are everywhere. It really was not J. D. Salinger’s fault that Mark David Chapman read his own alienation into The Catcher in the Rye and saw the murder of John Lennon as a reasonable response, nor the fault of Martin Scorsese or the actors of Taxi Driver that John Hinckley saw in it a reason to attempt the assassination of Ronald Reagan. (Am I dating myself? So sue me, I’m 51.)

Trump’s rhetoric is different than these for at least two reasons. One, not just one but many people citing his inspiration have attempted or committed violence that they specifically related to that rhetoric; and two, he specifically calls for violence, or applauds it when it’s suggested:

“How do you stop these people?” he asked [of undocumented immigrants, at a rally]. “Shoot them!” someone yelled from the crowd, according to reporters on the scene and attendees. The audience cheered. Supporters seated behind Trump and clad in white baseball caps bearing the letters “USA” laughed and applauded. “That’s only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement,” Trump replied, smiling and shaking his head. “Only in the Panhandle.” (“‘Shoot them!’: Trump laughs off a supporter’s demand for violence against migrants,” Washington Post, May 9, 2019)

Do I need to cite other examples? Don’t you remember? There have been many.

If one’s innocent words are twisted to justify violence, one might say nothing, so as not to fuel the flames. If one’s words have said anything that a reasonable person could misconstrue as an incitement, the decent thing to do is express shock and dismay that this has happened, and stress that one does not want anyone to do harm in one’s name. Trump, in contrast, goes out of his way to wink at violent vigilantes, while occasionally mouthing peaceful platitudes after his arm is twisted into it.

The “your kid” test is useful here. If someone, call them X, continually suggested that your kid ought to be locked up, that your kid ought to be bodily removed from school, that your kid has replaced them and is a threat to other people’s livelihoods and even their lives; if X said “What do we do with people like this kid?” and smiled at the response, “Shoot ’em!”; and if someone plastered X’s name all over their van or wrote X’s name in firearms or said “X is right about [your kid],” and then shot your kid dead, would you think that X bore any part of the responsibility? Not all of it, of course–the killer bears by far the greatest part–but any of it?

Trump says all of those things about undocumented immigrants, and for that matter, about Mexicans and Central Americans in this country; asylum seekers; and legal immigrants from countries he despises. The blame for taking up arms against them, as the Gilroy and El Paso and other killers appear to have done, falls mostly upon the killers. But some of it falls upon Trump.

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