President Donald Trump arrives for a rally in Murphysboro, Illinois.

President Donald Trump arrives for a rally in Murphysboro, Illinois.

President Donald Trump is known for his harsh rhetoric.

It happened when he was a candidate — and even before, when he went on TV to discuss birther conspiracies and when he called for the death penalty for the wrongly accused Central Park 5. When he announced his bid for the presidency, he called migrants “rapists” and “murderers.” He regularly calls the press “the enemy of the people.” He once tweeted an anti-Semitic meme. He amplified chants of “lock her up” about his former opponent Hillary Clinton at his rallies.

His tweets have stoked fear about a caravan of migrants, fears some critics say are largely unfounded.

As Jeremy Peters of The New York Times analyzed:

But as the country processes the cumulative trauma of two actual crises that occurred inside its borders — a spate of pipe bombs sent to the president’s political opponents, and the massacre of 11 people at a synagogue by a man who spewed anti-Semitic vitriol and called immigrants “invaders” — there is clear overlap between the hatred and delusion that drove this lethal behavior and the paranoia and misinformation surrounding the caravan.

The baseless claims that George Soros is financing the migrants as they trek north, which carry a strong whiff of anti-Semitism, have been one of the most consistent themes of commentary on the caravan from the right. And their persuasive power was evident over the weekend in interviews at the president’s rally in Murphysboro, where several people described Mr. Soros, the liberal billionaire philanthropist, as the caravan’s mastermind and made assertions like “I’m positive he’s the one behind it,” “It looks a tad staged,” and “All these people are being paid off.”

The president’s rhetoric is even being used in a request for leniency, according to The Washington Post. Lawyers for a Kansas man convicted of a 2016 plot to massacre Somali Muslim refugees by bombing a mosque and apartment complex in Garden City, Kansas, have asked the court to take the “backdrop” of President Trump’s rhetoric into account.

“The court cannot ignore the circumstances of one of the most rhetorically mold-breaking, violent, awful, hateful and contentious presidential elections in modern history, driven in large measure by the rhetorical China shop bull who is now our president,” James Pratt and Michael Shultz, Stein’s defense attorneys, wrote in their sentencing memo, as HuffPost first reported.
Someone “normally at a 3 on a scale of political talk might have found themselves at a 7 during the election,” they argue. “A person, like Patrick, who would often be at a 7 during a normal day, might ‘go to 11.’”

But are any of these words contributing to actual violence? Or are they, like violence, symptoms of the same deep divides in the country?


  • Jennifer Mercieca Associate professor, Texas A&M University and historian of American political discourse; @jenmercieca
  • Heidi Beirich Director of The Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center
  • Nick Gillespie Editor-at-large,; @nickgillespie

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