Trump is both denying
the violent encounters are taking place, and simultaneously blaming
Bernie Sanders' supporters, President Obama, the media
for overreporting them, and so-called Chicago "thugs."
His surrogates, like Jeffrey Lord, insist "the violent left" is at it again
. "The American left has a very, very long and detailed history of doing exactly this," he said on CNN.
"We're talking about people who show up at rallies ... to provoke, to provoke. ... They are in search of violence. That's what their intention is."
Others, like Omarosa Manigault, simply shrug their shoulders and say the protesters deserve it.
"Donald can't be responsible for every single person that comes to his rally," she said. "Listen, you have a right to go into a closed, private event and you get what is coming to you."
This isn't really much of a debate. Yes, Trump can't control what every rally attendee does, but without a doubt he has incited violence at his events. In fact, he's outright demanded it.
"[I]f you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. OK, just knock the hell ... I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees," he said
at an Iowa rally.
At other times,
he's lamented that he can't rough up his protesters himself. At one rally he said of a demonstrator, "I'd like to punch him in the face, I tell ya." And continued, "I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They'd be carried out on a stretcher, folks." Is anyone really surprised that his loyal supporters -- who Trump has admitted wouldn't abandon him even if he killed someone -- heard this as a call to act on his behalf?
Trump rallies have become a cacophonous orchestra pit, which Trump conducts into perfectly timed discord. In Freudian speak, the rallies are Trump's id, his libido, his psychic force, "a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations ... filled with energy reaching it from the instincts." In less Freudian speak, the rallies are the Monday Night Raw of the presidential election, and Trump is Vince McMahon warming up the crowd for the next match. Except, unlike in the WWE, these fights aren't staged.
All metaphors aside, the debate we are having right now -- who is to blame for the violence at Donald Trump's rallies -- is exactly the one he wants us to be having. And that's because it's not the one that actually matters.
The "why" matters little. The reality is, Trump has become, either by default or design, one of the most divisive figures in the history of electoral politics. His fans are more devoted than any have been for a Republican front-runner in at least 50 years. His antagonists come from all corners -- including his own party -- and not since the "Anybody But Carter" caucus have we seen the party of the front-runner so opposed to his nomination.
He has insulted his way through this primary, sloppily aiming and firing at any moving target, from a disabled journalist to a POW, a female presidential candidate to a female debate moderator. He has made out entire groups -- Mexicans, Muslims, refugees, immigrants -- as people to be feared and the cause of all your problems.
For all the anger and vitriol that George W. Bush and Barack Obama spawned over their eight years in office, Trump has managed to outdo them both -- in only eight months.
Yes, the country is angry. But what a leader does with that anger is the test. Obama, when confronted with a fearful, angry electorate, chose to either dismiss it or stoke it to score political points. And the country has gotten angrier.
The next President needs to meet anger with resolve, with clearheaded, calm courage. Trump has thus far decided to meet anger with more anger, to foment and exploit it and pit people against one another.
Regardless of where you think the blame lies for the violence at Trump rallies, if they are any indication, one thing is for certain: Trump's America would be a very angry place.