Trump’s Violent Rhetoric is Nothing New

Speech to police shows NRA’s continued influence over the President.

Last week, President Donald Trump spoke to officers from New York’s Suffolk County Police Department, addressing efforts to combat “the vile, criminal cartel MS-13 and many other gangs.” Trump has recently, and justifiably, come under fire for some of the sentiments he expressed in his speech, namely his enthusiastic endorsement of police brutality. He called on officers to not “be too nice” when handling prisoners, suggesting that they instead be “rough” on suspects. He used the language “us” and “them”, blowing the racial dog whistle for his 35% base in a divisive and destructive way.

Trump’s words were vile, disturbing, and beneath the dignity of the office of the president. But they are nothing new. They have been crafted, molded, and tested by the group that is foolish enough to label themselves Trump’s number one ally in Washington — the National Rifle Association (NRA.)

Trump frequently adapts the language that his chief financial backers at the NRA honed for years. Instead of speaking with the well-being of American citizens in mind, he spouts the violent fringe rhetoric that the NRA has found so profitable. The NRA has flipped their script since Trump came to power as they can no longer profit off the baseless threat that someone is “coming to take your guns.” Now they encourage the “jack-booted thugs” to do the roughing up of those they disagree with — the so-called “violent left.” Their anti-government rhetoric has done a 180 degree switch; now, they want the government and their followers to take up arms against the opposition. The goal is to pit Americans against one another, and who better to serve as the mouthpiece for their “us vs. them” mentality than the loudmouth-in-chief — Donald J. Trump.

The NRA’s calculated, hypocritical manipulation of the American people is no new phenomenon, especially when it comes to their treatment of communities of color — the “them” in Trump’s speech. Thinly coded racism pervades much of their pro-gun messaging, from implying that Chicago “celebrates” holidays with gun violence to disproportionately stressing the need to protect oneself from “thugs” and “criminal gangbangers.” The NRA blames these communities for their tragically high levels of gun violence, without any acknowledgment of the role that systemic racism and the abundance of guns plays in establishing and intensifying such gun violence. Trump parrots this cloaked racism by making cheap political points about “inner-city” violence rather than examining the weak gun laws fueling much of the violence.

It is important to note that the NRA’s race-baiting doesn’t begin and end with their rhetoric. Most recently, in a shockingly overt expression of their double standard, they completely failed to come to the defense of Philando Castile, an African-American concealed carry permit holder who was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop.The NRA claims to be “America’s foremost defender of Second Amendment rights,” yet is practically silent when a legal African-American gun owner is murdered. With its purportedly strong relationship with the law enforcement community, the NRA would have been in a perfect position to bridge the gap between police officers and African-American gun owners, but instead chose inaction. It’s painfully obvious that the NRA has no concern for black rights — or lives.

Now this divisive rhetoric is being turned into policy. Trump and his Justice Department, headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, are implementing backwards criminal justice policies that deepen divides between marginalized communities and law enforcement. Sessions has issued guidelines pushing for increased use of mandatory minimum sentencing, and has withdrawn core aspects of an Obama-era initiative to reduce disproportionately harsh sentencing for nonviolent low-level drug crimes. These changes will result in more people from marginalized communities being sent to prison, severely undermining police-community relations and the well-being of communities of color across the country. Though Sessions, in a recent speech to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, claimed to understand the need for law enforcement “to have good relationships with … communities,” his policy decisions counteract that goal.

To the dismay of both law enforcement and marginalized communities, Trump’s embrace of violence is exacerbating an already lethal tension that exists in America. This violent “us vs. them” rhetoric serves only to undermine the substantive strides made towards improving police-community relations. Rather than spewing hate, Trump should be promoting solutions to heal a divided nation. Instead, he is following the NRA’s lead in degrading it.