Violent Political RhetoricAugust 10, 2016
Words matter. Words can inspire people to do great things. Words can inspire people to do evil things, like commit violent acts. Thus, it's important to be careful with words - especially if one is an influential person like a presidential nominee.
Sadly, Donald Trump keeps playing with fire. In my new book (Vote Your Conscience: Party Must Not Trump Principles), I offer five main areas of moral critique of Trump. One of those areas is his promotion of violence. Yesterday, he took it to a new level as he suggested that if Hillary Clinton is elected president, someone may then have to shoot Clinton and/or her Supreme Court nominees.
Such violent political rhetoric - even as a bad joke - must be rejected.
Trump's campaign tried to explain it away by claiming he was just saying people who care about gun ownership needed to vote against Clinton. But that's a lie. In his comments he's clearly talking about what could be done after Clinton wins. Trump's rhetoric is the type of stuff that gets political leaders assassinated. Trump may claim that's not what he meant, but if so he should apologize for his wording instead of just attacking the media. The way Trump said it clearly could lead people to think he's urging a supporter to take up arms against a President Hillary Clinton.
"You aren't just responsible for what you say," former CIA Director Michael Hayden correctly noted in response. "You're responsible for what people hear."
That's a basic communication concept I used to teach in introduction to public speaking (and there are many other concepts from that class Trump could learn from!). But we shouldn't be too surprised given Trump's encouragement of violence at his rallies and his glorifying of violence in his public policies.
The choice is simple: we can support Trump and his violent worldview, or we can follow the teachings of Jesus to be peacemakers. And so the decision should be clear: vote your conscience. After all, words matter.