This month President Trump mocked a sexual assault survivor, called a woman he allegedly slept with and paid to keep silent “Horseface,” labeled the Federal Reserve “loco,” and applauded a US congressman who body-slammed a reporter for asking him a question.
This isn’t even his most dangerous language. That’s being reserved for Democrats, who are being subjected to some of the most disturbing and incendiary language used in recent memory by a president to describe his political opponents.
“The Democrats,” says Trump, are “arsonists” who “have become too extreme and too dangerous to govern.”
Democrats want to “tear down our laws, tear down our institutions in pursuit of power,” Trump warned at a rally in Mississippi.
They are “radical socialists who want to model America’s economy after Venezuela,” and if elected, “would destroy American prosperity,” he wrote in an op-ed for USA Today that was rife with mistruths.
As the president tells it, Democrats want to “dismantle law enforcement,” and support “open borders” that will “unleash violent predators and ruthless killers” on America’s streets. He has now even taken to regularly calling them the “party of crime” (an attack echoed by the Republican National Committee).
In Trump’s world, there’s no subtlety or even humor when he goes on the partisan attack. Democrats are not just wrong on the issues or unfairly blocking Trump’s policy agenda or, if elected, would raise taxes or hurt the economy (all legitimate political attacks). Rather, Democrats are a direct threat to the physical security of the American people. They are, says the president, “evil people.”
And when he’s not portraying members of a rival political party as direct threats, he’s going after their leaders in unprecedented personal attacks.
We know all about his labeling of Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas,” and his continued references to “Crooked Hillary” Clinton. Now he regularly insults Maxine Waters, a black congresswoman from Los Angeles, as “low I.Q.” He calls Connecticut senator Richard Blumenthal “Da Nang Dick,” because of Blumenthal’s exaggerations about his service during the Vietnam War. Texas congressman and Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke is a “flake.”
As a general rule, when presidents campaign for members of Congress, they try to stay above the nastier political fray — those kinds of harsh attacks are left for candidates or surrogates. But in Trump’s Republican Party, the invective comes from the top.
And as Trump’s rhetoric has passed every conceivable political norm, members of Congress are following suit and openly running racist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic campaign ads that demonize their opponents and those on the political left .
What is most disturbing about all of this is that it’s barely makes a ripple in media coverage. It’s not as if the media doesn’t report when Trump says these things. It’s that, like everything in Trump’s America, it’s impossible to focus on any one daily outrage when new ones are dropping fast and furious. At one point, Trump’s incendiary attacks on Democrats — his debate pledge to lock up Hillary Clinton, or his claims that the 2016 election would be rigged — received multi-day coverage and were taken as evidence of how badly Trump had lowered the country.
Two years later, it’s simply taken for granted that the president of the United States regularly uses language that is fundamentally and purposely intended to demonize and delegitimize his political opponents. We barely blanch at campaign attacks that don’t even bother to hide their racist intent. This has become the soundtrack of American politics — duly noted when it happens, and then everyone moves on.
More than a dozen years ago, presidential adviser Karl Rove came under withering criticism from Democrats for saying liberals responded to the 9/11 attacks with offers of “therapy and understanding for our attackers.”
If something like that was said today, it would not even be controversial. Indeed, a Republican congressman in California, Duncan Hunter, who is also under felony indictment, is now routinely accusing his Democratic opponent, whose grandfather was a Palestinian terrorist and who is Christian, of being a potential Islamic terrorist himself and a threat to national security.
If Democrats are evil and crazy, plotting to destroy America and putting the lives of Americans at risk, how can America risk putting them in political power? What would be the response of Republican voters if they take back control of Congress? Trump is openly using fascist and authoritarian language and dividing Americans in ways that make it hard to imagine how it will be possible to bring them back together again.
And worst of all, few of us are even paying attention.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.