Four months before the Republican National Convention of 2016, Donald Trump warned the nation that his supporters would respond with “riots” if he did not win the presidential nomination. “I think you’d have riots,” he said. “I think you’d have riots. I’m representing a tremendous many, many millions of people.” Earlier in the campaign he called on supporters to “knock the crap out of [protestors],” lamented the lack of “consequences” for those who interrupted his events. In old times, he added, such protestors would be “carried out on a stretcher.”
And now, after Trump lost the 2020 election and told those who invaded and ransacked the Capitol, “We love you. You’re very special,” we have, full throttle, the riots—and violence—he prophesied and, by his words and acts, incited. Although we may, thanks to the presence of more than twenty-five thousand armed troops at Joe Biden’s inauguration, prevent and/or subdue new riots in our nation’s capital, we are inheriting something at least as dangerous—and, perhaps, more insidious—than the palpable acts of violence we have already experienced.
“I wonder all the time what sort of world is going to come out of this,” the writer and war correspondent Martha Gellhorn wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt in 1941 on the eve America’s entry into World War II. “The great crime the Nazis have invented is this one of filling the world with hate, because the hate will stay like an infection in the blood, even after the killing is over.”
And so too in our time. On January 7, the day after the invasion of the Capitol, the conservative preacher Jeremiah Johnson, who, like many Evangelicals, had been a fervent Trump supporter, apologized publicly for having supported him. The reaction? “Over the last 72 hours, I have received multiple death threats and thousands upon thousands of emails from Christians saying the nastiest and most vulgar things I have ever heard toward my family and ministry,” Rev. Johnson reported. “I have been labeled a coward, sellout, a traitor to the Holy Spirit, and cussed out at least five hundred times.” He was, he added, “flabbergasted” by “the pure hatred being unleashed.”