There's been a lot of publicity recently over whether Donald Trump has encouraged violence at his rallies. My take is that the violence is mostly due to the demonstrators who have come to disrupt his rallies.
But Trump has said a few things that could be construed, on the surface, as encouraging violence:
On February 22, he said of a protester, "I'd like to punch him in the face."
On March 9, Trump said of some disruptive protesters, "See, in the good old days this didn't used to happen, because they used to treat them very rough. We've become very weak."
These words are unbecoming a Presidential candidate, but it's highly unlikely Trump actually wants violence. He knows that his crowds are fed up with the disruptive protesters and is, to a certain extent, playing to his base. But more than anything else, Trump was trying to appear to be tough himself.
Think of what he said: "In the good old days…" as if he used to be some sort of street fighter himself. You know, two-fisted Donald, who used to terrorize Queens and Brooklyn with his gang of thugs, beating the crap out of rival gangs.
The fact is, Trump is a rich man's son who parlayed his father's real estate empire into a much larger one. How many billionaires do you know of who are willing to risk losing teeth, or even an eye, in a brawl?
What the Donald suffers from is a disease that afflicts mostly upper middle class boys: the compulsion to pose as a tough guy -- because they're not.
The Bushes suffered from this affliction as well. Remember George W. Bush's famous "Bring 'em on," his challenge to any Iraqis who might want to attack US forces in that country? It was basically a schoolyard challenge by someone who wanted to appear macho. Bush didn't really want more American boys to die in war. He was just trying to appear manly (and possibly appeal to military pride as well).
Bush, who'd gone to Andover and Yale and was the son of a President and grandson of a Connecticut Senator, used to parade around in cowboy boots, as if he'd grown up busting broncos and stomping rattlesnakes to death. Even when he was dressed in a suit and tie, he would walk with his arms carried wide, as if they were too muscular to hang straight down.
Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, also an alum of Andover and Yale, famously said to a group of longshoremen after his Vice Presidential debate with Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, "We did kick a little ass last night." This was an awkward attempt by the patrician H.W. to relate to a group he was uncomfortable with, and the comment backfired.
President Obama said, while campaigning in 2008, that "if they [the Republicans] bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun." (Evidently that's the way they took care of things at Punahou.) Obama's statement could easily have been interpreted as promoting violence. And the case can be made that his words were more reprehensible than Trump's, given Obama's antipathy to guns.
But any honest analysis of Obama's intent would have to conclude that he was merely trying to appear tough. (Given that Obama is gay, he may have even more to prove.) Obama was also shamelessly plagiarizing The Untouchables, but that's really all he was guilty of there.
None of these men are -- or were -- genuine tough guys. If they had been, they wouldn't have felt the need to pose as one. But the point is, neither were any of them seriously trying to promote violence.
Update, next day: An anonymous commenter just pointed out that George H.W. Bush was a war hero, and that I shouldn't have included him in this post. He's right; I was wrong to group him in with the others.