The members of America’s most famous political family, the Kennedys, roundly condemned Republican nominee Donald Trump for his casual incitement of political violence at a recent rally. The Kennedy family is no stranger to political violence – their most famous son, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in 1963. His brother, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, announced the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. to a crowd in Indianapolis in 1968 before he too was assassinated months later.
William Kennedy Smith and Jean Kennedy Smith, nephew and sister of Pres. Kennedy, slammed Trump for encouraging the “greatest of all civic sins.” They recalled Robert Kennedy’s speech to the people of Indianapolis in 1968 after Robert Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated; how his compassion and his wisdom, his understanding of their pain and sharing his own pain at the loss helped heal the crowd:
“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black…Those words mattered. While there were riots in cities across the nation that night, Indianapolis did not burn.”
The statesmanship of Kennedy stands in a stark contrast to the apocalyptic Donald Trump, the agent of chaos, who offers only pain and suffering, division and hatred to his followers. They wallow in their anger and their frustration, feeding off each others’ negative energies while Trump directs that anger at convenient scapegoats – immigrants, Muslims, his political rival. Violence is a common sight at Trump rallies; Trump’s name is cited in xenophobic assaults across the nation.
The op-ed continues to acknowledge a grim truth – that Trump and his candidacy is an affront to every value our nation stands for and is a clear and present danger to our democratic tradition.
Political violence is a terrible inherent risk to any free society. Dictators and strongmen like Vladimir Putin have an answer. They are surrounded and shielded by force at all times. They do not brook dissent. In democracies, we expect our leaders to be accessible and, by and large, they want to be. Inevitably, that makes them vulnerable and the loss of a leader at a crucial time impacts family, country and even the world, for generations. Anyone who loves politics, the open competition of ideas and public participation in a free society, knows that political violence is the greatest of all civic sins. It is not to be encouraged. It is not funny. It is not a joke.
By now, we have heard enough dark and offensive rhetoric from Trump to know that it reflects something fundamentally troubled, and troubling, about his candidacy.
The United States was created by pilgrims fleeing persecution and by immigrants in search of a new life. Our founding Fathers envisioned a civilized, democratic society that would rise above the primitive prejudices and institutionalized repression of the Old World, free from the destabilizing whims of tyrants. While the United States has never fully reached those lofty heights, Trump would drag us back into the abyss of barbarism, where strength rules all; where knowledge is heresy and the truth is fabricated. His call for the assassination of Secretary Clinton is the lowest point in a century of American politics, and while we can celebrate his dragging the Republican Party over the edge with him, we cannot allow him to take our nation with him.
As the Kennedys remarked: “To borrow the words of Army Counsel Joseph Welch, directed at another dangerous demagogue: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.