My wife and I spent last weekend at Gatlinburg. The mountains are beautiful this time of year- which is why that place is so clogged with tourists you can’t turn around. I hate crowds, but we got a good deal, so there we were.
We were struck by how much Donald Trump merchandise was everywhere: in the gift shops, in the general store, even in several restaurants. It was like the many “Trump Stores” that went out of business after the last election had dumped all their leftovers into this one little touristy town. “Let’s Go Brandon” stuff out the wazoo, chintzy paintings of Donald Trump embracing Jesus and/or Ronald Reagan, T-shirts denigrating Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Biden, and so forth. A persistent theme seemed to be T-shirts referring to Biden and VP Harris as “Deez Nuts,” which made me wonder how many of the senior citizens buying them got the reference. A lot of mentions of “liberal snowflakes” and how overly sensitive they are, the irony of which always seems to go over the heads of those conservatives who are whipped into a frenzy by their outrage at every little thing that doesn’t conform to their worldview.
The thing that got me the most was a T-shirt worn by a guy in the crowd. It said “Let’s Go Brandon” (code for “**** Joe Biden,” for those that don’t know), and underneath those words was the silhouette of an AR-15 assault rifle.
On the one hand, all that pro-Trump merchandise was just capitalism at work. Those merchants know where they live and what the prevalent political feeling is there. They know what sells. I believe most of them also sincerely believe in the message they are promoting, as well.
It was the AR-15 that stuck with me, though… and a handful of slightly less overt shop items that equated pro-Trumpism with (heavily) implied violence. It reminded me of the last several columns I have written, about the dangers of dehumanizing people who think differently than you and adding to that violent rhetoric that has, in fact, already led to violence and loss of life in the U.S. I’ve given examples in the past, but more recently there was a report that online references to a second civil war have increased by 3,000 percent since the FBI executed a search warrant on Trump’s Florida resort and found a slew of illegally retained top secret documents. Last week, due to the fact Mitch McConnell has supported legislation that would more securely close loopholes that might allow bogus claims like those made by Trump leading up to the January 6th insurrection, Trump said the Senate minority leader “must have a DEATH WISH!” This led to increased security being put in place around the Republican senator because of the very real possibility that Trump supporters might take that as tacit approval by Trump for them to murder McConnell.
It is a tragic statement about the state of modern American society that I would ever even have to write a sentence like that.
Listen, I know that liberals, too, can be crude and offensive in how they talk about their political opponents, and that some liberals have advocated or practiced violence, but A) they do it much less, and B) it’s wrong, no matter who does it. Last week, Marjorie Taylor-Greene told constituents that Democrats are coming to kill them. Trump adviser Mike Flynn said (incorrectly, as usual) that governors have the right to declare war, and we will see it happen soon.
This level of othering, fear-mongering, and justification of (or outright promotion of) violence… to hate your neighbor so much you want to kill them, because they are coming for you… is taking us to a very dangerous place. And we don’t have to go there… because most of this rhetoric is not remotely based on fact. We need to put on the brakes, now.
--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.
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