This is harmful on many levels. “The president isn’t just the chief of the executive branch, but the head of state,” said Ian Bassin, who worked in the White House Counsel’s Office during the Obama administration and now runs the nonprofit group Protect Democracy. “That means part of what the presidency is about is norm-setting. When a president establishes that it’s OK to make fun of people with disabilities, or to be racist, or to lie, or to assault women, you see that replicated in society. That’s not a surprise.”
Mr. Trump doesn’t just mock his enemies. He demonizes and dehumanizes them. His attacks have resulted in his targets — whether a lawmaker like Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a television personality like the former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, a government scientist like Dr. Anthony Fauci, or a regular American citizen — getting swamped with death threats, and in some cases requiring personal protection.
The violent rhetoric, and its consequences, began almost as soon as Mr. Trump’s campaign for the White House did.
In August 2015, barely two months after Mr. Trump announced his presidential bid by accusing Mexican immigrants of being “rapists,” two Boston men beat a homeless man with a metal pipe and then urinated on him. “Donald Trump was right,” one of the men said, according to the police. “All these illegals need to be deported.”
Mr. Trump tweeted out a condemnation of the attack, calling it “terrible” and saying, “I would never condone violence.” But repeatedly on the campaign trail, he did just that.
At a February 2016 campaign rally, he told his supporters: “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Just knock the hell out of them. I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.”
A few weeks later he said of one protester, “I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.”
At another rally, a protester being escorted out by the police was sucker-punched. Mr. Trump called the attack “very, very appropriate” and the kind of action “we need a little bit more of.”