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The autocratic Trump and 'constitutional conservatives'

E.J. Dionne Jr. on

WASHINGTON -- President Trump's opponents typically treat him as a clown, a fool and a garden-variety bigot. They only occasionally pay enough attention -- usually when he praises some foreign dictator -- to the side of him that relishes autocracy and undercurrents of violence.

He really doesn't seem to believe in democracy very much. For him, politics is always a clash between power on one side and power on the other. The institutions we have created to mediate conflicts matter not a whit.

There should be no more minimizing this side of Trump after the interview the president gave to Breitbart last week in which he suggested a willingness on the part of his enthusiasts to resort to force against his enemies on "the left."

"I can tell you, I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump -- I have the tough people, but they don't play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad," Trump said. "But the left plays it cuter and tougher."

Was this a form of incitement? Was Trump thinking about Spain in the 1930s, or Chile in 1973?

Quite suddenly, Trump's interview came to wider attention after the slaughter of at least 49 people in two New Zealand mosques Friday morning by a white supremacist.

 

Trump, it should be said, went on Twitter at 7:41 a.m. Friday to express his "warmest sympathy" to "the people of New Zealand," although he mentioned nothing about the ethno-nationalist motivations of the terrorist. And this came only after the president had posted a link to the Breitbart homepage on Thursday night, U.S. time, just as news of the New Zealand attack was breaking.

It was unclear exactly what Trump was promoting in pushing Breitbart, known for its anti-Muslim commentary. And he deleted the Breitbart tweet early on Friday as the scale of the horror became known.

The New Zealand killings are generating widespread soul-searching about the role of social media in spreading hatred.

But what needs immediate attention is Trump's willingness to play fast and loose with authoritarian sentiments and intimations of violence. Trump's deleted tweet should put his Breitbart interview front-and-center in our politics.

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