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Trump’s violent rhetoric conjures chilling echoes as US midterms loom




The lesson of January 6, 2021, is that when extremism, conspiracies and incitement reach a boiling point, they seek an outlet.

That recent history is loudly echoing amid a deepening sense that the country could be heading back to a dark political place as another Election Day looms. And sadly, in a such a toxic age, another violent eruption cannot be ruled out.

As he contemplates a 2024 campaign and rallies for 2022 candidates, ex-President Donald Trump is conducting a new symphony of political malice and facing little pushback from his party despite the insurrection’s example of where the politics of malevolence can lead.

The foreboding atmosphere five weeks before the midterm elections shows the country remains in the grip of the rancor that stained the peaceful transfer of power from one president to another less than two years ago.

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Trump launches direct attack on McConnell a month out from midterm elections


This coincides with painful and far from complete investigations into what happened after the 2020 election. On Monday, for instance, on the first day of the trial of five alleged members of the Oath Keepers militia charged with seditious conspiracy, jurors heard how senators cried as they hid from Trump’s mob.

The former President dialed up the hate another notch last week with a social media post that accused Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, with whom he has a strained relationship, of having a “death wish” and flung racism at his wife, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. In another escalation, Trump recently slammed FBI agents as “vicious monsters” over the lawful search of his Florida home.

One of the ex-President’s top boosters, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, also played into Trump’s politics of fear at his weekend rally in Michigan, claiming that Democrats wanted Republicans dead.

Trump’s political model remains rooted in igniting anger among his supporters. The more outrageous his comments, the more that the ex-President and his supporters show disdain for Washington elites and the rules and conventions that constrain the presidency and government institutions. His political self image emulates the militarism and brashness of foreign strongmen. And in a sense, his refusal to temper his political speech, even at the risk of endangering others, demonstrates yet again his power over a party that largely refuses to rebuke him, however extreme he becomes.

A bloody history of political violence

Attacks on or threats to political leaders are not just a bloody relic of America’s past. There have been multiple recent instances of intimidation targeting political figures from both parties – from death threats left on Illinois GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s phone over his involvement in the House’s insurrection probe to charges filed against a man who allegedly harassed Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state.

In June, a man was charged with attempting to kill Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The same month, New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin, who’s running for governor, was attacked by a man at a campaign event. While the alleged assailant appeared not to have a political motive, it was a reminder, as if one was needed, of the vulnerability of candidates on the stump.

Former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was left with life-changing injuries by a gunman who attacked a constituency event in 2011, killing six people. In 2017, Louisiana GOP Rep. Steve Scalise was badly wounded by a gunman who opened fire at a congressional baseball practice. The man had professed support for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ progressive politics and hated conservatives and Trump, according to a CNN review of his Facebook profiles, public records and letters to his newspaper. (Sanders, who has never employed the kind of incitement that Trump is known for, was quick to condemn the shooting as “despicable” after saying the assailant “apparently” volunteered for his presidential campaign, and he made clear violence of any kind was unacceptable.)

Why you can’t just ignore Donald Trump’s latest threat

It’s not always possible to trace each attack, or attempted attack, to specific heated rhetoric. But such incidents also mean that politicians cannot claim their words are uttered in a vacuum. The dangers of stoking fear and violence are obvious. The US Capitol insurrection made this clearer than ever. Multiple rioters testified in court cases that they were doing what Trump wanted on that day. In the House select committee’s seventh hearing, Stephen Ayres, who pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in a restricted building, said everyone was simply following what the former President wanted. Or as the panel’s vice chair, Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney put it, the then-President “summoned the mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack.”

In a nation with easy access to guns, with a recent history of political violence and where Trump and others use false claims of voter fraud as political rocket fuel, it is reasonable to wonder what dire consequences may haunt this election season.

Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chairs the House select committee, on Monday condemned Trump’s social media assault on McConnell and told colleagues in both parties, “We need to be better than this.”

He said in a statement that Trump’s rhetoric “could incite political violence, and the former President knows full well that extremists often view his words as marching orders.”

In an editorial on Monday, the conservative editorial page of The Wall Street Journal also condemned Trump’s attack on McConnell.

“The ‘death wish’ rhetoric is ugly even by Mr. Trump’s standards and deserves to be condemned. Mr. Trump’s apologists claim he merely meant Mr. McConnell has a political death wish, but that isn’t what he wrote,” the paper said.

“It’s all too easy to imagine some fanatic taking Mr. Trump seriously and literally, and attempting to kill Mr. McConnell.”

A New York Times story over the weekend, which detailed a stream of threats and harassment against lawmakers of both parties, noted that after Trump was elected in 2016, the number of reported threats against members of Congress rose more than 10 times to 9,625 in 2021, according to Capitol Police figures.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if a senator or House member were killed,” Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told the paper in an interview.

“What started with abusive phone calls is now translating into active threats of violence and real violence.”

GOP senator dodges over Trump extremism

Violent rhetoric can be bipartisan. But there is little doubt that Trump’s behavior has contributed to an increasingly volatile political culture.

Long before the Capitol insurrection, the ex-President injected a bullying and brutal tone in his campaign rhetoric. Month by month, Trump built an impression that violence was a legitimate tool of expressing political grievances – a process that came to a head on January 6 – and further eroded the idea that Americans’ differences should be settled at the ballot box rather than through violent action.

‘It’s never, ever OK to be a racist,’ Rick Scott says when asked about Trump’s personal attack on Elaine Chao


The former President appears to implicitly offer his supporters a kind of permission to emulate his incitement. And his tendency to drag others down into the political gutter with him has contributed to a coarsening of the wider political culture, especially among Republicans who have to choose between their political careers and publicly tolerating his extremism.

Republicans often seize upon the rhetoric of key Democratic figures to suggest their supporters are being victimized and targeted. This happened most recently when Biden referred to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” supporters as embracing “semi-fascism.” Intemperate political rhetoric should always be condemned. But any objective viewing of Trump’s speeches and social media posts must conclude that he’s an incessant and deliberate offender.

Part of the reason why is that his own party – some courageous lawmakers aside – almost never steps into condemn him. This was borne out by the uncomfortable dodging from Florida Sen. Rick Scott, the chairman of the Senate GOP campaign committee, on Sunday shows when he was asked to condemn Trump’s post about McConnell.

“You know, the President likes to give people nicknames. So you can ask him how he came up with a nickname. I’m sure he has a nickname for me,” Scott told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union,” before struggling to reorient the conversation toward the high inflation that Republicans believe will hurt Democrats in the midterms.

“I hope no one is racist. I hope no one says anything that’s inappropriate,” Scott said, encapsulating the manner in which Trump has intimidated his party into submission through seven years of fury since he announced his first campaign.

As the former President cranks up his political machine again, and as the broader political environment deteriorates, a sense of menace and danger is again gathering around another American election.

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Justin Trudeau says he’s ‘absolutely serene and confident’ he made right decision to invoke Emergencies Act




Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ended his testimony at the inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act on Friday by saying politics had nothing to do with his government’s decision to invoke the legislation.

“My motivation was entirely about ensuring the safety of Canadians,” he said just before 4 p.m. ET in response to a question from government lawyer Brian Gover.

“My secondary motivation was making sure Canadians continue to have confidence in their institutions and society’s ability to function and enforce the rule of law when it’s not being respected. Politics was not the motivation at all in the invocation of the Emergencies Act.”

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Commissioner Paul Rouleau then asked the lawyers for various stakeholders if they had any other questions. When they said they did not, Mr. Rouleau thanked Mr. Trudeau for his testimony, which began just after 9:30 a.m. ET.

“Well, Prime Minister, I am very pleased to be able to tell you we have completed our work for the day with you,” he said.

Earlier Friday, Mr. Trudeau said the threats to Canada’s national security from last winter’s convoy protests were both economic and violent, and before he invoked the Emergencies Act the premiers were unable to suggest any alternative to using the sweeping powers to end the protracted demonstrations.

The Prime Minister was the final witness to testify at the inquiry studying the act’s use. Mr. Trudeau made the ultimate decision to invoke the never-before-used act on his own on Feb. 14, with the goal of ending protests that gridlocked the capital and jammed several border crossings across Canada.

“I am absolutely, absolutely serene and confident that I made the right choice,” Mr. Trudeau said.

Senior Political Reporter Marieke Walsh, Marsha McLeod and Deputy Ottawa Bureau Chief Bill Curry


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‘Bad humour’ and short fuses: How politicians’ texts played out at the Emergencies Act inquiry



The public inquiry investigating the federal government’s unprecedented use of the Emergencies Act in February has seen a huge number of documents that otherwise would never see the light of day — including politicians’ private texts exposing some embarrassing, and enlightening, conversations.

Politics is a profession prone to carefully crafted statements and rhetoric, so the text messages offered rare insights into the thought process of many key politicians — and a glimpse at tensions between governments.

Here are some of the stand-out text exchanges from the past few weeks.

‘Screwed the pooch’

According to text messages that Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Jason Kenney wrote, the then-premier of Alberta accused the federal government of not caring about the Canada-United States border closure in Coutts, Alta.

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Around dawn on Feb. 14, the RCMP arrested more than a dozen Coutts protesters and seized a cache of weapons, body armour and ammunition — just hours before the Emergencies Act was invoked.

Anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate demonstrators gather as a truck convoy blocks the highway at the busy U.S. border crossing in Coutts, Alta. on Feb. 1, 2022. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

According to the messages LeBlanc shared with Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino three days earlier, Kenney accused the federal government of leaving the provinces holding the bag on protest enforcement.

The texts were brought up during Mendicino’s testimony and were in documents released by the inquiry this week.

In the texts attributed to Kenney, he also complained about the federal decision to decline Alberta’s request for military equipment that could help remove protesters’ vehicles.

One message said — in an apparent reference to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — that “your guy has really screwed the pooch.”

“Speaking of bonkers,” Alghabra wrote in his text exchange with LeBlanc and Mendicino, apparently in reference to some of Kenney’s texts.

“Totally,” LeBlanc replied.

Ontario’s Sylvia Jones gives a cold response

The commission also got a glimpse of a testy call between Mendicino and Ontario’s solicitor general at the time, Sylvia Jones, about how to handle last winter’s convoy protests. Their conversation apparently included some colourful language.

Mendicino’s chief of staff Mike Jones and Samantha Khalil, director of issues management at the Prime Minister’s Office, discussed wanting Jones at the table during trilateral meetings.

“Can have my boss reach out again [to Sylvia Jones] but last call got pretty frosty at the end when [Mendicino] was saying we need the province to get back to us with their plan,” wrote Jones.

“‘I don’t take edicts from you, you’re not my f–king boss,” the staffer continued, describing Jones’ response.

‘Tanks’ text was a joke – Lametti

Mendicino was party to more than one text conversation that came up during the inquiry. One exchange with Justice Minister David Lametti generated some controversy during the inquiry hearings.

In that text exchange, Lametti told Mendicino he needed to “get the police to move” and secure support from the Canadian Armed Forces, if necessary.

“How many tanks are you asking for,” Mendicino wrote back.

“I just wanna ask Anita how many we’ve got on hand,” he added, referring to Defence Minister Anita Anand.

“I reckon one will do!” Lametti texted back.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino was party to more than one text conversation that came up during the inquiry. In this one from Feb. 2, he and Justice Minister David Lametti joked about calling in the Canadian Armed Forces. (Public Order Emergency Commission exhibit)

During his testimony at the inquiry, Lametti said he wasn’t calling for the deployment of the army and described the exchange as banter with a colleague and a friend.

“There will be occasional attempts at bad humour,” he said.

Lametti calls Ottawa police chief ‘incompetent’

A separate exchange of texts between Lametti and Mendicino appeared during Lametti’s testimony.

In those messages, Lametti shared some criticism of former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly, who resigned during the occupation of the city’s downtown streets last winter.

“They just need to exercise it and do their job,” texted Mendicino, referring to the Ottawa Police Service’s authority to enforce the law.

“I was stunned by the lack of a multilayered plan,” Lametti responded. “Sloly is incompetent.”

While Lametti said he’d now soften his language about Sloly, he told the inquiry he had to move out of his Ottawa residence during the protest to avoid harassment.

“I was frustrated, I have to admit,” he said. “It is frank.”

Trudeau, Blair take aim at Ford

During a private call with then-Ottawa mayor Jim Watson in early February, Trudeau accused Ontario Premier Doug Ford of hiding from his responsibilities as the streets of the nation’s capital were gridlocked by the protest.


Text messages between Emergency Prepadreness Minister Bill Blair and his chief of staff were entered into evidence at the Emergencies Act inquiry on Monday. (Public Order Emergency Commission exhibit)


The inquiry had access to a readout of that call — which is not an exact transcript of the conversation.

“Doug Ford has been hiding from his responsibility on it for political reasons, as you highlighted,” Trudeau said.

“Important we don’t let them get away from that.”

The prime minister wasn’t alone in criticizing Ford. Text messages from Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair to his chief of staff also shared a few choice words about the premier.

“I am embarrassed for my former profession. And worried for my government which is being made to look weak and ineffective,” Blair, a former Toronto police chief, said in a text message.

“I can’t believe that I’m hoping Doug Ford will save us.”

Government ‘is losing … confidence in OPS’

Politicians weren’t the only ones seeing their private text exchanges aired in public.

A text message from RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki released to the inquiry said the federal government was already losing confidence in the Ottawa police just one week into the massive protest.

The Feb. 5 texts were between Lucki — who was in a meeting with federal ministers at the time — and Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique.

Text messages between RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique were also brought up during the inquiry. Lucki’s texts are in blue. (POEC)

“Trying to calm them down, but not easy when they see cranes, structures, horses bouncing castles in downtown Ottawa,” she wrote.

She also provided insight into the government’s thinking at the time, adding that she or Carrique might be called in if the government invoked the Emergencies Act.

“Between you and I only, (Government of Canada) is losing (or) lost confidence in OPS, we gotta get to safe action (or) enforcement,” Lucki texted Carrique.

‘Friendly fire’

In one text exchange with Mendicino’s chief of staff, Serge Arpin, who was chief of staff to Mayor Watson, criticized Blair for saying the lack of enforcement was “somewhat inexplicable.”

“But it is friendly fire from you guys – don’t kid yourself,” Arpin wrote.

In a separate text in the same exchange, Arpin told Mike Jones that the RCMP was “lying to you flat out” about the police resources available.

Arpin told the inquiry that comment was the product of exasperation.

“Extraordinary frustration of having to tell the mayor that our residents who are now onto day 14 or 13 of the demonstration and we’re not seeing any meaningful progress in terms of additional bodies on the ground assisting [the Ottawa Police Service] with the operation,” he testified.

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Smith speech good politics, potentially good policy



Premier Danielle Smith’s televised speech to the province on Tuesday probably achieved the No. 1 goal Smith and her UCP had for the dinner-time address: It stopped their bleeding in the polls caused by Smith’s serial stumbling in her first weeks as Alberta leader.

She looked human and competent (not monstrous or wacky). If she has horns, they didn’t show.

The best thing that can be said about Smith’s early performances in office, is that she established low expectations. Albertans aren’t expecting much from her now, so if she looks even barely competent, she’ll impress.

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And at the very least in her Tuesday address, Smith looked as if she had the potential to grow into being premier. That means she will have surpassed the competence level many voters gave her credit for, following her obsession with a sovereignty act during the months of the UCP leadership race and her fixation on refighting the COVID-19 pandemic during her first seven weeks in office.

Two of the many emails I received from readers are indicative of what I mean.

“Hey, Smith does know about issues other than separation and COVID,” wrote one reader from St. Albert.

In fairness, Smith has never raised the spectre of our province leaving Confederation. Calling her pledge to increase Alberta’s autonomy a veiled threat separate is an NDP campaign concoction.

Still, my St. Albert correspondent made a valid point: Smith’s Tuesday address revealed that she can wrap her mind around basic governance concepts (the things like inflation that matter to ordinary Albertans), rather than just the fringier nuggets like human rights for vaccine refusers.

In a nutshell: Smith looked more like a premier on Tuesday, less like a sensationalist radio host.

That was a big plus for her.

Another reader said, “I didn’t really like her before, but her speech has at least made me reconsider.”

That’s huge. In this day and age of cancel culture, with its agree-or-be-silenced mob rule, most politicians don’t get a second chance.

Perhaps that reader was the only person in Alberta willing to think twice about Smith. However, if she was voicing a wider sentiment, the UCP at least have a chance to perform well in the upcoming legislative session and be rewarded by voters.

Fair or unfair, the UCP are still the default choice to lead Alberta, meaning voters (at least in Calgary, the smaller cities and rural Alberta) will vote right-of-centre so long as the right-of-centre party is halfway competent and united.

If voters are prepared to forgive Smith for her errors to date, and judge her and her government on what they do going forward, that is bad news for NDP plans to retake Alberta.

Politically, then, Smith’s speech seems to have served its purpose of stopping her party’s slide in the polls.

Will it achieve its more direct policy goal — to help blunt the effects of inflation? I’m less sure.

The suspension of the gasoline tax for at least six months is a good thing. It comes off everyone’s tax bill immediately, at the pump, without any huge bureaucratic intervention. (Unlike the federal carbon tax, which sucks billions out of consumers’ pockets, then costs billions in bureaucratic oversight to repay billions to everyone, no matter how much tax they paid.)

On the other hand, Smith’s monthly cheques to seniors and families earning under $180,000 a year, could end up fueling inflation by increasing the amount of spending money consumers have. Those cheques could end up increasing the amount of money in circulation that then ends up chasing goods and services and bidding up prices.

That’s how federal pandemic supports caused the current inflation.

But unlike federal pandemic relief, the Alberta amounts are much, much smaller and spread out over six months.

So perhaps Smith’s speech will end up being both a political and a policy triumph.

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