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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 180 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.

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Trump's Hateful Rhetoric vs. Violent Video Games

Elliot Benjamin

Donald Trump's Hate Speech is the Real Enemy of the People
“Trump and the shooter are both working from the same sources, and both coming up with the same answers.” (Daily Kos)

I have previously conveyed my concerns about the relationship of real-world violence to violent video games [1]. Thus it was an interesting state of affairs for me when United States President Trump attributed the recent mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, and gun violence in general, largely to violent video games [2]. Trump also blamed gun violence on mental illness, which has not been substantiated in research [2], [3], but in this essay I am particularly concerned about the impact on hate crimes in the United States in regard to Trump's hateful rhetoric vs. violent video games.

To begin with, my concerns about the impact of violent video games on real-world violence is by no means something that has been clearly demonstrated by the research [1]. Yes I personally believe there is a bona fide and concerning relationship here, but it appears that the most that research can affirmatively say about this possible relationship is that it becomes apparent in the case of mental disturbance [1]. However, President Trump has taken absolutely no responsibility whatsoever for the possibility that his political rhetoric, inclusive of his hateful and discriminatory tweets, could be a factor that leads to hate crimes [4]. Therefore I think it may be useful to view some of the quantitative and qualitative research data that clearly associates Trump's hateful rhetoric with hate crimes, as I have previously described [5]. This is not experimental research and therefore one cannot say that Trump's hateful rhetoric is a “cause” of hate crimes, but I find the data to be extremely concerning. Let's take a look at this.

A 2018 statistical study by Griffin Edwards and Stephen Rushin entitled The Effect of President Trump's Election on Hate Crimes [6] concluded that “President Trump's election was associated with a statistically significant surge in reported hate crimes across the United States, even when controlling for alternative explanations,” and that “counties that voted for President Trump by the widest margins in the presidential election experienced the largest increases in reported hate crimes.” Furthermore, Edwards and Rushin (2018) found that “hate crimes remained elevated in 2017 relative to recent years” and argued that “It was not just Trump's inflammatory rhetoric throughout the political campaign that caused hate crimes to increase,” but “that it was Trump's subsequent election as President of the United States that may have validated this rhetoric in eyes of perpetrators and fueled the hate crime surge.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation November, 2018 report indicated a 17 percent increase for 2017 in hate crimes and nearly 60 percent of these hate crimes were tied to race. Furthermore, a statistical analysis published in 2019 found that there were over three times as many hate crimes in 2016 in United States counties where President Trump hosted a campaign rally, in comparison to counties where he did not host one. And in the 2018 book The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump [7], the following material about Trump's rhetoric is included, which I find particularly disturbing in relation to the above FBI 2017 hate crimes statistics:

“Since entering office, Trump has urged police to be 'rough' with suspects, given aid and comfort to neo-Nazis and other white supremacists, and suggested that the military should commit war crimes against Muslims. . . . A survey of more than 10,000 K-12 educators by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that the 2016 presidential election led to increases in verbal harassment, the use of slurs and derogatory language, and disturbing incidents involving swastikas, Nazi salutes and Confederate flags, with over 2,500 educators describing specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric. . . . A peer-reviewed epidemiologial study of the 2016 election found that cities experienced a 12-percent increase in assaults on days when Trump held a rally, as compared to days when there was no campaign rally.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center has conveyed the following alarming statistics and scenarios about hate crimes:

“There has been a 30 percent increase in the number of hate groups over the last four years—with a 7 percent increase in 2018 alone. . . . a staggering 1,020 organizations as hate groups. This number represents a 20-year high. . . . the SPLC attributes this increase to Trump, right-wing media, and the viral spread of hate via social media platforms. . . . Trump's entire political career has been based on stoking fear of the other and tapping into white outrage over an increasing browning of America. . . . Trump is not only a polarizing president, but also one that is responsible for radicalizing racists and motivating them to action. Rather than trying to tamp down hate, as presidents of both parties have done, President Trump elevates it—with both his rhetoric and his policies. In doing so, he's given people across America the go-ahead to act on their worst instincts. President Trump has opened the White House doors to extremism, not only consulting with hate groups on policies that erode our country's civil rights protections but enabling the infiltration of extremist ideas into the administration's rhetoric & agenda.”

All this material is consistent with the findings in the article "A Quantitative Approach to Understanding Online Antisemitism" [8], which found that the frequency of antisemitic content on alt-right web communities significantly increased in 2017 after Trump's inauguration, after Trump's travel ban was partially reinstated in a Supreme Court decision, and after the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally. Furthermore, it appears that undocumented immigrant victims of hate crimes are now less likely to report the crimes against them, due to their fears of being deported. For example, according to police in Houston, Texas, crimes reported by Latinos have fallen by more than 40% in the first 3 months of 2017 compared to the previous year [9].

And it is especially concerning to me that Trump's dangerous rhetoric may be related to the March, 2019 horrific and deadly attack on worshipers in two mosques in New Zealand. According to Daily Kos staff writer Mark Sumner [10]:

“Trump and the shooter are both working from the same sources, and both coming up with the same answers. Here's what Donald Trump has said [during his 2016 presidential campaign]. . . . 'I think Islam hates us.'. . . . 'If you have people coming out of mosques with hatred and death in their eyes and on their minds, we're going to have to do something.'. . . . 'You have to deal with the mosques, whether we like it or not, I mean, you know, these attacks aren't coming out of—they're not done by Swedish people.'. . . . And that's just on the subject of mosques. It doesn't touch on the hundreds of times that Trump has rallied against immigration, or called non-whites entering the country 'an invasion.' In fact, that's exactly how Trump began his campaign, by painting immigrants as 'rapists' and 'criminals.'
And, of course, it's the theme behind his attempted mult-billion dollar theft to build his wall. 'Invasion' is the language of violence. It's a term that so heightens the threat that it licenses 'good patriots' to do anything in response. 'Enemies of the people' is the language of violence. And certainly warning people that he has tough guys . . . ready to do bad things to his opponents is the language of violence. Donald Trump has advocated for beating up protesters, for greatly expanding the death penalty, and for taking away children as a means of controlling their parents. These are dehumanizing statements that generate inhuman responses. . . . What makes Trump 'a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose' for the shooter is the same thing that speaks to these Arizona voters featured in a National Review . . . article. . . . A 'good, solid community' being one without immigrants. That's what many voters hear when they listen to Donald Trump. It's what racists hear around the world.”

In April, 2019 Trump engaged in a tweet and video that associated the 9/11 terrorist attacks with a statement made by congresswoman Ilhan Omar related to what she perceived as the unfair targeting of Muslims, that has resulted in an increase in death threats against Omar [11]. In July, 2019 Trump followed up on this with a racist tweet that made reference to the four progressive freshmen non-White congresswomen whom he referred to as the “squad,” telling them to “go back to their country” [12]. This resulted in widespread outrage by many members of Congress, including some Republicans, and the outcome was that the House, inclusive of all House Democrats, voted to condemn Trump for his remarks [13].

Finally, in August, 2019 there was a mass deadly shooting in El Paso, Texas [14], and after the shooting the Southern Poverty Law Center denounced what they referred to as President Trump's "racially-driven rhetoric," and said that his policies, appointments, and rhetoric were "making America a more dangerous place for all of us" and that in particular his hateful rhetoric played a role in the El Paso violence. Their statement included the following [15]:

“As we head into another election cycle, Trump shows no signs of stopping and is, in fact, doubling down on his efforts to turn the country into an increasingly unwelcome environment for anyone who isn't white. . . . To pretend that his administration and the hateful rhetoric it spreads doesn't play a role in the kind of violence that we saw yesterday in El Paso is ignorant at best and irresponsible at worst.”

Now I am certainly not making the case that violent video games, especially coupled with mental disturbance, has no bearing on the occurrence of hate crimes. However, I am most definitely making the case that President Trump's hateful rhetoric may very well be the dominant factor involved in the recent upsurge of hate crimes and the horrific mass shootings that are part of this. The above data, both quantitative and qualitative, is left to the reader to make one's own determination of what appears to be going on here. But at the very least, is it too much to ask that the President of the United States refrain from using language related to immigrants, whether documented or undocumented, that describes them as “rapists” and “criminals” and characterizes their seeking of asylum in the United States as an “invasion”? Is it too much to ask that the President of the United States refrain from using language that tells United States congresswomen to “go back to their country” and describes United States journalists as “enemies of the people”? I firmly believe that hateful language breeds hateful actions, and in these dark times that we are living in we are witnessing the occurrence of both in disturbing numbers all over the world. Along these lines, I am currently in the process of formulating and submitting a topic series for articles in the Cultural Psychology division of Frontiers Publications under the theme of Hate Crimes, Political Rhetoric, and Humanistic/Peace Psychology. Yes President Trump was my initial motivating force in formulating this topic series, but my intent is to open up this topic series to people and countries all over the world, to shed light on the possible relationship of hate crimes and political rhetoric. Consequently I invite interested Integral World writers to make a note to check the Cultural Psychology topic series in Frontiers Publications [16], as I am expecting that this topic series of articles will available to authors before October 1, 2019.

Notes/References

1) See Elliot Benjamin (2012), Killing Sprees and Media Violence: A Primary Culprit in an Integrated Perspective?, www.integralworld.net

2) See Tessa Bereson (2019), President Trump Calls for Crackdown on Violent Video Games, Mental Health Reforms After Shootings, www.time.com

3) See Harvard Mental Health Letter, Mental Illness and Violence, www.health.harvard.edu

4) See Bess Levin (2019), Trump: My Unhinged Hate Speech “Brings People Together”, www.vanityfair.com

5) See Elliot Benjamin (2019), The Merging of Humanistic Psychology and Progressive Politics with an Application to the Dangerous Leadership and Rhetoric of President Donald Trump: Part 2. AHPB Magazine, No. 3., ahpb.org (password protected)

6) See Griffin Edwards & Stephen Rushin (2018), The Effect of President Trump's Election on Hate Crimes, papers.ssrn.com

7) See Ron Fein, John Bonifaz, J., & Ben Clements (2018). The Constitution demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump. Brooklyn: Melville House.

8) See Joel Finkelstein, Savvas Zannettou, Barry Bradlyn, & Jeremy Blackburn (2018). A Quantitative Approach to Understanding Online Antisemitism, www.researchgate.net

9) See Carolina Moreno (2017), Houston Police Announce Decrease in Lations Reporting Rape, Violent Crimes, www.huffpost.com

10) See Mark Sumner (2019). “It's Like White ISIS'”-White Nationalism Is the Greatest Threat to Democracy, www.dailykos.com

11) See Rebecca Falconer (2019), Ilhan Omar Says She's Received More Death Threats since Trump's Tweet, www.axios.com

12) See Matthew Yglesias (2019), Trump's Racist Tirades Against “the Squad,” Explained, www.vox.com

13) See Allan Smith, Alex Moe, Kasie Hunt, & Leigh Ann Caldwell (2019), House Votes to Condemn Trump “Racist Comments,” with Only Four Republicans Backing the Measure, www.nbcnews.com

14) See Andrew Blankstein and Minyvonne Burke (2019), El Paso Shooting: 20 People Dead, 26 Injured, Suspect in Custody, Police Say, www.nbcnews.com

15) See Mallory Simon (2019), SPLC: Trump's Rhetoric Is Making America More Dangerous, edition.cnn.com (live updates)

16) See www.frontiersin.org for a listing and description of the Frontiers Publications Cultural Psychology topic series.





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