As long as there have been American political parties, there have been presidents complaining about their domestic opponents. That is, of course, how it should be: the system expects partisans to engage in great debates over the major issues of the day. The United States has competing parties, not just to give the electorate choices, but also as part of a system of political checks and balances.
With that in mind, Americans can expect to hear presidents describe the opposition party in all sorts of unflattering ways. Donald Trump, however, used some rhetoric yesterday at the White House that stood out as different. In reference to Democrats, the Republican president said:
“I actually think they’ve become a very dangerous party for this country. If you listen to what they’re saying, what they’re doing, I think they’ve become a very dangerous – a very, very dangerous party for this country.”
I suspect much of the country has grown inured to Trump using irresponsible rhetoric during extended tantrums. Many of us just roll our eyes, tune him out, and get on with our day.
But when a leader with authoritarian instincts starts insisting that the opposition party is “very, very dangerous … for this country,” it might be a mistake to simply look the other way.
Indeed, Trump uses rhetoric like this a bit too often. He’s described courts he doesn’t like as “dangerous.” Last summer, the president said that American news organizations aren’t just “the enemy of the people,” he added that the media is “very dangerous.”
Things that are “very, very dangerous … for this country,” practically by definition, are public threats.
Trump hasn’t yet taken the next rhetorical step – explaining what it is, exactly, he intends to do about these “dangers” – but it’s unsettling that we even have to wonder.