American chaos: Did Trump incite?

A demagogue in a red tie spreads his arms in a gesture of love to his followers.


Where the laws are not supreme, there demagogues spring up.

— Aristotle, 4th c. BCE

The people are capable of good judgment when they do not listen to demagogues.

— Napoleon I (1814-5)

Demagogy enters at the moment when, for want of a common denominator, the principle of equality degenerates into a principle of identity.

— Saint-Exupery, 1942


The current chaos begins with words, or as Proverbs 18:21 has it, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”

It is the result of the long-standing entrenchment of two views of America, expressed in words (how else?), as some variation of the following:

(i) free, rich, governed by law, basically good, and making progress toward liberty for all; and

(2) an evil nation founded on extermination of the natives and imported slavery, ruled always by white supremacy, the only remedy for which is large doses of preferential treatment, identity politics, and “diversity.”

As I noted in an earlier post, exclusive adherence to one of these views, though both are partly true, leads to hatred of and friction with the other side.

The two sides are locked in a dance of death…

…chronically inflaming and enraging each other.

In addition, the left insists on a hideous program of language control (trigger-words, correct pronouns, removal of all perceived gender bias, and much more).

Incitement requires…

…an inciter and an audience susceptible to incitement.  There’s a symbiosis of demagogue and audience.  You can’t go, say, into a suburban health club and “incite” people to do anything.  They just want to play tennis.

Incitement connotes the triggering of passion.

A search of a language corpus would probably turn up “violence” as the most frequent object of the verb.

Alternatives to incite:

When the desired action is positive or pleasurable, and the audience is inclined to comply, motivational verbs like incent(ivize), coax, persuade, induce and entice are appropriate.

On the other hand, if there’s no willingness to comply, then coerce and its synonyms are the verbs of choice.

So: did Trump incite?

No and yes.   Let’s look at it from both sides of the transaction.

First, the inciter.

Trump did not directly incite violence.  He did not say the following or anything like it:

I want all of my followers, all of you who love me, and you are all very, very special…to go to Washington when they try to certify the fraudulently-elected Sleepy Joe Biden.

I cannot possibly have lost to this guy!

I want you to break into the Capitol, never mind the police, and interrupt this illegitimate process.  Don’t let it happen!   I will come back and take charge.*

They think the halls of Congress are so sacred, so why don’t you trash the place a little, just to show them what we think of them?

Take selfies to show that you did it.

God bless you, and God bless America!

(* indicates a dictator with a plan, an end-game.  Trump is not a bona fide tyrant because he doesn’t have one.)

That’s incitement of the direct kind.  That is the “no” answer.  He did not incite. Nowhere did he say any of this.

But there‘s a “Yes” side, too.

Trump is guilty of cumulative incitement.  To me, the semiotics of the flags and banners — all nicely, professionally done, no hand-lettered cardboard – indicate longer-term planning.

This would gibe with the many weeks during which Trump has insisted that the election was rigged against him.

During this time, he has accelerated the passions of his followers with inferential incitement.  In addition to constant exhortations to “stop the steal” (never doubting that there is one), statements about being “strong,” not “weak,” or that the upcoming gathering in DC would be “wild,” or the ubiquitous political word “fight” (especially inflammatory when followed by like hell) are open to interpretation.

All politicians say they’ll fight for you, but that doesn’t mean firearms.  They mean words. The same for statements about “strong” or “strength” – it’s about resoluteness and determination, not armed combat.  A “wild” gathering can be boisterous, like a New Year’s Eve party — or it can be violent.

So yes, guilty of incitement by inference or ambiguity.

The incited

This brings to the other half of the incitement equation: the incited. They did the inferring, and what they inferred was “show up and protest.”  At least some inferred trespassing, violence, and vandalism.

The offenders on January 6, which should become as emblematic as 9/11 (another day when America hit rock bottom – for now; I always add that), were of many kinds, but among them were people who believe that the 2nd Amendment entitles them to be armed against a tyrannical government, in the spirit of the original revolutionaries. Indeed, people are more docile when the government has all the guns.

To them, the government is already too tyrannical – and it’s threatening to get bigger, with more taxes and ongoing, even increasing racial bias against them.

Don’t they have a point?  What is “diversity,” if not racial bias?

Stop pissing each other off!

With their endless identity politics, language control, and promise of more (and more repressive) government, the Democrats antagonize these people at their peril – yet that is exactly what they will do.

Buckle up, as Sean Hannity says, because nobody’s going to back down. “My version is THE version.”

As of this writing (1/14/21), there is the threat of armed resistance in all 50 state capitals on Inauguration Day.  At least some of the protestors will be military vets convinced that the America they love is being taken over by people who mean them no good.

Always remember: the tongue has the power of life and death