A report published by the Pew Research Center on Wednesday found that 78 percent of Americans believe that when politicians’ rhetoric is “heated or aggressive” it makes violence against targeted groups more likely.
73 percent of Americans surveyed believe that elected officials should avoid heated language because it encourages violence.
In the survey question, no specific political leaders were mentioned. But the resulting report, President Donald Trump and his often violent, targeted rhetoric was analyzed.
55 percent of Americans that participated said Trump had changed the tone and nature of political debate for the worse and most considered his rhetoric “concerned”, “confused” and “embarrassed.”
54 percent of those surveyed said they were “entertained” by Trump.
Since the last presidential elections were over two years ago, research has started to emerge showing the effect that the current administration has had on the country. Research has shown that Trump’s election is likely to have made those who hold racist beliefs more comfortable with their views.
There is more hard data too – there are far more hate crimes. After years of falling, hate crimes have risen in the last three years. An analysis from the Washington Post found that counties that hosted a Trump rally in 2016 saw a 226% increase in hate crimes.
People of color are experiencing worsening health from stress from politicians’ rhetoric that is targeted and aggressive.
“There’s a lot of research that shows people take the lead from that kind of rhetoric as justification for their own acts of violence,” Jack McDevitt, director of the Institute of Race and Justice at Northeastern University, told The Guardian. “They get to justify it by the fact that the mayor, governor or president is articulating what they believe.”
While some researchers are reluctant to target or mention Trump specifically, others are not.
“[Trump] absolutely uses the language of threat,” Susan Benesch, faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Security at Harvard, told The Guardian. “He describes non-citizens as ‘invaders’ and as an ‘invasion’ – that is highly characteristic language of dangerous speech.”
After studying rhetoric used before and during the Holocaust, Benesch said that speech can be used to turn one group violently against another.