Over the past several days, pundits and voters alike have been up in arms over “careless” comments made by the Democratic and Republican campaigns. Republicans have whipped themselves into a frenzy over Hillary Clinton daring to characterize half of Donald Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables,” despite the fact that data supports her claim of Trump’s voters being racist xenophobes. (If anything, she underestimated the number.) On the other side of the aisle, Democrats have been hammering Trump’s VP pick, Mike Pence, for refusing to fully denounce former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. Yet, despite Pence’s political cowardice and Clinton’s jarring honesty, the most troubling comment of late wasn’t made by any of the nominees. It was uttered by Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who, in a speech at the Values Voter Summit Saturday, said conservatives might have to resort to bloodshed for the nation to “recover” from a Clinton presidency.
“I want us to be able to fight ideologically, mentally, spiritually, economically, so that we don’t have to do it physically. But that may, in fact, be the case,” he said.
“I do think it would be possible [for the nation to recover], but at what price?” he went on. “The roots of the tree of liberty are watered by what? The blood of who? The tyrants, to be sure, but who else? The patriots. Whose blood will be shed? It may be that of those in this room. It might be that of our children and grandchildren.”
Bevin’s comments amounted to the dangerous rantings of a treasonous political figure. To see them any other way is to willfully ignore America’s history of white, Christian, right-wing violence.
The governor wasn’t talking to soccer moms when he talked about shedding blood over a Clinton presidency. He was playing dog-whistle politics at a time when our nation’s citizenry includes a growing number of resentful, irrational, heavily armed pseudo-patriots – a basket of deplorables, you might say.
Despite how white conservatives profess to love “law and order,” history shows that to be selectively enforced rhetoric. America was established with rifles and gun powder, and then those same tools were used to maintain status-quo subjugation over minority groups for centuries. This violence is how America “negotiated” with Native peoples and created a massive, unpaid, brutalized workforce. It’s how America freed itself from British colonial rule, only to ensure said freedom wasn’t granted to black folks. It’s how America responded to black sharecroppers who attempted to unionize, economically self-sufficient and thriving black communities, black children who tried to integrate into schools, black students who sat at lunch counters with their white neighbors, and black people who simply wanted the right to vote.
But it’s how that history of white conservative violence connects with our modern-day society that makes Bevin’s comments so alarming. Since Barack Obama was elected president, the number of armed right-wing militias in the country has exploded, from 42 in 2008 to 276 in 2016 – a direct response to a president who doesn’t “look like them” or “share their views.” Bevin’s audience was people who train sniper rifles on federal agents over “government tyranny” and white supremacists who shoot cops – without any real interference from the GOP. In fact, the incitement of violence and violent rhetoric have become mainstream in the Republican Party. In this election, the GOP nominee has said he could kill a man in broad daylight and not lose a single vote, has alluded to the assassination of his rival, and has openly courted white supremacists.
So when Bevin, a Republican governor, says the election of a Democratic president could necessitate domestic bloodshed, his audience is already steps ahead of him in terms of extremism; his comments read as just another solution to one of their shared problems.
Fittingly, Bevin’s speech referenced the famous Thomas Jefferson quote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants” – which was imprinted on the back of Timothy McVeigh’s shirt when he was arrested days after he orchestrated the Oklahoma City bombing.
In response to the obvious backlash to his Values Voter speech, Bevin has attempted to walk back his comments, claiming they were about the military. But it’s too late for that. The right people heard what they needed to hear. They heard him loud and clear.