I was all set up to write a diverting little post about what Donald Trump would say in response to interview questions about various fictional crises that loyal readers would know. It will be fun to write that post, to imagine Trump trying to bluff his way through a conversation on the Sokovia Accords or the crisis in Corto Maltese.
Unfortunately, this is not the week to write that post, not after Trump’s Second Amendment “joke.” No, all I can think about now is:
The Trump campaign is trying to spin this every which way they can. Claims that his remark about Democratic rival Hillary Clinton was just a “joke” don’t really hold water in the sense that jokes still mean something, particularly in presidential campaigns. Furthermore, the statement was serious enough for the Secret Service to have a conversation with the campaign about this kind of rhetoric. The fact that Trump won’t apologize for a joke gone bad is indicative of the many other dangerous statements that he never walks back.
Politico’s Michael Crowley notes the obvious concerns:
Of particular concern to experts who track hate speech is the rise of violent rhetoric among anti-government militias and white supremacist groups with which Trump does not directly associate, but that generally root for him.
Trump’s comment about the “Second Amendment people” could resonate with militia groups that often speak of armed resistance to the government. In April, the popular anti-government group Oath Keepers published an essay on its website warning of “outright civil war” in the event that Clinton is elected. “The level of hatred among conservatives for that woman is so stratospheric I cannot see any other outcome,” wrote the author, Brandon Smith, a regular contributor to the site.
The problem is that Trump doesn’t really care about the truth value of his rhetoric. Rather, he uses such language at his rallies to whip up his supporters and generally promote the greater glory of Donald Trump. As Tom Friedman wrote Wednesday in the New York Times, this is the kind of loose talk that leads to violence.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin got assassinated….
Trump knows what he is doing, and it is so dangerous in today’s world. In the last year we have seen a spate of lone-wolf acts of terrorism in America and Europe by men and women living on the fringes of society, some with petty criminal records, often with psychological problems, often described as “loners,” and almost always deeply immersed in fringe jihadist social networks that heat them up. They hear the signal in the noise. They hear the inspiration and the permission to do God’s work. They are not cooled by unfinished sentences.
After all, an informal Trump adviser on veteran affairs, Al Baldasaro, a Republican state representative from New Hampshire, already declared that Clinton should be “shot for treason” for her handling of the Benghazi terrorist attack.
Unfortunately, the link between Trump’s past rhetoric and violence is hardly limited to this example.
A year ago two men attacked a Hispanic immigrant in Boston; one of the attackers said that “Donald Trump was right; all these illegals need to be deported.” Trump’s first response was to explain that his supporters were simply “passionate.”
On Wednesday, NBC’s Katy Tur published an essay in Marie Claire magazine explaining what it’s been like to cover Trump’s campaign for the past year. It’s a diverting read, except for the sobering part about what happened after Trump called Tur out by name in a speech in Mount Pleasant, S.C.:
It’s unlikely, however, that any of Trump’s future attacks [on me] will be as scary as what happened in Mount Pleasant, where the crowd, feeding off Trump, seemed to turn on me like a large animal, angry and unchained.
It wasn’t until hours later, when Secret Service took the extraordinary step of walking me to my car, that the incident sank in.
The wave of insults, harassment, and threats, via various social-media feeds, hasn’t stopped since. Many of the attacks are unprintable.
“MAYBE A FEW JOURNALISTS DO NEED TO BE WHACKED,” tweeted someone with the handle GuyScott33, two weeks after Trump lashed out. “MAYBE THEN THEYD STOP BEI[N]G BIASED HACKS. KILL EM ALL STARTING W/ KATY TUR.”
Trump supporters might argue that he can’t be held personally responsible for the actions of his “passionate” followers. But the whole point of aspiring to political leadership is displaying the ability to channel people’s hopes, fears and concerns into productive action. When Sen. John McCain (R) encountered supporters of his 2008 presidential campaign going off the deep end, for example, he exercised actual leadership and put a stop to it:
In contrast, this was Trump at his Florida rally Wednesday night:
The odds are excellent that, between now and November, Trump will say more inflammatory things that could inspire some nutcase to do something violent. And the odds are getting better that this campaign will get out of control and we’ll all be lucky to live through it.