I have questions for Paul Ryan and the other Republicans who have smashed their moral compasses and surgically removed their spines:
Is Donald Trump’s incitement of violence against Hillary Clinton sufficient grounds for yanking your endorsement? If not, why not? If an invitation to assassinate is something you’re willing to tolerate, then what, pray tell, meets your definition of crossing the line?
But alas, we know by now that it’s useless to tutor the Quisling Republicans about civility and decency. Not even the sociopath’s most despicable riff has shaken their craven complicity. No, not even this – the equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theatre:
Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.
Trump said that during a rally yesterday. (He also lied when he said, for the umpteenth time this year, that Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment.) I’m getting nostalgic for the good old days when an angry Republican loon merely babbled to an empty chair.
Until yesterday, no White House aspirant had ever violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the federal law – 18 U.S. Code 879 – which states that “whoever knowingly and willingly threatens to kill, kidnap, or inflict bodily harm upon…a major candidate for the office of President…shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.” Indeed, ex-Bush CIA director Michael Hayden told CNN that if anyone in the crowd had said what Trump said, that person “would be in the back of a police wagon with the Secret Service questioning him.”
Naturally, the losers around Trump scrambled to stamp out his fire. They said he was just kidding around; Paul Ryan suggests that it was merely “a joke gone bad.” They said he was merely inciting the “Second Amendment people” to get out and vote; as one Trump flak spun it, “It’s called the power of unification – Second Amendment people have amazing spirit and are tremendously unified, and this year they will be voting in record numbers.” Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator and Trump ally, insisted that Trump wasn’t trying to threaten Clinton, although his remark “may have been awkwardly phrased.”
Can the GOP stoop any lower (of course it can; we have three months to go)? Who in the hapless party leadership has the cajones to say that enough is enough? What will it take to get the Republican National Committee to call an emergency meeting and try to excise its metastasizing tumor?
Yes, it’s highly likely that Trump will lose big – the latest news is that he’s hemorrhaging Republican women, for obvious reasons – and most Republican leaders figure that if they stay silent now, they’ll be well poised to pick up the pieces, post-election. But the questions I’m raising are bigger than politics. These are questions of right and wrong. And it’s morally wrong to saddle oneself to a candidate who recklessly incites violence, who dog-whistles bloodlust to the lone wolves.
That’s what’s going on here. You don’t “joke” about assassination, especially in this incendiary year – because some twisted Second Amendment idiots may choose to skip the “joke” and take the words as an inspirational call to arms. Besides, they’ve already been stoked by various Trumpkins. Trump’s ex-butler wrote on Facebook that President Obama should be “hung from the portico” of the White House. Trump advisor Al Baldasaro said on the radio last month, “Hillary Clinton should be put on the firing line and shot.” (Trump has not renounced Baldasaro; last weekend he said, “Al has been so great.”)
No, Trump didn’t literally tell anyone to plot an assassination. That’s not how it works. Remember what happened in Israel, where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was demonized by right-wingers as a “traitor” for trying to make peace with Israel’s antagonists. In 1995, a lone wolf heard the call and shot Rabin dead.
During the recent Republican lock-her-up convention, Chemi Shalev, an Israeli columnist based in America, was duly disturbed by what he heard. He warned: “Like the extreme right in Israel, many Republicans conveniently ignore the fact that words can kill. There are enough people with a tendency for violence that cannot distinguish between political stagecraft and practical exhortations to rescue the country by any available means. If anyone has doubts, they could use a short session with Yigal Amir, Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin…”
There you have it. When a repugnant character like Trump systematically demonizes and delegitimizes his opponent, and winks at violence against that opponent with remarks unprecedented in presidential politics, he has forfeited his right to run for office in a nation that reveres the peaceful transfer of power. And to their everlasting shame, Republican leaders refuse to say it.
Epilogue: Trump has now assessed this episode, while in conversation with manservant Sean Hannity. In Trump’s words, “I think it’s good for me.”