Another horrifying day in the US election. My latest on Trump’s assassination threats for Globe and Mail:
“By the way, and if she gets the pick – if she gets the pick of her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” he said at a rally, discussing the ability of the president to appoint members of the U.S. Supreme Court. “Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”
“The Second Amendment people” refers to America’s gun fanatics, many of whom have appeared at Trump rallies screaming “lock her up,” “burn the witch” and other chants. The rhetoric at Trump rallies is so vicious and misogynistic that one featured a 10-year-old boy yelling “take that bitch down” as his mother stood by approvingly. (This incident would have dominated coverage had Mr. Trump not feuded with a baby at the same rally.)
Was Mr. Trump, as he now says, merely calling on the electoral power of this group? No. Was his hint for an assassination a joke? No. Moreover, does it matter? How do you joke about the assassination of your rival – or of any politician?
His comments are unprecedented in U.S. history – a history littered with political corpses. Mr. Trump was 17 in 1963 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, 22 in 1968 when JFK’s brother Robert and Dr. Martin Luther King were assassinated, and 34 in 1981 when then-president Ronald Reagan was shot. These were the formative political events of Mr. Trump’s baby boomer generation. They were moments of collective national agony. They are never recounted in jest.
Mr. Trump’s comments are so beyond the pale that they have prompted, yet again, speculation that he is trying to get himself thrown out of the race. This is too charitable an interpretation. His comments are in line with a campaign that has always been a test of his fans’ limits and loyalty, of how much tolerance Americans have for bigotry and threats, and how much power Mr. Trump can wield over his base.
If someone assassinates Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump will abdicate all responsibility – but he will luxuriate in his own might. It is adoration he wants, and revenge he seeks as his beloved poll numbers fall. Though he runs as the candidate of “law and order,” he has repeatedly called for chaos, at one point in 2014 proclaiming that “total hell,” “disaster” and “riots” were necessary to make America great again. His loyalty is not to his country, but to how much influence he can hold, regardless who suffers – or who dies.