With Donald Trump’s Second Amendment comments at a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina, on Tuesday, the Republican Party’s often-shocking nominee for president reached a new low by implying that “Second Amendment people” might – or perhaps even should – shoot Hillary Clinton to stop her. While Donald Trump is no stranger to creating controversy – in fact, it seems second nature to him – this apparent death threat is excessive even for Trump. But the Trump campaign and Republican Party once again attempted to spin one of Trump’s patented disastrous rants into something that sounds more or less sane. Although Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is no fan of Trump’s, even he decided to make excuses for Trump’s latest fiasco.
Campaign staff and Republican talking heads are trying to reframe Trump’s Second Amendment comments, but Trump’s words as reported by Time speak for themselves. In the middle of his typically disjointed discussion of gun rights and potential Hillary Clinton judge appointments, Trump said, “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people—maybe there is, I don’t know.”
As most people know — although Donald Trump clearly doesn’t — making veiled death threats or urging other people to carry them out is not only a violation of political norms, it’s actually quite illegal. As the courts have made clear, even free speech does have limits.
Of course, considering that Donald Trump recently suggested that the Khan family didn’t have a right to criticize him at the Democratic National Convention, Trump’s understanding of the First Amendment right to free speech is arguable. He also seems a bit sketchy about just what the Second Amendment means.
Trump is also choosing to shoot the messenger by blaming the whole debacle on “dishonest media.” But just how the “dishonest media” is to blame when they directly quote Trump isn’t obvious.
Paul Ryan is the most surprising – and perhaps least effective – of the parade of Trump excusers. Instead of denying that a death threat was implied or insisting that it was all just a misunderstanding, the Washington Post reports that Ryan decided to suggest that it was all “just a joke.” No harm, no foul.
Vagueness is at the heart of the Trump speaking style. The recent hashtag, #manypeoplearesaying, speaks to this insinuating and offhand way that Trump has of spouting cruel, offensive or threatening things without seeming to do so.
When Trump says “many people are saying,” it allows him to say virtually anything. He can present rumors, lies – or threats – by pretending someone else is saying it. He’s not the blame if what he’s saying isn’t true. It’s those “many people are saying” folks.
Trump’s nod and a wink comment about “Second Amendment people” dealing with Hillary Clinton and her gun seizing judges is just more of the same. But aside from the vile and illegal aspects of such comments, it is also a fact that in our highly-polarized political environment, someone might just take him up on his suggestion.
Perhaps Trump’s gun ownership comments were merely meant to garner support from the NRA and gun owners in general. But while it’s debatable whether Trump would want Clinton shot in reality, his threatening comments urging action by Second Amendment supporters is laying the groundwork for disaster.
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