Donald Trump is not the first politician to invoke the Second Amendment as a potential tool for remedying grievances
From all of the media outrage, one would think that Donald Trump is the first major political candidate to ever hint at encouraging an armed uprising – that we are somehow in entirely unprecedented territory for a major party candidate to talk this way.
This is what Donald Trump actually said earlier this week:
“Hillary wants to abolish – essentially abolish – the Second Amendment. By the way, 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’s apologists, including the increasingly unbearable Rudy Giuliani, leapt to their man’s defence, insisting that Trump was referring to the unified power of pro-2A lobbying efforts and the combined political might of gun owners. This is – how best to put it – a bold faced lie. If Trump was speaking about political activism he wouldn’t have said “maybe there is”. He would have issued a much stronger, more ringing call to arms, and probably specifically name checked the National Rifle Association while doing so.
Everybody knows that the NRA and allied Second Amendment supporters can muster a strong political campaign in support of gun rights – Trump’s “maybe” clearly refers to something else, something left unsaid but which no serious person can reasonably doubt (whether the suggested target is Hillary Clinton or her judicial picks).
It is sad to see Tim Stanley, whose American political commentary is usually so on the money, accepting this weakest of excuses:
Second, some people seem to want to condemn Trump for things he did not say. This is unnecessary: there’s plenty of legitimate reasons to dislike him without having to make more up. Trump did not say, for instance, that gun rights people should shoot Hillary Clinton to save the Constitution – he actually said that second amendment fans should lobby her to stop her unbalancing the Supreme Court.
Nope. No no no. That isn’t what Trump said at all (ironic, considering the thrust of Stanley’s point was criticising people who put words into the mouths of political candidates). If Trump wanted to make the point that Tim Stanley makes, he could have uttered words to that very effect. But he didn’t. We can be charitable and assume that Trump was joking when he made his comments, but what we cannot do is pretend that he meant something innocuous when the ominous suggestion was clearly left hanging open.
Besides which, Donald Trump knew exactly how his remarks would be interpreted and picked up by the media. He doesn’t find himself topping the news headlines every day by some quirk of chance – he deliberately says things and does things, knowing that they will be interpreted a certain way while still leaving himself just enough wriggle room to claim plausible deniability.
In this parallel universe, Trump didn’t mean to suggest that Fox News presenter Megyn Kelly was menstruating when he talked about “blood coming out of her…wherever”, he was going to say “nose” but couldn’t be bothered to finish his own sentence. He wasn’t really imitating a disabled reporter, he was just indulging in general mockery. This remark is just the latest in a litany of similar under-the-radar provocations.
But does this latest statement from Trump amount to “fighting words”, or a clear call to violence? No – and those authoritarian critics shrieking for Trump to be interrogated by the FBI (as though he is seriously hatching assassination plots) or thrown in prison need to go away and take a good long look at themselves. One can (and should) defend Trump’s technical right to skirt the line between passionate rhetoric and dog whistle politics while still abhorring his behaviour; not everything we despise should automatically be illegal.
(Reading online comments, one is also struck by the number of people who openly yearned for somebody to assassinate Donald Trump who are now clutching their pearls at Trump’s own casual allusion to violence).
Besides, the Republicans have form when it comes to this type of behaviour. This is why the current GOP elites who reach for the smelling salts every time Donald Trump says something inflammatory have no right to be shocked, because they are guilty of presiding over the dramatic increase in GOP craziness over the past eight years, mistakenly thinking that whipping people into an unthinking frenzy would offer them a short cut back to power.
Case in point, here is former Republican senatorial candidate Sharron Angle, fighting a tough senate race against Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid, playing to the Tea Party crowd back in 2010:
This is what Sharron Angle says about the Democratic-controlled Senate and her opponent Harry Reid:
“You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. In fact you know, Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every twenty years. I hope that’s not where we are going, but, you know, if this, this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness, what can we do to turn this country around? And I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.
What Trump is saying is nothing new, and nothing surprising about the morally debased Republican Party.
The only difference is that six years ago, they were funding and supporting a senatorial candidate in Nevada whom the majority of people nationwide and worldwide were paying no attention to. Now their ultra high-profile presidential nominee is saying the same things and they suddenly find it uncomfortable. Why? Because the GOP is willing to indulge in scummy behaviour when they think that nobody will notice, but get visibly upset when they are caught doing the same thing in the media glare of a presidential election.
So has this episode taught us anything new about Donald Trump, about the Republican Party or about this presidential election? No, it has not. We already knew that Donald Trump is a man who believes that any publicity, including (or especially) the screeching condemnation of the establishment media, is good publicity. We already knew that the Republican Party routinely trawls for votes by pretending that the Second Amendment itself is teetering on some kind of precipice when it clearly is not. And we already knew that this depressing presidential election comes down to a question of temperament.
And that question is as follows: Do the American people want as their leader and as the commander-in-chief of their mighty armed forces somebody willing to jokingly hint that “Second Amendment people” should take unspecified action against his political opponent (who, let’s face it, is so centrist and focus group led that she would never dream of touching the Second Amendment as long as there are votes to be lost by doing so) in order to protect their gun rights from a largely nonexistent threat?
In these highly charged times, when somebody not so smart and not in on the joke could easily miss the nuance and take the political rhetoric very literally, is suggesting that “maybe there is” something that Second Amendment people can do to protect their rights from a nonexistent threat a responsible way for a presidential candidate to behave?
Nobody is suggesting that the Donald Trump or the Republican Party actually want a lone wolf Second Amendment fanatic to take the defence of the Constitution into their own hands and start taking pot shots at Hillary Clinton or her potential judicial nominees. But the Republican Party does have a tawdry recent history of trawling for votes among people who would heartily approve of such a course of action – always with just wiggle room in the comments to allow plausible deniability when called out.
At this point, nobody expects any better from Trump himself. But some of those politicians and commentators now leaping to his defence have reputations which presumably they would like to maintain beyond this presidential election cycle.
They should think on that the next time Donald Trump says or does something appalling.
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