Donald Trump is giving new meaning to “bully pulpit,” ratcheting his irrational campaign rhetoric to new and dangerous lows. In North Carolina Tuesday, he said: “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.” Trump’s suggestion that his supporters could assassinate Hillary Clinton or the judges she might appoint provoked outrage, not only nationally, but around the globe. His virulent, demagogic language did not alienate everyone, though; as more and more Republicans denounce Trump, he still enjoys fervid support from some personalities at Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel and the National Rifle Association. This unholy trinity of Trump, Fox and the NRA could easily provoke political violence during this campaign season.
Hours after his remarks, Trump made his first news appearance on Fox’s “Hannity” show. Sean Hannity pre-empted Trump, offering his own twisted logic to help blunt the deepening catastrophe: “So, obviously you are saying that there’s a strong political movement within the Second Amendment and if people mobilize and vote they can stop Hillary from having this impact on the court.” Trump obligingly concurred with that revisionist version of his call to arms. But the ploy fails on its face. Trump was not advocating for a political movement to stop Hillary Clinton from gaining office; he was suggesting that “Second Amendment people” could take action after the fact, if she wins.
The NRA also quickly rallied to Trump’s defense, tweeting: “Donald Trump is right. If Hillary Clinton gets to pick her anti-2A SCOTUS judges, there’s nothing we can do.” As the backlash against Trump grew, the NRA added, anticipating Hannity’s spin, “But there IS something we will do on Election Day: Show up and vote for the 2A! Defend the Second. Never Hillary.” Within hours, the NRA announced a $3 million national advertising campaign to support Trump, featuring a video ad attacking Hillary Clinton as a hypocrite for traveling with armed Secret Service protection.
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence immediately condemned Trump’s comment, adding that “this is a point of view that has been mainstreamed by the National Rifle Association and parroted by candidates for political office in the past.” The gun-control advocacy group maintains a comprehensive online database of comments from NRA leadership, called “NRA on the Record.” Search the site for “Political Violence” or “Vigilantism” and you easily see countless, impeccably sourced justifications for gun violence. NRA board member and aging rock guitarist Ted Nugent, a Trump supporter and vitriolic gun-rights advocate, is extensively quoted on the site. Referring to Hillary Clinton, Nugent commented on Facebook last May, “I got your gun control right here bitch!” next to a satirical video showing Bernie Sanders shooting and killing Hillary Clinton during a CNN debate exchange on gun control.
Embedded in much of the bombast against Clinton is a deep-seated misogyny that is evident in many mass shootings, from Orlando shooter Omar Mateen, who beat his wife, to Adam Lanza, who killed his mother at home before the Sandy Hook massacre. In 2010, Glenn Beck, who was then a host on the Fox News Channel, waged a campaign to vilify the progressive philanthropy Tides foundation as well as the ACLU. In July of that year, Byron Williams, who said he was inspired by Beck, set out with a car full of weapons, ammunition and body armor, intent on killing at least 11 people at Tides. Journalist John Hamilton, in a jailhouse interview, asked Williams if Beck explicitly encouraged violence. Williams said: “Beck is going to deny everything about violent approach, deny everything about conspiracies, but he’ll give you every reason to believe in it. He is protecting himself, and you can’t blame him for that.”
“Words matter,” Hillary Clinton said at a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday. “If you are running to be president, or if you are president of the United States, words can have tremendous consequences.” Donald Trump has pledged to pay the legal fees for people who physically assault protesters at his rallies. He has insulted women, Muslims, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. He mocked a disabled reporter. He has predicted that if he loses, it will be due to a “rigged” election. One of his closest advisers predicts such a loss will provoke a “bloodbath.”
Trump is a dangerous demagogue who is inciting violence, and the time for it to stop is now.