Horror entered the 2016 presidential campaigns when Donald Trump suggested Hillary Clinton be shot.
At a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina, Trump told the crowd Clinton would abolish the Second Amendment and that, “there’s nothing you can do, folks—although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know.”
This is something so far outside our experience that it is difficult to know how to react. Candidates usually hurl insults, not personal threats, and certainly not bullets. The reaction of Mother Jones‘ Mark Follman speaks for many of us:
“Did Trump actually seriously just threaten that his supporters might shoot Hillary Clinton?? Good God.”
People for the American Way (PFAW) president Michael Keegan said in a statement that though “There has been no shortage of inexcusable rhetoric from Trump…suggesting gun violence is truly abhorrent.”
Larry Klayman suggested only Obama’s blackness has saved him from impeachment, which is ridiculous. But awful as this sounds, it it is likely that very position Trump occupies saved him from being treating like any other person suggesting a presidential nominee be shot.
Media Matters’ Eric Boehlert asked, “when does Secret Service open a file on Trump?”
Yes, the Secret Service says it is aware of Trump’s comments:
The Secret Service is aware of the comments made earlier this afternoon.
— U.S. Secret Service (@SecretService) August 9, 2016
However, there is “aware” and there is “doing something about.”
Former NSA Director and retired Lt. General Michael Hayden told CNN’s Jake Tapper Tuesday that,
“If someone else said that outside of the hall, he’d be in the back of a police wagon now, with the Secret Service questioning him.”
Watch courtesy of Media Matters for America:
Hayden added that, “I used to tell my seniors at the CIA, you get to a certain point in this business, you’re not just responsible for what you say, you are responsible for what people hear.”
Another former high ranking military officer, General Barry McCaffrey, told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews yesterday, “I object to the notion that his problem is he’s going off script. We are actually hearing Trump and his actual views.”
Trump has been rewriting his campaign as he goes, saying outrageous things he then pretends he never said (in this case, an explanation The New York Times editorial board calls “mystifying”) and blaming the media instead, but he said them, and he meant them, and there is no taking back the threat he made against his opponent Tuesday.
What Trump was saying, and what we all heard was, “I”m not saying somebody should shoot Hillary Clinton. I’m just saying maybe somebody could do that.” All the spin in the world isn’t going to change this, and as Hayden said, “you’re not just responsible for what you say, you are responsible for what people hear.”
And as Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) warned in a tweet, “This isn’t play. Unstable people with powerful guns and an unhinged hatred for Hillary are listening to you, @realDonaldTrump.”
Unfortunately, as The Daily Beast‘s Samantha Allen points out, “Donald Trump reading from a teleprompter sounds like a fifth-grader giving a book report.” And it’s worse when there is no teleprompter, because then he says things like “titties” and, oh, I don’t know…shooting Hillary Clinton.
Yesterday proves Trump’s lack of respect for our political process and his belief that behavioral norms do not apply to him. It demonstrates that Trump does not have to win to destroy our country: win or lose, if he gets away with these threats without repercussions, he further weakens the framework of the Constitution he has never bothered to read.