Last week Donald Trump had a no good terrible horrible week, all of it self-inflicted by his penchant to go “off script” and to say whatever pops into his head or to tweet it in an exercise of free association.
Peggy Noonan, in a rare moment of lucidity herself, accurately described it. The Week They Decided Donald Trump Was Crazy:
I think this week marked a certain coming to terms with where the election is going. Politics is about trends and tendencies. The trends for Donald Trump are not good, and he tends not to change.
All the damage done to him this week was self-inflicted. The arrows he’s taken are arrows he shot. We have in seven days witnessed his undignified and ungrateful reaction to a Gold Star family; the odd moment with the crying baby; the one-on-one interviews, which are starting to look like something he does in the grip of a compulsion, in which Mr. Trump expresses himself thoughtlessly, carelessly, on such issues as Russia, Ukraine and sexual harassment; the relitigating of his vulgar Megyn Kelly comments from a year ago; and, as his fortunes fell, his statement that he “would not be surprised” if the November election were “rigged.”
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The mad scatterbrained-ness of it was captured in a Washington Post interview with Philip Rucker in which five times by my count—again, the compulsion—Mr. Trump departed the meat of the interview to turn his head and stare at the television. On seeing himself on the screen: “Lot of energy. We got a lot of energy.” Minutes later: “Look at this. It’s all Trump all day long. That’s why their ratings are through the roof.” He’s all about screens, like a toddler hooked on iPad.
By the middle of the week the Republican National Committee was reported to be frustrated, party leaders alarmed, donors enraged. There was talk of an “intervention.”
Here is a truth of life. When you act as if you’re insane, people are liable to think you’re insane. That’s what happened this week. People started to become convinced [Trump] was nuts, a total flake.
I can only imagine what that intervention was like, since it was not reported anywhere. “Dude, you have got to stop saying all that crazy shit that pops into your head! You’re unhinged and look mentally unbalanced.” “This is not the GOP primary, where the GOP crazy base eats that shit up.” “This is the general election now, where there are voters who are actually intelligent and well informed and who do not go for that crazy shtick.” “Stop it!”
But of course, “The Donald” is who he is, he cannot stop himself.
After the intervention, “The Donald” immediately went out and engaged in a bit of psychological projection — what his intervenors had just said about him, Trump tried to project onto his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Trump, in series of scathing personal attacks, questions Clinton’s mental health:
She is a totally unhinged person. She’s unbalanced. And all you have to do is watch her, see her, read about her,” Trump said during a campaign rally in Windham, N.H., Saturday evening.
“I think the people of this country don’t want somebody that’s going to short-circuit up here,” Trump said, pointing to his head. “Not as your president, not as your president.”
“Now you tell me she looks presidential, folks. I look presidential,” he said in another instance.
Just like in the story of Narcissus, “The Donald” was looking at his own reflection in the mirror. This tactic is known as “I’m rubber, you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.” You typically do not see this from anyone past the age of 10.
“The Donald” was not done. After his economic speech in Detroit was widely panned by everyone on Monday, this Twitter troll returned to his domaine to claim:
This claim was recirculated on right-wing news sites, such as The Drudge Report. Factcheck.org says Trump’s Claim on Iranian Execution is Baseless:
Donald Trump speculates on Twitter that Shahram Amiri — an Iranian nuclear scientist who defected to the U.S. and reportedly became a CIA spy — was executed in Iran recently “because of Hillary Clinton’s hacked emails.” There is no evidence of that.
To the contrary, it had been widely reported for years that Amiri was a CIA informant. The first news story on Amiri providing the U.S. with information on Iran’s nuclear program appeared in March 2010 — nearly four months before Clinton’s aides at the State Department referenced Amiri (without naming him) in emails.
Furthermore, there is no evidence that Clinton’s emails were “hacked,” as Trump said.
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Trump went even further in claiming that “many people are saying that the Iranians killed the scientist who helped the U.S. because of Hillary Clinton’s hacked emails.” But any people who are, including Trump, are making accusations without having any evidence to back them up.
On Tuesday, “The Donald” crossed over a line that no American politician, at least since the Civil War, has dared to cross in American politics. He made these remarks at a rally Tuesday in North Carolina:
“Hillary wants to abolish — essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. [Pause] Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know. But I tell you what, that’ll be a horrible day.”
(Note: Many news reports have been highly selective in reporting this quote, leaving out the line about “that’ll be a horrible day.”)
Trump was obliquely papraphrasing Nevada Tea Party Senate candidate Sharron Angle from 2010. Sharron Angle Floated ‘2nd Amendment Remedies’ As ‘Cure’ For ‘The Harry Reid Problems’. You can be certain that his Tea-Publican audience heard his right-wing dog whistle loud and clear.
After journalists interpreted the comment as suggesting or joking about a call to arms, Trump’s campaign was quick to offer its first defense — that he was talking about gun-rights supporters voting. The defenses of Donald Trump’s ‘Second Amendment’ comment don’t make sense. Here’s why.
“It’s called the power of unification – 2nd Amendment people have amazing spirit and are tremendously unified, which gives them great political power,” Trump spokesman Jason Miller said in a statement. “And this year, they will be voting in record numbers, and it won’t be for Hillary Clinton, it will be for Donald Trump.”
This is exactly the response you’d expect Trump’s campaign to give. And it’s likely to satisfy his most ardent supporters and skeptics of the media.
But there’s a big problem with it.
Trump made the “Second Amendment” as he was already talking about a situation in which Clinton was the president. He said, “If [Hillary Clinton] gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks.” There’s “nothing you can do” in this situation because Trump is talking about a time in which the 2016 election has already passed and Clinton is president. If he wasn’t talking about that situation, why would he say there was “nothing you can do?” During the election, there’s something pretty obvious you can do: Prevent her from becoming president in the first place.
Then Trump immediately follows it up by saying, “But I tell you what, that’ll be a horrible day.” Again, this strongly suggests the time frame he’s talking about is when she’s already in the White House. Otherwise, both the “horrible day” comment and the “nothing you can do” comment that bookend his Second Amendment remark are total non-sequiturs.
The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman correctly argues, Trump’s latest outrageous statement wasn’t a ‘gaffe.’ It was something much worse.
Donald Trump is not a very articulate man. So when Democrats expressed their outrage over this quote, he and his campaign could have said that while it’s understandable that some people could have interpreted his words to mean that he was encouraging gun owners to either assassinate Hillary Clinton or assassinate the judges she appoints if she becomes president, he didn’t intend to say anything of the sort.
But instead of just acknowledging that the words got a little garbled, which can happen to anybody, Trump claimed that the words themselves were a perfect expression of his intent, which was to encourage people to vote in order to protect gun rights. “There can be no other interpretation. Even reporters have told me. I mean, give me a break,” he told Sean Hannity last night.
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But should we actually care? The answer is yes, for a couple of reasons. First, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this is all in the service of a ridiculous lie Trump repeats every time he discusses the issue of guns. He’ll always say some version of “Hillary Clinton wants to take your guns away and she wants to abolish the Second Amendment” (yes, that’s a quote), when the truth is that Clinton has never proposed repealing the Second Amendment, nor has she ever proposed some kind of grand gun confiscation. You can read her position on this issue here, but it comes down to expanded background checks, a new assault-weapons ban, and a couple of other relatively minor things. You can disagree with her on the particulars, but it’s not abolishing the Second Amendment; whenever she is asked about it, she says that reasonable restrictions are not incompatible with a constitutional right to bear arms, which is what all but the most radical gun extremists agree on, and what even the conservatives on the Supreme Court have always held.
The second reason the criticism of Trump’s statement is legitimate is that he himself demands that his opponent be held to a ludicrously high standard of accountability for every syllable that passes her lips, and some that even don’t pass her lips. For example, on Monday in his speech to the Detroit Economic Club, Trump said that Clinton “accidentally told the truth and said she wanted to raise taxes on the middle class.” This wasn’t off-the-cuff, mind you — it was in Trump’s prepared text. What was he referring to? A speech last week in which Clinton said “We aren’t going to raise taxes on the middle class,” something she has said approximately a zillion times before, but in some video feeds of the speech, the “aren’t” sounds a little slurred so you might hear it as “are.” But Trump just claims that she actually said “are” and has thus revealed her secret desire to raise middle-class taxes (PolitiFact gave him a “Pants on Fire” for that one).
But most important, the reason Trump doesn’t get a pass on hinting that violence against politicians or judges is an appropriate response to an imagined threat to gun rights is that there’s a context in which this statement comes, a context created by gun advocates, by other Republicans, and by Trump himself.
A candidate who tells his supporters that if they see protesters, “Knock the crap out of ’em,” or who says about one, “I’d like to punch him in the face” isn’t going to get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to advocating violence, and that’s no one’s fault but his. And Republicans at all levels frequently argue that one of the primary purposes of owning guns is so that you can use them to kill representatives of the government, whether police or soldiers, when they become too tyrannical.
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Now combine that with the NRA’s constant warnings that if Democrats win the next election they’re coming to confiscate your guns, and everybody knows exactly what Trump was saying.
His defense — that he was only encouraging people to vote — is utterly nonsensical. Remember that he 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.” He was talking about what the “Second Amendment people” might be able to do about Clinton picking judges, which happens after she has already been elected.
Finally, this comes after Trump has been trying to delegitimize the results of the election before it actually happens, claiming that the vote will be “rigged.” If you’re arguing to your angry, heavily armed supporters, who already think the federal government is tyrannical, that there’s a conspiracy afoot to steal the election and that your opponent will be sending jackbooted government thugs to confiscate their guns, you don’t get to pretend that when you say that the “Second Amendment people” might be able to stop the next president’s judges from subverting their gun rights that it’s all innocent and you would never contemplate something as irresponsible as encouraging violence.
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It doesn’t matter whether Trump really believes that people should use their guns against the federal government if it enacts policies they don’t like. What matters is that he’s encouraging them to think they should, just like he’s encouraging them not to accept the results of the election if their favored candidate doesn’t win. That’s what so malignant, and that’s what he should answer for.