Things hadn’t settled down the day after Donald Trump said that if Hillary Clinton became president she’d get rid of the Second Amendment, or the judges she appointed would – which neither could do, as amending the Constitution to remove part of it is next to impossible. That takes supermajorities in the House and Senate and the vote of three quarters of the states. Repealing Prohibition took years. No president can change the Constitution. But he said that anyway, and then said that maybe the second-amendment folks would have to make sure that Hillary didn’t repeal the thing.
It was an off-hand comment, but they’re the folks with the guns. Was he suggesting that these second-amendment folks should shoot the new president dead before she did the deed, or shoot the Supreme Court justices she appoints? He didn’t say that. He only seemed to imply that. Then he said he didn’t imply that at all – the crooked lying media was out to get him, again. Others looked at the words. What else could he mean?
The back-and-fourth just wouldn’t die down. Republicans were on the defensive – Paul Ryan called it a lame joke that had gone bad. Others said that Trump was new at this – cut him some slack. The Secret Service said they had talked to his campaign about his loose talk about letting the folks with guns settle things. Trump said they did no such thing – the Secret Service folks are all liars out to make him look bad. Everyone is out to make him look bad.
His base cheered. They know that’s true. That’s why they love him. Everyone is out to get them too. Straight white male angry evangelical Christians over sixty-five, with no college education but with guns, who don’t live in big cities and such places, are the new oppressed minority.
They do feel that way, but this argument was going nowhere. Each side was outraged. There was no more to say. It was time to move on, so the following evening this story crossed the Associated Press wire:
Donald Trump accused President Barack Obama on Wednesday of founding the Islamic State group that is wreaking havoc from the Middle East to European cities. A moment later, on another topic, he referred to the president by his full legal name: Barack Hussein Obama.
“In many respects, you know, they honor President Obama,” Trump said during a raucous campaign rally outside Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “He is the founder of ISIS.”
He repeated the allegation three more times for emphasis.
That’s changing the topic. Obama is the founder of ISIS – the whole thing was his idea – he set it up. Trump was on a roll:
The Republican presidential nominee in the past has accused his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, of founding the militant group. As he shifted the blame to Obama on Wednesday, he said “crooked Hillary Clinton” was actually the group’s co-founder.
He didn’t bother with his usual nuance:
Trump has long blamed Obama and his former secretary of state – Clinton – for pursuing Mideast policies that created a power vacuum in Iraq that was exploited by IS, another acronym for the group. He’s sharply criticized Obama for announcing he would pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, a decision that many Obama critics say created the kind of instability in which extremist groups like IS thrive.
He gave the crowd the shorthand version of that – Obama and Clinton had “founded” ISIS – and the White House declined to comment. There’s no point in arguing with this man. Let someone else do that. The AP reviewed the history here:
The Islamic State group began as Iraq’s local affiliate of al-Qaida, the group that attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001. The group carried out massive attacks against Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority, fueling tensions with al-Qaida’s central leadership. The local group’s then-leader, Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed in 2006 in a U.S. airstrike but is still seen as the Islamic State group’s founder.
Perhaps the AP just called Trump a liar, and the Trump folks probably will also consider this unfair:
In June, when a shooter who claimed allegiance to IS killed 49 people in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub, Trump seemed to suggest Obama was sympathetic to the group when he said Obama “doesn’t get it, or he gets it better than anybody understands.” In the past, Trump has also falsely suggested Obama is a Muslim or was born in Kenya, where Obama’s father was from.
The president, a Christian, was born in Hawaii.
He is and he was? Trump never believed that, but then the AP dug themselves in even deeper:
Trump lobbed the allegation midway through his rally at a sports arena, where riled-up supporters shouted obscenities about Clinton and joined in unison to shout “lock her up.” He railed against the fact that the Orlando shooter’s father, Seddique Mateen, was spotted in the crowd behind Clinton during a Monday rally in Florida, adding, “Of course he likes Hillary Clinton.”
Sitting behind Trump at his rally on Wednesday was former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., who resigned in 2006 after allegations he sent sexually suggestive messages to former House pages.
Okay, we’ll see you one terrorist’s father and raise you one Republican child molester. The Associated Press really didn’t have to go there. It would have been enough to report that Trump has a new focus, and new line of attack. Obama and Clinton “founded” ISIS – and that obviously makes them traitors.
The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman has seen this before:
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin got assassinated.
His right-wing opponents just kept delegitimizing him as a “traitor” and “a Nazi” for wanting to make peace with the Palestinians and give back part of the Land of Israel. Of course, all is fair in politics, right? And they had God on their side, right? They weren’t actually telling anyone to assassinate Rabin. That would be horrible.
But there are always people down the line who don’t hear the caveats. They just hear the big message: The man is illegitimate, the man is a threat to the nation, the man is the equivalent of a Nazi war criminal. Well, you know what we do with people like that, don’t you? We kill them.
And that’s what the Jewish extremist Yigal Amir did to Rabin. Why not? He thought he had permission from a whole segment of Israel’s political class.
Friedman, however, was only talking about the Hillary thing the previous evening:
Of course Trump’s handlers, recognizing just how incendiary were his words, immediately denied that he was suggesting that gun owners do anything harmful toward Clinton. Oh my God, never. Trump, they insisted, was just referring to the “power of unification.” You know those Second Amendment people, they just love to get on buses and vote together. …
But that is not what he said. What he said was ambiguous – slightly menacing, but with just enough plausible deniability that, of course, he was not suggesting an assassination. Again, it’s just like the Rabin story.
Friedman has his sources on that:
“Benjamin Netanyahu, the opposition leader at the time, is shown in now-infamous historical footage addressing a feverish right-wing rally from a balcony in Jerusalem’s Zion Square, as protesters below shouted for the death of Rabin – the ‘traitor’ – and held up photomontage posters of him dressed in an SS uniform.”
Mr. Netanyahu, now prime minister, insisted he never saw the posters or heard the curses.
That sounds familiar, and as with Bibi, so with The Donald, and history repeats itself:
In the last year we have seen a spate of lone-wolf acts of terrorism in America and Europe by men and women living on the fringes of society, some with petty criminal records, often with psychological problems, often described as “loners,” and almost always deeply immersed in fringe jihadist social networks that heat them up. They hear the signal in the noise. They hear the inspiration and the permission to do God’s work. They are not cooled by unfinished sentences.
After all, an informal Trump adviser on veteran affairs, Al Baldasaro, a Republican state representative from New Hampshire, already declared that Clinton should be “shot for treason” for her handling of the Benghazi terrorist attack.
During the Republican convention, with its repeated chants about Clinton of “lock her up,” a U.S.-based columnist for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, Chemi Shalev, wrote: “Like the extreme right in Israel, many Republicans conveniently ignore the fact that words can kill. There are enough people with a tendency for violence that cannot distinguish between political stagecraft and practical exhortations to rescue the country by any available means. If anyone has doubts, they could use a short session with Yigal Amir, Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, who was inspired by the rabid rhetoric hurled at the Israeli prime minister in the wake of the Oslo accords.”
And of course Benjamin Netanyahu is now a hero to Republicans. They brought him over to address Congress on how awful the Iran nuclear deal was, and didn’t even notify Obama of the big event, and praised him as the real leader of the free world, not Obama. He was sort of their president, not Obama. They ignored his role in inciting the Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination – or they liked that about him.
Friedman is not happy:
People are playing with fire here, and there is no bigger flamethrower than Donald Trump. Forget politics; he is a disgusting human being. His children should be ashamed of him. I only pray that he is not simply defeated, but that he loses all fifty states so that the message goes out across the land – unambiguously, loud and clear: The likes of you should never come this way again.
Why does Thomas Friedman hate Israel, and hate America too? What kind of Jew is he? The articles excoriating Friedman almost write themselves.
Mark Joseph Stern, however, argues that there’s nothing that unusual about Trump:
However we construe Trump’s latest outrageous utterance, we should give the man some credit. The implication, if taken seriously, is only the very logical conclusion of a Second Amendment interpretation the Republican Party has begun to adopt: that the Constitution grants Americans the right to violently revolt against an oppressive government.
Among far-right gun supporters, it has long been an article of faith that the Second Amendment was designed to protect against tyranny. This “insurrectionist” theory of the amendment, as constitutional scholar Adam Winkler calls it, views the right to bear arms as a safety valve against a despotic government. Under this theory, the Second Amendment doesn’t just guarantee a right to self-defense: It secures a right of the people to violently revolt against an oppressive state.
That seems odd, or at least illogical, but there’s nothing new here:
The National Rifle Association and other gun advocacy groups have peddled the insurrectionist theory for years. In 1994, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre wrote that “the people have the right, must have the right, to take whatever measures necessary, including force, to abolish oppressive government.” That same year, Bill Bridgewater, former executive director of the National Alliance of Stocking Gun Dealers, asserted that we must protect the right to bear arms because our founding documents require “all citizens to rise up against an oppressive government.” This rhetoric grew ubiquitous enough on the right that then-Sen. John Ashcroft adopted a slightly subtler version of it in 1998, claiming that “a citizenry armed with the right” to “possess firearms” is “less likely to fall victim to a tyrannical central government.”
That’s because they all refer back to this famous quote from Thomas Jefferson:
When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.
There’s one problem with this alleged Jefferson quote, however: It’s completely made up. (Why, after all, would Jefferson and the framers want to plant a veritable time bomb in the founding charter for their new government?) In fact, the entire insurrectionist theory of the Second Amendment is fabricated; no serious constitutional scholar, including those who support an individual right to bear arms, accepts its validity. Indeed, like so much Second Amendment scholarship, the insurrectionist theory is pure pop originalism: a very modern argument overlaid with old (and sometimes fabricated) quotes to lend it the sheen of constitutional legitimacy.
No lawyers and no judges refer to it after all:
You certainly won’t find the insurrectionist theory in either of the Supreme Court’s last major decisions interpreting the Second Amendment. These opinions, our best guide to what the Second Amendment means in both theory and practice today, are rooted firmly in the theory of self-defense. In 2008’s District of Columbia v. Heller, the court barred the federal government from banning handguns in the home because “the Second Amendment right” was designed to protect “the inherent right of self-defense.” Two years later, in McDonald v. Chicago, the court forbade states and localities from outlawing firearm ownership (within certain limits) as well, describing gun ownership as a “fundamental right” necessary to preserve “an individual right to self-defense.” McDonald also reiterated Heller’s assertion that “self-defense … was the central component of the right” to bear arms.
Those who are not lawyers or judges, however, love what Jefferson never said:
Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle stirred up a small scandal in 2010 when she said Americans might consider “Second Amendment remedies” to control an unchecked Congress. But Angle was only stating concretely what most Americans now appear to believe abstractly: A 2013 Rasmussen poll found that 65 percent of Americans believe “the purpose of the Second Amendment to ensure that people are able to protect themselves from tyranny.”
In retrospect, the firestorm over Angle’s comments feels quaint. Today, prominent Republican politicians routinely promote the insurrectionist theory of the Second Amendment with no qualifications. Before winning a Senate seat in 2014, Iowa Republican Joni Ernst described her belief in “the right to defend myself and my family – whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.” In his 2014 book God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, former Arkansas governor and frequent Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee seemed to endorse an actual “revolution” against “Big Government’s overreach.” During his presidential campaign, Ben Carson described the Second Amendment as a defense against “tyranny,” insisting that it was ratified to “make sure” that “the government remains constrained.”
It seems that this particular nonsense is now accepted fact:
Republicans deploy this kind of language so frequently that it is rarely even newsworthy anymore. You hear it in speeches and interviews all the time; interviewing a Nebraska Republican lawmaker in 2015, I was startled to hear him proclaim that the purpose of the Second Amendment was to allow an “armed population” to revolt against a democracy that “did not function well.” Echoing this sentiment in April, Texas Republican senator and failed presidential candidate Ted Cruz wrote to his supporters:
“The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution isn’t for just protecting hunting rights, and it’s not only to safeguard your right to target practice. It is a Constitutional right to protect your children, your family, your home, our lives, and to serve as the ultimate check against governmental tyranny – for the protection of liberty.”
Cruz’s email carried the subject line: “2nd Amendment against tyranny.”
That makes Trump kind of ordinary after all:
Taken at face value, all of this rhetoric adds up to one very clear belief: If you believe the United States government has grown tyrannical, the Second Amendment protects your right to rebel violently against it, using firearms, to reclaim your liberty. Cruz and his ilk rarely specify precisely what this revolt would look like, but the implication is extraordinarily clear: Armed Americans should shoot enough government officials as is necessary to overthrow perceived oppression. The Cruz-endorsed insurrectionist theory of the Second Amendment, in other words, is basically a tacit permission slip to assassinate political leaders whom one deems to be oppressive.
And that, it seems, is precisely what Trump implied on Tuesday. Should Clinton get elected and appoint ostensibly oppressive Supreme Court justices, the logical conclusion of the insurrectionist theory is that “Second Amendment people” should use their constitutional right to resist tyranny by shooting the president or her judges.
One man’s president is another man’s tyrant, and the GOP’s current framing of gun rights quite explicitly licenses an armed revolt against tyrants.
And that’s where we are now:
Oppression, much like the Second Amendment, is in the eye of the beholder. And Trump has just given his very eager supporters another excuse to view Clinton as a tyrannical oppressor – and given instructions to act accordingly.
She plans to singlehandedly get rid of the second Amendment – which makes her a tyrant and our oppressor. Maybe some real patriot, or a posse of them, should act accordingly – but then Trump got slammed for even implying that. Now he knows better. He just said that she was the co-founder if ISIS – along with Obama – which makes her a traitor. And we shoot traitors, don’t we?
Of course sometimes we just vote, even if conservative Republicans have a problem with that, because for years people have been voting the “wrong way” and bringing tyranny and oppression down on us all – the “tyranny of the majority” perhaps – Obamacare and Dodd-Frank and all the rest. Choose democracy or choose freedom. You cannot have both. And you know who has the guns.
This will not end well.