Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Ballots not bullets . . .

For those of you who have not heard Donald Trump's statement today, here is what he said, verbatim:

"Hillary wants to abolish — essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick…(CROWD BOOING) If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know. But — but I’ll tell you what. That will be a horrible day. If — if Hillary gets to put her judges — right now, we’re tied. You see what’s going on."

In a vacuum the statement can be interpreted a couple of ways. After the speech, the Trump campaign said that Trump was simply saying that the supporters of the second amendment are a power political force that could affect the outcome of the election.

The only problem with that interpretation is that it is not what Trump said. His words said that if Clinton is elected to the presidency there is nothing that can be done about her picking Supreme Court Judges, except maybe by those people who support gun rights. At that point it is too late for an election. So a legitimate interpretation is that Trump was dog-whistling a tune about bullets, not ballots.

The statement is a reckless inference that violence toward a political opponent is acceptable. It is a dangerous, and it is a disservice to good and reasonable people who support gun rights who know better. 

I do not pretend to know what was actually going on in Trump's mind when he uttered that statement in the middle of a scheduled political speech. It is important what he really meant to say. But it may be more important what a very few people heard him say.

There are many people that I respect who feel vastly different about this election than I do. That is politics in Alabama, in the USA.   But I know without a doubt that not a one of them, even in our severe disagreement,  condone violence or assassination as a means of resolving political differences.  I disagree with them strongly, and they disagree with me.  But I know we share common boundaries, common decency.

But there are a few among us who do not have those boundaries.  A very few.  But it only takes one out of a few hundred million to respond to what he or she thought Donald Trump was saying. It only takes one that thought Trump was saying it was somehow acceptable to choose deadly force to defeat a political enemy.  It only takes one twisted soul to inflict unthinkable tragedy. We should know that already.

I believe that anyone who interprets Trump's statement as knowingly saying, or hinting, that deadly force is an option to stop Hillary Clinton, will find that statement to be disqualifying as a candidate for the presidency.  

I expect that others will choose once again to give Trump a pass, and say that he did not mean to endorse violence toward Clinton as a solution.

But Trump wants to be President of the United States. Recklessly worded statements, even if innocent in his own mind, uttered about the weighty matters which he must address publicly every day as President, from tensions at home to relationships around the world, will not be met with the charity offered by loyal campaign supporters.

And even worse, there will be some who take the reckless statements as authorization to act on the words they thought they heard.  They will hear that it is okay to shoot and kill. They will hear that it is okay to shoot and kill a political opponent, a member of the other religion,  nationality, race, ethnicity, even sexual orientation.

Or, the careless words may give authorization to others in other parts of the world to kill citizens of the country whose leader so recklessly spoke them.

Words are important.  Cute turns of phrase which allow the candidate to deny the destructive implications of his statements and brush them off with a chuckle may be expected in Junior High SGA races.  But not in a campaign to be President of the United States.

At this time last year, July, 2015, the United States was on track to set a new modern record for the fewest number of law enforcement officers killed by gunfire.  While one officer killed is too many, the number of 18 deaths nationally as of mid-July was a low mark in a continuing downward trend during this decade, despite the growing number of police officers. The national yearly loss had fallen to the low forties in previous years. (2013 was actually the lowest in modern history) But the second half of 2015 was disappointing, and by the end of the year the number of police deaths by gunfire was back up to the low forties, making the last half of 2015 a horrible six months.  While it looks like those sad losses will remain in the forties in 2016, the decade long trend of the numbers going down have seemed to have been interrupted.

It would be intellectually wrong to suggest that Donald Trump is responsible for this increase in violence against the police.  It is just as intellectually wrong to deny that the reckless rhetoric of his campaign which began in late June, 2015, has not fanned the flames of violence, not just among a few of his supporters, but of also among a few of those who feel the threat of his rhetoric is directed toward them.

There are other choices.

It's time to choose one.
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