There are still three months to go and we've already gotten to the smirking-death-threats portion of our general election. I can't even say that I'm surprised Trump did it. I just never expected it so early, and I'm sickened by the thought of how much lower the man will sink by November 8. It will get even worse. I mean, of course it will. There's no doubt. But I'm not looking forward to it.
If you have any doubts, or buy any spin, about whether or not Trump intended to threaten Clinton, stop listening tot he clip itself and listen to what he's said since. His campaign's apology isn't just a lie, but an aggressively transparent lie. It is an eff-you lie, designed to show contempt for the person being lied and challenge them to dispute the naked falsehood. (Eff-you lies re a key part of Trump's campaign M.O.) And more important is what he hasn't said. At no point has he said explicitly, or even had his surrogates say, "We do not want any harm to come to Secretary Clinton." Trump hasn't said that because he doesn't want his followers to hear him saying that. Is it just his personality disorder, keeping him from ever apologizing or admitting a mistake? Is it fear of turning off his hard-core followers who are excited by the death threats? Does it even matter?
So we've reached the perennial question of Campaign 2016: Is It Fascism Yet? Today's answer is: close (all too close), but not quite.
I don't believe that Trump actually planned to threaten Clinton before the moment that he did it. Trump, as you may have noticed, does not think ahead. I think he improvised the threat in response to crowd mood, which is what Trump does at his rallies: feels out his crowd and gives them what they want. The problem, then, is that we now have a sizable number of our fellow Americans who want to go to a campaign rally and hear one candidate for President call for the other candidate's blood. That is a bad, bad thing, and threatens to be a problem long after Trump himself is gone. Trump himself is bad. But the audience Trump has attracted is worse, and might someday be harnessed by a demagogue more directly dangerous than Trump.
Trump has clearly identified, and responded to, a troubling appetite for political violence. What he hasn't done, and doesn't have the skills to do, is to actually organize political violence. I'd like to think he wouldn't have the stomach for that. I'm confident that he doesn't have the organizational ability. Trump isn't going to turn his most blood-thirsty followers into a cadre of brownshirts because, really. Trump can't even open a damned field office. Trump rallies are a ripe recruiting ground for potential thugs, but Trumps campaign can't even turn those rallies into a decent voter-contact list.
Instead, Trump is outsourcing the threat of violence: floating the threat out there in a nominally deniable way and seeing if anyone takes him up on it. Trump has not thought through what would happen if some Travis Bickle out there took him at his word. or the horrible blowback he would suffer if, God forbid, someone actually took a shot at Clinton; Trump has not thought, in the normal sense of that word, at all. But he's played the same game before, in the primaries, when he muttered about "riots in the streets" if he were denied the nomination. And there the threat was clearly made in his direct political interests, suggesting to the Republican Party that people might use violence on Trump's behalf. This is a card Trump plays. He doesn't orchestrate violence, but uses code words that might lead someone else to become violent for him.
This strategy is very much like Trump's post-bankruptcy approach to real estate. Trump no longer puts up big buildings. He doesn't have the money or the credit with major lenders to do that. Instead, he attaches his name and brand to buildings other people finance and build. In the same way, he seems open to lending his name and brand to political violence that he, himself, does not have the ability to pull off. He can't afford his own stormtroopers, so he's exploring options for outsourcing.
What Trump has done also, alarmingly, echoes the even uglier strategy of Islamist terrorists like al-Qaeda and Daesh (the group often called "ISIS." I prefer the name Daesh, because they hate it.) Now, I am NOT comparing anything Trump has done to the scale or direct culpability of a group like Daesh. But those groups also outsource a lot of their violence. They cannot actually do nearly as much harm as they would like, so they spread their brand on social media and hope some poor, demented Travis Bickle type decides to declare allegiance to them before his grotesque murder-suicide. This makes the suicidal Travis Bickle feel connected to something bigger than his sad, failed self, and makes Daesh/ISIS/al-Qaeda appear capable of more violence, with a longer reach, than they can actually make happen on their own dime. In this way, terrorism and political violence in the 21st century is weirdly mimicking corporate behavior, reducing their own direct capabilities and outsourcing core activities through branding arrangements. If this is the future, I hate it.
cross-posted from, and all comments welcome at, Dagblog