When Howard Dean took the stage at the DNC, he brought the house down when he ended on his now internet-famous cadence, "In Colorado, and Iowa, and North Carolina, and Michigan, and Florida, and Ohio, and Pennsylvania!”
After the applause subsided, I turned to a friend and said “remember when just yelling into a live mic disqualified you?” We both chuckled uncomfortably.
Yesterday, in a speech in North Carolina, Donald Trump, in referring to Hillary Clinton and her supreme court choices, said “… if [Hillary] gets to pick—if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks, although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”
I don’t want to talk about what he directly said, or whether he was joking - a defense, by the way, that Jason P. Steed sternly responds to in a tweet storm on how humor legitimizes language and embeds thought. I don’t want to sit here and parse out the delicacies of a such an absurdly indelicate moment.
Because those who wish to do violence unto others rarely hang around to discuss nuance. Those being whistled at with flippant euphemisms and claims of a rigged systems and chants of “Lock Her Up” aren’t waiting for step by step instructions.
As Olivia Nuzzi writes at the Daily Beast, two months ago a British MP was shot and stabbed by an assailant quoting a slogan of a Brexit party. The Charleston shooter wrote about how reading about the Trayvon Martin killing “awakened” him. Language from online men’s rights forums were echoed in the Isla Vista shooter’s manifesto.
Words matter. In his New York Times column on the incident, Thomas Friedman compares the current political climate and that before the 1995 assassination of Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin. Friedman quotes Chemi Shalev, a columnist for Haaretz: "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.”
Because you can bet that the online discussion boards in the deep alt-right web aren’t claiming, as the NRA so cynically and faux-naively insinuated in a tweet soon after, that Trump was calling for organized trips to the polls. We see how literally individuals play the tape out in the anti-semitic barrage Julia Ioffe endured after she wrote on the candidate’s wife.
As Former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) said yesterday in a statement, "Responsible, stable individuals won’t take Trump’s rhetoric to its literal end, but his words may provide a magnet for those seeking infamy”.
Trump’s comments aren’t serving as tea-time fodder for discussions of voter organizations. His comments feed the beast, and that beast grows bigger every day.