Michael D'Antonio: Trump's claim Clinton will kill 2nd Amendment is like his use of "people are saying" to mislead
D'Antonio: People are rightly calling out Trump for the false things he says
It’s come to this. Donald Trump said on Tuesday that his opponent Hillary Clinton “wants to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks.” Trump followed his claim, which was not supported by any source or proof, with a not-so-veiled suggestion, adding, “although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is.”
For years fringe figures on the right have spoken of “Second Amendment solutions” in ways that leave little doubt they are talking about people using their guns to solve political problems. In the uproar that followed Trump’s remarks, his staff said he was only referring to the voting power of gun rights supporters. However, Clinton supporters believe Trump implied a threat of violence against her. The Secret Service, which is tasked with protecting both Clinton and Trump, may have to investigate the candidate’s statement. The agency recently looked into a Trump surrogate’s suggestion that Clinton be executed “for treason.”
No one should be mistaken about Trump’s intentions. He has consistently used rhetorical sleights of hand to say outrageous things without being held responsible for them. Trump’s Second Amendment statements came a day after he said he heard “many people saying” that Clinton was linked to the Iranian government’s execution of a scientist who aided the United States.
After the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub he said that “there are a lot of people that think” President Obama willfully ignores key facts about terrorism. For years he repeatedly talked about how he heard that many people thought Obama was not born in Hawaii and thus not legitimately president of the United States.
People are noticing that the GOP candidate uses the crutch of “many people are saying” to pass along outrageous and unproven assertions. There’s even a Twitter hashtag: #PeopleareSaying. But this is far from a new technique for Trump.
Throughout his own campaign for president, Trump has referred to unnamed sources, typically multiplied with terms like “a lot” and “many” to say outrageous things without taking responsibility for them. He has mentioned people who “think” Clinton administration aide Vince Foster, who committed suicide, was murdered and that “a lot of people are talking about” the possibility that his primary campaign rival Ted Cruz was not born in the United States.
Every time he uses this technique, Trump gives himself an excuse in the event he is proven wrong: He wasn’t saying something himself. He was merely talking about things he had heard.
This weaseling has been going on for a long time. In June 2015 Trump used his “people say” technique in the rambling address he delivered when he declared his candidacy. He noted that “people are saying, `Oh you don’t like China.’ I love China.” Other people, according to Trump, said they “want to cut the hell out of” Social Security, but he doesn’t. Still other “people” said Trump wouldn’t run for president, but he was proving them wrong. (When I first met him, in 2013, Trump told me that “a lot of people” were urging him to run for president.)
It may be harmless to claim nameless supporters who say you should run for president and unidentified critics who think you hate China. But by last autumn, when Trump was a leading candidate for the GOP nomination, he was willing to take the “people are saying” trick to a new and dangerous level.
When a man stood up at a rally in Rochester, New Hampshire, to spout a bit of conspiracy theory nonsense about terrorist training camps established in the United States, Trump replied, “You know, a lot of people are saying that, and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there. We’re going to look at that and plenty of other things.”
As he chose to inflame fears, rather than calm them, Trump demonstrated that his instincts run counter to those of Sen. John McCain. When he was running for president McCain faced a questioner who insisted then-candidate Barack Obama was an “Arab” and therefore not to be trusted. He corrected her, saying, “No ma’am.” When crowds at his rallies chanted derisively about his opponent, McCain said, “We will be respectful. I admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments. I will respect him.”
How did Trump get into the habit of making ugly statements and unsubstantiated claims? I think it began back in the 1970s when he was a budding real estate developer and discovered he wasn’t going to be held responsible for things he said and did.
First he got away with deceiving the city of New York about his control of a valuable piece of property. Next came outlandish claims about how he was going to build the world’s tallest skyscraper and a football stadium. Neither of these projects came to pass, but Trump was forgiven the hype because in those days, he was just a businessman with big dreams.