Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

11 August 2016

Thinking the Unthinkable

Thinking the Unthinkable

[For six reasons to vote Dem both up and down ballot, click here. For a recent post on how Hillary might resolve the ideology wars, click here.]
    “Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.” — Donald Trump, August 9, 2016
Possible future scenario:

In early October 2016, an explosive device mortally wounds Hillary Clinton. She lingers for two weeks and dies in hospital before the end of the month. A cleverly concealed chain of electronic devices triggered the explosion, so there are no immediate suspects in the crime and no Democratic candidate for the presidency.

What should happen next? Should the Democratic party choose a candidate? Should it run new primary elections? Should Tim Kaine, a comparative unknown, run in Hillary’s place?

While the party decides how to bring order out of chaos, the President postpones the federal elections. A nationwide federal Investigation to find the killer(s) begins.

As January 2017 approaches, Trump insists he is the President-elect, as there is no other major-party candidate. He loudly objects to the postponement.

Isolated armed insurrections begin, mostly in the South. Trump-leaning militia capture a small Southern base, with inside collaboration suspected. Elite federal troops repel a larger assault on a nuclear installation, with heavy casualties on both sides. The President declares martial law and sends federal troops into the South for the first time in 59 years.

Shortly after reports on the assault on the nuclear base go public, Vladimir Putin seizes the Russian-speaking part of Latvia and the Donbass region in the Ukraine. His troops require only three days to take their objectives and entrench themselves. At the end of his second term, when he hoped to see relief from the presidency’s crushing burdens, the President faces a new civil war and a new Cold War with Russia, without a successor in sight.

With characteristic bravado, Trump demands that the President remove all troops from the South and ignore the Russian incursions into territory that is “Russian anyway.” As January 20 approaches, he takes steps to have himself declared the President of the United States by default. [End scenario.]

It doesn’t matter whether you call it an invitation or just a hint. Everyone knows what “Second-Amendment solution” means. I wrote an essay about it over five years ago, after searching for the phrase on line and getting over a million hits.

So Donald Trump has called implicitly for the assassination of a rival presidential candidate. Other than outright insurrection, it’s hard to imagine a greater crime against our democracy and our form of government. It demands an effective response, before something like the story in italics actually happens.

Yesterday Tom Friedman published one of this most eloquent and moving columns, about similar circumstances in Israel some twenty years ago. Implicit calls for violence against the then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin escalated. Eventually they motivated an extremist to assassinate him. The Peace Process with Palestine that he had begun fell apart, and the Israeli right wing came into ascendance. There is some evidence that “Bibi” Netanyahu encouraged the extremism, and he certainly has profited politically from it since.

But this is not Israel, a tiny nation fighting for survival, surrounded by enemies. It’s the United States. We have enough nukes to extinguish humanity and the means to deliver them, within about thirty minutes, almost anywhere in the world.

Whether on an absolute or per-capita basis, we also have far more crazies than Israel, and far more people besides active-duty and reserve military with guns, including assault weapons. Compared to Israel in the 1990s, the US is a stick of dynamite waiting to be lit.

And the US has a far more dismal record of consequential assassinations.

Let’s not even mention Abraham Lincoln, whose killing no doubt prolonged Reconstruction and helped cause Jim Crow. Let’s just recall the three assassinations that changed our nation forever—and for the worse—in a single decade, the 1960s. Gone forever were JFK, his brother Robert Kennedy, and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If any of the three had lived, let alone all, we might have a very different nation today.

Just as there were plenty of people who hated JFK and the other two leaders in the 1960s, there are plenty of people who hate Hillary today. You don’t have to comb the streets for them; just review videos of the GOP convention.

It’s terrible to think the unthinkable. But it’s better to think about it before it happens and prevent it than to avert our eyes and let it happen. That’s how our species just barely avoided nuclear self-extinction in October 1962.

And so it is with a presidential candidate who has no limits on his speech or action but his own boundless ego. He must be brought to heel. At very least, he must be made to obey the law like everyone else.

As any second-year law student knows, the First Amendment does not protect incitement to violence nor, in the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, crying “Fire!” in a crowded theater. More than arguably, Trump has done both, with a change in the meaning of “Fire!”

There is no doubt about what he said; it was broadcast worldwide. The only questions are its interpretation and legal effect. In our system, a jury determines his intent and the effect of what he said; judges decide what the law allows. Trump deserves his day in court, and he should have it soon.

Here’s what we should do to draw a clear line that no presidential candidate should cross, ever again:
    1. We should arrest Trump for incitement to violence, incitement to assassination, and treason, and any other applicable crime. We should release him, pending trial, on the condition of no repetition—a condition his utter lack of personal discipline will make hard to fulfill. The President should appoint a special prosecutor of impeccable credentials—preferably a Republican—to convene a grand jury to consider the charges against Trump.

    2. We should increase Secret Service protection for all four candidates and publicize the move. Doing so would help insure their actual safety, deter attempts against them, and impress upon them the seriousness of the situation and of what they say.

    3. All candidates should adhere religiously to the Secret Service’s security suggestions, even if it means curtailing their public appearances. We should excuse Hillary in particular, and never accuse her of cowardice, for the precautions she will take are for our benefit, and the nation’s.
Tom Friedman’s piece about the death of Rabin and the peace process was one of his best ever. But it was descriptive, not prescriptive. You can’t say it can’t happen here, because it already has—three times in the last 53 years, not counting the unsuccessful attempt on President Reagan.

We need to do more than just bemoan the possibility, We need to take active steps to prevent it from becoming a dismal reality. As with nuclear Armageddon in the 1960s, we need to think the unthinkable so it doesn’t actually happen.

(If we make it to November 9 with Hillary intact as president-elect, I will change the black border of this post to green. Thereafter, presumably, the media will fawn over Trump much less, and he will fade into our rich background of marginal extremists, where he belongs.)



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