To walk something back is a recent expression to the American lexicon which refers to the quibbling and prevaricating political candidates or elected officials do to show that they didn’t really mean to make a controversial remark that has sunk them into deep doo-doo.
Supporters of Donald Trump will need a “Million Man March” effort to walk back his explicit suggestion that some identified group of gun owners attempt to assassinate a President Hillary Clinton as a means to prevent her appointing Supreme Court justices who would support the 90% of all Americans who want to toughen gun control laws.
I know readers have seen and heard his exact words a number of times, but they really do capture everything that is dangerous about the Donald, so here goes: “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know…”
There can be no doubt what he is taking about—assassinating Hillary Clinton. The explanation he and his factotums are giving for this vile statement is that Trump is referring to the collective activity of voting, but, clearly his statement refers to a time after Clinton has assumed the presidency. Judging from the reaction by the news media and both Democrats and Republicans, this walk back was a complete and utter failure.
Assassinating the winner of an election is an American tradition, but we usually do it in foreign countries. Many of the same hardliners who approved or would have approved of our complicity in disposing of the elected leaders of Iran, Chile, South Viet Nam and elsewhere are now scared out of their minds that a major political candidate in the United States has floated the notion that the assassination of his opponent might be acceptable.
Trump’s intemperate comments mark the second time since the end of the major party conventions that he has tried to throw into question the legitimacy of the American political process. Days earlier he started suggesting that the fall elections could be rigged. He didn’t explain how or why, but in his distorted world in which he is the Sun King, the only way he could possible lose anything would be through nefarious means. Just as after his assassination call, after Trump cast shadows on the honesty of the electoral process, a large number of prominent people distanced themselves from his remarks. Many wrote or said rigging a national election wasn’t possible, since the fifty states control the ballots.
There have been at least three rigged elections in my lifetime, all engineered by Republicans: 1) Nixon got the South Vietnamese to agree not to start peace negotiations until after the 1968 elections, depriving Humphrey of the foreign affairs victory he needed to win the election; 2) Reagan got the Iranians to postpone releasing the American hostages until after the election in return for Reagan supplying Iran with advanced weaponry; 3) Illegal purging of voter rolls in Florida gave the 2000 election to George W. Bush. The first two are examples of rigging by influence, as opposed to our more common understanding of rigging as involving the actual manipulation of votes.
While accusing others of rigging, Trump tried to do it himself. When Trump called on Russia to hack the Democratic National Committee offices and reveal any unsavory emails, he was really asking that a foreign power intervene and help him rig an election.
Historically, however, most rigging has come before an election through denial of the ballot or making it harder for certain groups to vote. The dozens of new voter law to pass in Republican-dominated states over the past six years collectively have one purpose: to prevent minorities, the poor and the young from voting and thereby swing the election to Republicans. Thus, the assault on our democratic process and the desire to delegitimize it does not begin with Donald Trump, but is a long-time strategy of the Republican Party.
In fact, most of the really obnoxious statements the Donald has made over the past year are firmly rooted in the standard post-Reagan Republican playbook. As many have pointed out, he merely speaks with greater crudeness and explicitness than other Republicans. He was not the first or only politician to express admiration for Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin as a means to denigrate our own President. Every Republican candidate called for building a wall between the United States and Mexico, and all of them like to conflate terrorism with Islam. Every Republican wants to lower taxes on the wealthy.
Even when he goes too far for his fellow Republicans—as when he went after Ghazala Khan, referred to a television news personality’s menstruation or suggested that women who broke anti-abortion laws should go to jail—he is reflecting the underlying sentiment of the GOP and its core voters.
The reference to assassination is different in that it probably does not reflect the thoughts of any but a handful of deranged people. But in another very important way, Trump’s suggestion that someone assassinate Hillary Clinton is very typical, because when Trump says something really sick and icky, it almost always involves women. A woman should quit a job when facing sexual discrimination or harassment. A woman is too ugly to serve as President. Ivanka is so hot I would sleep with her if she weren’t my daughter. The real reason Ghazala Khan said nothing is that she is oppressed by Islam. Let’s assassinate the first woman president of the United States.
When Donald goes so far over the line that even his supporters distance themselves from his comments, his victim is almost always a woman, which is without a doubt part and parcel of both of his underlying mental illness and his undiminished appeal to uneducated white males.