Here’s an idle question for us all: By the time the presidential election finally ends this November, what do you think the final body count will be?
When I say “body count,” I don’t mean all the failed candidates who will have stuck a fork in themselves before (or possibly during) the party conventions this summer.
No, I’m talking about the literal body count. You know: Dead ones.
Earlier this week, New York Daily News writer Shaun King laid out the ugly, ugly history of Donald Trump’s campaign rallies—specifically, the appalling ways that protesters (most of them black) have been treated whenever they’ve turned up—and he concluded that “it’s only a matter of time until someone is killed or critically injured” at one such event or other.
Indeed, it’s an utterly predictable tragedy. Trump voters in large numbers—like men in large numbers—tend to behave through their basest, most savage instincts toward people they don’t view as being part of the clan (or should I say “klan”?). When a gang of like-minded individuals—riled up by a bombastic, hateful demagogue—are confronted with a dark-skinned infidel wielding a grin and a sarcastically-worded placard, they have no choice but to attack, attack, attack. Indeed, inflicting physical violence is evidently the only way they know how to behave in the face of an opinion (or person) of which they do not approve.
Should such an over-the-line atrocity occur, we will have every right to lay at least part of the blame on Donald Trump himself.
As precisely the man who could put a stop to hostile acts by his loyal minions, Trump has yet to lift a finger in defense of anyone who dares speak a word against him. Thus far, the situation has been exactly the reverse: Given the opportunity, Trump has clearly and consistently taken the side of those who have committed violence in his name, all the while denigrating those with the temerity to make themselves victims of the same.
We don’t need to imagine how this would unfold. It already has. Back in August, two brothers from South Boston were charged with beating an Hispanic homeless man to a pulp—for no apparent reason, I need hardly add—and then reportedly telling the police, “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported.” When Trump was informed of the incident, he said, “People who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again.”
More recently, Trump has mused that, in the case of one protester, “Maybe he should have been roughed up” and in the case of another, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” In the latter instance, he added, with his characteristic charm, “I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”
If statements like those aren’t a direct incitement to violence, then the term “incitement to violence” has no meaning. If and when an anti-Trump activist really is carried out on a stretcher, what exactly will there be left for Trump to say? Would he really expect to get away with, “I didn’t mean for people to take me seriously”? (Don’t answer that.)
Anyway, that’s not even the violence we should be most concerned about, as concerning as it is. Rather, our real curiosity should be for the moment—like in Trump’s beloved “old days”—when such brutality is directed at the candidate himself.
We haven’t thought about it much over the last generation and a half, but assassination attempts used to be a fairly common occurrence here in the Greatest Country on the Face of the Earth, particularly among presidents and presidential wannabees. While most people know about the four American presidents who have actually been murdered in office, no fewer than 14 other chief executives have been the target of specific assassination plots that were ultimately thwarted—some by the Secret Service, others by the sheer grace of God.
The threat of violence is a job hazard for anyone seeking high office. Perhaps that’s why we’re so nervous whenever members of the president’s security detail are found fooling around with hookers or drunkenly crashing state vehicles into large, immovable objects.
For Donald Trump—a figure every bit as reviled as he is beloved—perhaps the most instructive cautionary tale is that of George Wallace, the repugnant four-term governor of Alabama who ran for president on four separate occasions, often while touting his famous catchphrase, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
Gifted as he was at riling up crowds and daring dissenters to try their worst—“If some anarchist lies down in front of my automobile,” he once mused, “it will be the last automobile he will ever lie down in front of”—Wallace saw his political career effectively ended on May 15, 1972, when a random lunatic fired five shots with a .38 revolver at close range, paralyzing Wallace from the waist down. He would spend the final 26 years of his life in a wheelchair, during which time—interestingly enough—he came to regret his more stridently segregationist views and tried as best he could to make amends with the black community. It is unclear whether there was any connection between one and the other.
While no one should wish such extreme misfortune on any presidential candidate—for Pete’s sake, do you really want Donald Trump made sympathetic?—there’s no point in pretending such a thing is impossible. If nothing else, it might help us to realize that, as ridiculous as this campaign season has been thus far, there is still plenty of time for it to get much, much worse.
At this moment, it appears the Republican nominating contest will unfold in one of two ways: Either Trump will win outright, or there will be a contested convention for first time since 1976. While liberals would find either of those scenarios hilarious, most conservatives are rightly horrified, having suddenly discovered that appealing solely to racists, nationalists and authoritarians isn’t all peaches and cream.
In either case, everything will boil down to “How do we get around Trump?” If events continue as they have, the answer is, “We can’t.” As a political figure, Trump has proved indestructible: A plurality of GOP voters will support him as surely as the rope supports the hanging man, even if it leads to the whole damn party getting lynched.
At this point, if you truly want to take Trump out, the only person who could possibly help you—bear with me here—is Shonda Rhimes.
Surely, the Trump phenomenon is nothing if not a season of Scandal that has run ludicrously off the rails (otherwise known as a typical season of Scandal). If this election were, in fact, the histrionic TV show it has more or less already become, you would certainly expect something cataclysmic to happen right about now—some deus ex machina that rids the GOP of its Trump problem once and for all. Since the Republican Party is the group that believes all problems can be solved with guns, why shouldn’t Trump be gotten rid of in a way the GOP would unreservedly endorse? Heck, Trump has boasted about occasionally packing heat himself; maybe the whole confrontation would turn into a good old-fashioned duel, sponsored by the NRA and the cast and crew of Hamilton.
In a campaign where absolutely everything is on the table—where every political convention has been defied and every expectation proved false—there is absolutely no basis in assuming that the worst of this race has somehow already occurred. We ain’t seen nothing yet, folks. The 2016 election may not end in violence and death, but we would have no cause to be shocked if it does.