Dan Ruth: Trump extends the limits of the absurd

Published Aug. 12, 2016

Apparently it has yet to dawn on Donald J. Trump that he is supposed to be running for the presidency of the United States of America rather than successor to Smokey and the Bandit's Sheriff Buford T. Justice of Montague County, Texas.

What might we call this latest episode, in which a contender for the highest office in the land has obliquely hinted that perhaps it might be a good idea to inflict personal harm on his opponent? Dopey and the Bandit?

Just when you think Trump can't get any more barmy, the Republican presidential candidate decided to channel his inner Becket's King Henry II, almost muttering aloud, "Who will rid me of this meddlesome Democrat?"

During remarks before his adoring, swooning followers in North Carolina, Trump tossed a steaming pile of demagoguery into their laps when he knowingly falsely warned the crowd that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wanted to take away everyone's guns.

As the Trumpanistas worked up a froth, the candidate darkly intoned that if Clinton were to be elected to the presidency, "she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks," while also noting, "Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don't know."

Did a presidential candidate just vaguely, elliptically, cryptically hint someone should shoot his opponent?

Within hours, Trump was getting his tummy rubbed in the lap of his official enabler, Sean Hannity of Fox News, and innocently claiming that, tut-tut, he meant Clinton no harm or ill will at all. Rather, Trump argued, he was merely encouraging gun owners to arise en masse to vote against her.

And if you believe that, perhaps you'd be interested a full scholarship to Trump University.

It's not as if the brevity-challenged Trump was so pressed for time during his North Carolina speech that he didn't have the opportunity to clearly urge his gun-owning supporters to vote, and only vote, against Clinton. Maybe he just — forgot.

We live in a highly polarized state of political dysfunction. We also live in a violent society populated by people who have a tenuous relationship with reality but a very firm grasp on their guns. And now a presidential candidate — no matter how obtuse his ramblings were — potentially has put the personal security of his opponent at greater risk.

In Trumpland this would probably be called "plausible gullibility." Forget acting presidential. Could this charlatan of shamelessness demonstrate an iota of common humanity? No. No he can't.

For a guy who claims he has a really terrific brain — believe him — Trump seems almost Elmer Fudd-like in his cluelessness in understanding that literally every utterance from a presidential contender has meaning.

If this had simply been an isolated momentary brain infarction, perhaps the whole thing could be dismissed as a mere stump speech gaffe. But we have just witnessed a Republican convention where the campaign slogan seemed to be "Lock her up!" or worse.

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At campaign rallies, Trump's followers have repeatedly called for violence against Hillary Clinton, which the candidate has done precious little to quell. Last month on a radio show, Al Baldasaro, a New Hampshire Republican, called for Clinton to be shot before a firing squad. In a rare turn of events for a blabbermouth presidential nominee, Trump said nothing.

Eight years ago, Hillary Clinton defended her decision to remain in the Democratic presidential primaries after it was clear Barack Obama would be nominee because all kinds of unforeseen events can occur leading up to the convention. And she cited the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968 as an example. It was a stupid remark to make then, just as Trump's flirtation with violence is now.

There is a difference, though. In 2008 Clinton was, albeit awkwardly, citing history. Trump was prospectively musing all too aloud. That's not only dense. It's dangerous. The fact Trump doesn't comprehend that is scary, too.