COMMENTARY

Trump threatens Hillary Clinton with death all over again — and nobody seems to care

Media shrugs off Trump's latest calls for violence because his claims are preposterous — but his fans are listening

By Chauncey DeVega

Published February 18, 2022 6:30AM (EST)

Donald Trump | Trump rally on July 3, 2021 in Sarasota, Florida. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump | Trump rally on July 3, 2021 in Sarasota, Florida. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Dear America: None of this is normal. Don't listen to the people who try to convince you that it is. They don't have your best interests at heart. In fact, you stand on the precipice of disaster — and you're running out of time. 

Donald Trump, the former president of the United States and political crime boss of the Republican Party, continues to threaten his "enemies" with lethal violence — and at this point his enemies include anyone who opposes him, or stands in his way. 

Trump is an entrepreneur of both political and interpersonal violence, although far too cowardly to engage in it himself. His threats should be taken seriously.  

Yet the mainstream news media as a whole, along with most of the country's political class have decided to stand mute in response to Donald Trump's threats of mayhem. They have "moved on," which in this case makes them like the three proverbial monkeys who hear no evil, speak no evil and see no evil.

Instead of outrage, we largely feel exhaustion. The American people are growing increasingly indifferent to Trump's threats, and to the rising power of his neofascist movement and the Republican Party's threats against democracy and the rule of law.

Honestly, who can blame the public for its general reaction? It is supposed to be the responsibility of a free press to tell the public what is important and how to think about it. As an institution, the mainstream media has largely failed in that regard, and for a variety of reasons has normalized the Age of Trump and its effects. It appears that the media and political classes have convinced themselves that if they ignore Trump's threats, they do not matter and the danger will go away. That's not how the real world works.

RELATED: Trump's new Clinton conspiracy theory is a success — mainstream media confounded

Last Saturday, Donald Trump issued yet another proclamation from his palace at Mar-a-Lago:

The latest pleading from Special Counsel Robert Durham provides indisputable evidence that my campaign and presidency were spied on by operatives paid by the Hillary Clinton Campaign in an effort to develop a completely fabricated connection to Russia

This is a scandal far greater in scope and magnitude than Watergate and those who were involved in and knew about this spying operation should be subject to criminal prosecution. In a stronger period of time in our country, this crime would have been punishable by death. In addition, reparations should be paid to those in our country who have been damaged by this.

Donald Trump is literally threatening Hillary Clinton and her campaign staff with death. Trump's followers are listening closely.

Needless to say, Trump's statement is false in virtually every detail. There is no evidence that Trump's campaign was "spied on," illegally or otherwise. His allegations are based on a grotesque misrepresentation of the claims made by Durham (whose name is John, not Robert), as promulgated by Fox News and other right-wing propaganda media.

RELATED: Right-wing media's latest "bombshell" — the Durham report — is a nothingburger

How did the American mainstream news media respond to Trump's latest death threats? With some polite fact-checking, but largely with silence. That amounts to permission or even encouragement of more such threats. 

This is by no means the first time Trump has threatened Hillary Clinton, or other leading Democrats, with death or grievous physical harm. Trump and his various allies and surrogates have made such threats since at least the beginning of his 2016 presidential campaign. At one point during that campaign, Trump suggested that "Second Amendment people" might have to deal with Clinton if she were elected.

Trump's attraction to violence is a major reason why he defeated Clinton in that election. In many respects, Trumpism thrives on encouraging all kinds of anti-social and destructive behavior, up to and including murder and mob violence. 


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Political observers and other public voices often write about right-wing political violence in conditional language, suggesting that such events are "coming" or "escalating" or may take place in the future. This too is a form of denial about the level of violence, death, loss and pain that Trump and his movement have already inflicted on the American people. In reality, fascist violence is here and now.

At his recent rallies Donald Trump has seemingly been trying to incite a race war, in which white people visit massive violence upon Black and brown people. Trump has also suggested that his followers will descend upon America's major cities and cause mayhem if he faces prosecution for his apparent crimes.

RELATED: Trump's race-war fantasies continue to escalate — while the media pretends not to notice

Donald Trump and his cabal attempted a coup on Jan. 6, 2021, which involved a lethal attack on the Capitol. The Trump regime also presided over a record increase in racist, antisemitic and homophobic hate crimes. Trump encouraged and valorized police brutality and thuggery against Black and brown people and other marginalized communities. His regime literally created a concentration camp system, in which thousands of nonwhite migrants and refugees were imprisoned, some of them subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Families were torn apart as part of an official policy of "deterrence" designed to terrorize nonwhite migrants and refugees and their communities and to reduce immigration to the United States from Black and brown countries.

Trump's reign saw a number of mass shootings, including several by white supremacists. Trump himself described the neo-Nazis and other white supremacists who rampaged in Charlottesville in 2017 as "very fine people."

Through negligence and malevolence, Trump's regime engaged in democide in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Ultimately at least a million Americans will die from COVID. Most of those deaths were directly or indirectly caused by the Trump administration's policy choices.

The United States has been pushed toward a second civil war by Trump's Republican-fascist movement. Public opinion research shows that tens of millions of white Republicans are prepared to support and condone political violence against Democrats and other perceived enemies in order to defend "traditional" America.

RELATED: White terror: Millions of Americans say they'd support violence to restore Trump to power

The human mind has a complex relationship to pain. Sources of injury and pain are identified, as a defense against further harm. But while the specific sensation of pain can be remembered and described, the pain itself cannot be summoned up by most people. Many people live with chronic pain and over time their minds develop ways of processing and surviving it. This can also be true of both emotional pain, which essentially becomes a "new normal."

For American society to acknowledge the real and serious damage caused by the Trump movement's constant threats of death and violence would require great individual and collective pain. That helps to explain the collective desire to block that reality from memory in an effort to find or create some type of "normalcy" in a country that is mired in numerous crises and struggling for the survival of its democracy in a moment of ascendant fascism.

But this search for "normalcy" as a panacea (or perhaps as palliative care) for an ailing country is based on a false premise: the old version of "normal" wasn't that great for most Americans. Trumpism and neofascism are acutely painful, but that pain is a  symptom of something much deeper. Trump's movement is the product of many pre-existing forces: white supremacy and racism, sexism and misogyny, a culture of violence and cruelty, collective narcissism, a society oriented around spectacle and distraction, empty consumerism, extreme wealth and income inequality, anti-intellectualism and anti-rationality, conspiratorial thinking, radical right-wing Christianity, a gutting of the commons and social democracy, and other structural and cultural problems.

As a group, the millions of Americans who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 — and there were even more the second time — were searching for a type of liberation through destruction. They wanted to hurt other people as a way of lifting themselves up; literally and metaphorically, they stand on the necks of others in an effort to make themselves feel taller.

In his book about Brexit, "The Politics of Pain," Irish journalist Fintan O'Toole describes such self-destructive impulses in the context of what he and others have called  "sadopopulism" or "sadopolitics":

[A]ny transgression is revolutionary even if it celebrates self-harm.

Why do people cut themselves? Obviously, because they are unhappy, frustrated, angry. They feel that no one cares about them, no one listens to them. But it still seems hard to understand the attractions of inflicting pain on yourself. Three things seem to make cutting addictive. One is that it gives the pain you feel a name and a location. It becomes tangible and visible — it has an immediate focus that is somehow more tolerable than the larger, deeper distress. The second is that it provides the illusion of control. You choose to do it — you are taking an action and producing a result. It is a kind of power, even if the only way you can exercise that power is over yourself and even if the only thing you can do to yourself is damage. And the third is that it can seem in an unhappy mind like an act of love. You can hurt yourself for someone or something.

In his book "Our Malady," historian Timothy Snyder offers these complementary insights about the body in pain and the American body politic in crisis: "I think that our death wish has to do with a growing imbalance between solitude and solidarity, with a rage that, when not balanced by empathy, undermines rather than affirms our freedom."

I have finally come to the conclusion that most members of the American commentariat and media class are personally, professionally and temperamentally incapable of speaking truth to power, or of the critical self-reflection that is necessary to effectively respond to the country's current crises. To do that kind of demanding intellectual and emotional work would cause them, both as individuals and a class, a type of ego death, or at the minimum, great narcissistic injury.

In the Guardian, Stephen Marche offers a powerful intervention that merits lengthy quotation:

The right has recognized what the left has not: that the system is in collapse. The right has a plan: it involves violence and solidarity. They have not abjured even the Oath Keepers. The left, meanwhile, has chosen infighting as their sport.

There will be those who say that warning of a new civil war is alarmist. All I can say is that reality has outpaced even the most alarmist predictions. Imagine going back just 10 years and explaining that a Republican president would openly support the dictatorship of North Korea. No conspiracy theorist would have dared to dream it. Anyone who foresaw, foresaw dimly. The trends were apparent; their ends were not.

It would be entirely possible for the United States to implement a modern electoral system, to restore the legitimacy of the courts, to reform its police forces, to root out domestic terrorism, to alter its tax code to address inequality, to prepare its cities and its agriculture for the effects of climate change, to regulate and to control the mechanisms of violence. All of these futures are possible. There is one hope, however, that must be rejected outright: the hope that everything will work out by itself, that America will bumble along into better times. It won't. Americans have believed their country is an exception, a necessary nation. If history has shown us anything it's that the world doesn't have any necessary nations. ...

Does the country have the humility to acknowledge that its old orders no longer work? Does it have the courage to begin again? As it managed so spectacularly at the birth of its nationhood, the United States requires the boldness to invent a new politics for a new era. It is entirely possible that it might do so. America is, after all, a country devoted to reinvention.

In the end, Donald Trump and his followers will continue to escalate their threats of political violence. There will be more acts of right-wing political violence and terrorism, on an ever-larger scale. And then when there is another Jan. 6 coup, or something worse, the mainstream pundits will again hide behind words such as this is all so "shocking" and "unthinkable" and "cannot happen in America." The universal "I" and "we" will be trotted out ad nauseam as a way of shifting responsibility; everyone's sin somehow becomes no one's sin.  

Americans are a people in pain. We cannot cure the pain with comforting language, and we will never begin to address the pain unless we first confront and acknowledge its deeper structural causes. Too many of us are trying to self-medicate with denial. It won't work. 


Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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Commentary Democracy Donald Trump Fascism Hillary Clinton Jan. 6 Media Political Violence Republicans