Last week Donald Trump shocked many Americans when he suggested that “Second Amendment people” could do something about preventing Hillary Clinton from appointing judges who would restrict the right to bear arms. Over the next few days, the candidate and his campaign engaged in a furious attempt to explain away his remark, offering excuses that ranged from “he was joking” to “he was talking about getting gun rights advocates out to vote.” But many people weren’t buying what the Trump campaign was trying to sell.
One of the people who is not accepting the excuses is Yurval Rabin. He is the son of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated during that country’s election campaign in 1995. Rabin wrote an editorial that appears at USAToday.com titled “My father was killed at a moment like this.” In that piece, he strongly advises the GOP candidate to soften his rhetoric.
Rabin talks about the climate in Israel 20 years ago that led up to his father’s assassination by a right-winger who had been worked up into a frenzy by propaganda against the liberal Labor party government. He says that the Israeli election campaign that year was very much like the current one in the U.S., with opponents of the Labor party accusing Prime Minister Rabin of “treason” because he was willing to talk to Israel’s enemies. Rabin writes:
After his murder, politicians were quick to condemn the assassin as a lone wolf. They conveniently ignored their role in creating a poisoned environment that led someone to believe that taking a life was a justifiable political act.
He also notes that Trump is threatening to undermine democracy with some of his statements.
Intentional or not, the Republican presidential nominee is removing confidence in the democratic form of governance. If an election is seen as illegitimate, if those who supported a candidate are viewed as somehow lesser ‘Americans,’ then it becomes acceptable — and even appropriate — to work outside the political system.
Rabin recognizes that Trump is setting the stage for insurrection in the U.S. by echoing the suggestion made by some other candidates over the past few years that taking up arms is a legitimate way to change election results that are not to your liking. He points out that democracies have a social pact that relies on “words, not weapons,” and that pact requires the populace to accept the outcome of elections, even when the results may not be to some citizens’ liking. Then he mentions the word that many Republicans seem to consider obscene — “compromise.”
But compromise becomes impossible when one’s political opponents are vilified. How can one enter into an agreement with a counter-party that is illegitimate, or worse?
This, as Rabin undoubtedly knows, is one reason Republicans have continually vilified President Obama as illegitimate. “How can we compromise with a person this evil, this un-American?” their argument goes. By attacking Clinton in the same way, at the very least Trump is setting up the country for another four years of political gridlock. At worst, he is encouraging revolution.
Rabin concludes by observing that as an outsider, he doesn’t feel qualified to weigh in on claims that Trump is a threat to American democracy. But he observes, “I have been touched by political violence, and have witnessed the environment that led at least one person to believe such violence was called for.”
Like most other observers, Rabin doesn’t believe that Trump will change his behavior. But he says that it is the responsibility of other Republicans to step up and speak out against their candidate’s hateful rhetoric before someone turns Trump’s violent words into violent actions. And so far at least, that is something no Republican leaders seem willing to do.
Featured image via John Moore/Getty Images