Lost in the shuffle of the various transgressions of political normalcy that took place at and around this week’s Republican National Convention – plagiarism on Monday, Chris Christie’s show trial on Tuesday, the runner-up getting booed off the stage Wednesday, the party's final plunge into official ethno-nationalism on Thursday – was another particularly gross moment: The time a Trump advisor said in a radio interview that Democratic nominee should be “shot for treason.”
The comments came from Al Baldasaro, a state representative in New Hampshire who advises Trump on veterans issues, in an interview with radio host Jeff Kuhner. After comparing Hillary to Jane Fonda and cycling through various discredited talking points about Benghazi, Baldasaro declared that “#Hillary Clinton should be put in a firing line and shot for treason.”
This sort of language is familiar to those who follow Twitter and email forwards-based Benghazi discussion, right up to the speaker not knowing Ambassador Chris Stevens’ name - email forwards have the bad habit of misspelling Stevens’ name, while Baldasaro refers to him for some reason as “Ambassador Anderson.” The host, while not repudiating this vile statement, at least mentioned Stevens’ correct name right afterwards.
Following political norms, and not following them
Following Baldasaro’s comments, a few of the usual things happened when a public figure wishes for the death of a rival politician: The comments were quickly noted and denounced in the media. The Secret Service announced an investigation into the matter. But a few of the normal things didn’t happen: Baldasaro did not apologize. He did not resign, nor was he dropped from the campaign. While the Trump campaign issued a statement that “Mr. Trump and the campaign do not agree” that their election opponent deserves death by a firing squad, they made no move to remove Baldasaro.
For his part, Baldasaro later gave a second radio interview in which he refused to back off the comments, telling Boston radio host Howie Carr that his call for the violent death of Hillary Clinton wasn’t actually a call for the violent death of Hillary Clinton. “Every time I open my mouth - freedom of speech!,” he said, failing to understand how freedom of speech works. He also said something even more instructive: "Trump understands the political correctness garbage.”
The limits of "anti-PC"
#Donald Trump has gone quite far under the banner of “not politically correct.” But the Baldasaro controversy exposes something else: “Anti-PC,” for Trump and many others, has evolved to mean “the right to be as racist, as sexist, as violent, or as much of a jerk as I want, without being criticized, and without any pushback or consequences whatsoever.” And now it's only been taken to its logical conclusion.
Is it “not politically correct” to call for the death of a political opponent. Yes it is. But it’s also factually incorrect - Hillary Clinton has not been investigated for, much less charged with, treason, and it’s ridiculous to suggest that she has - and also morally incorrect. It’s also politically incorrect to call for banning Muslims or referring to Mexicans as rapists - but that doesn’t make it right.
It shouldn’t be too much to ask in today’s politics for campaigns to denounce surrogates of theirs who call for shooting of their general election opponent. What's next? An actual assassination, defended on "anti-PC" grounds? #Election 2016