Trump Time Capsule #73: 'The Second Amendment People'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Noted for the record: Today, August 9, 2016, was the day the Republican standard-bearer made a joke in public about his Democratic rival possibly being shot to death:

To the best of my knowledge, this has not happened before in modern times. I am in transit today and pass the baton to The Atlantic’s David Graham for a full rundown of the episode. For instance:

The suggestion that the assassination of a presidential candidate—or the killing of Supreme Court justices, or an armed insurrection, depending on interpretation—could solve a policy dispute is a shocking new low for a campaign that has continually reset expectations. Trump’s defenders often scold the media for being humorless, or taking Trump’s comments too seriously. So let’s preemptively dismiss that counterargument: This aside was clearly intended to be a joke. It is also entirely shocking and appalling, even in that context.

At no point in recent American history has the nominee of one of the two major parties even jested about the murder of a rival.

In BoingBoing, Xeni Jardin has a complementary account.


It shouldn’t need to be said, but still I will say:

  • People don’t do this. If an ordinary citizen made a similar joke at a town meeting, or if someone in the media like me were to say something similar on a TV or radio show, the Secret Service would probably want to know more. Through modern times, which is to say since the assassination of John F. Kennedy (and of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and the attempted assassinations of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George Wallace, and so on), “jokes” about shooting a president or presidential candidate are categorically not funny. Make a joke about blowing up a plane while at an airport, and you’ll be in trouble. Make a joke about guns as the solution to an election outcome you don’t like, and at the very least you are not showing commander-in-chief temperament.
  • Have you no sense of decency? Any Republican “leader” who stands with Trump after this will forever share the stain Trump is bringing to public life. This is like standing with Joe McCarthy after the Joseph Welch “Have you no sense of decency?” episode. It is like standing with Bull Connor. “Responsible” Republicans, the reputation of your party’s nominee can’t be changed at this point. Yours, and the party’s, are being set now.

Again for the time capsule: With 90 days until the election, one nominee has joked about the other being shot to death, and as of this moment his party elders stand with him.