Monday, August 22, 2016

Trump's "Second Amendment People": So You Say You Want a Revolution?

My conservative co-writer Ben Boychuk and our mutual conservative friend Julie Ponzi take turns this week trying to defend — or explain — Donald Trump's discussion of how "Second Amendment People" might try to undo the horrors of a Hillary Clinton presidency. (Yeah, that was several scandals ago, but sometimes these things are worth extended pondering.)

First up, Ben:

Hewitt asked Trump if he intended to incite violence against Clinton. “No, of course not, and people know that,” Trump replied. “We’re talking about the power of the voter. We’re talking about the tremendous power, and you understand this probably better than anybody, the power behind the Second Amendment, the strength behind the Second Amendment.” 
That’s pretty deft. In the United States, with the exception of an unpleasant period between 1861 and 1865, we settle our political differences with ballots, not bullets. But the Second Amendment is a lot like the nuclear deterrent the Republican national security establishment worries that Trump doesn’t understand. Judging from his comments on the radio, Trump understands deterrence very well.

Julie expands:
People argued he was trying to incite violence in the first case and that he was an intemperate madman in the second. But in both cases, people ended up having to rethink the fundamental question of purposes. That is to say: Why do we have a Second Amendment? What important public good is served by respecting an armed citizenry? And why does the United States have nuclear weapons? What purpose do we facilitate by maintaining a nuclear arsenal
We have a Second Amendment because, as a sovereign people, we reserve unto ourselves the right to stop tyranny. We are, after all, a nation founded in Revolution. We set things up so that we might always prevent tyranny with ballots because we understood that perpetual and persistent revolution (aka, direct democracy) is just another road to tyranny. So we put a lot of restraints on our ability to exercise that right of revolution.

First, let's be excruciatingly fair: Donald says he didn't mean to threaten Hillary with violence, but with the ballot power of NRA folks. That's not how a lot of people heard it initially. But: In the interest of fairness, let's call the ultimate purpose of his comments unknowable. That's still problematic — people shouldn't have to ponder or argue if one presidential candidate was trying to threaten another — but let's give him the benefit of the doubt and focus instead on what Ben and Julie say.


Well, yeah. This is what we thought he was saying. This is what we were worried about.

What Ben and Julie seem to concede that, yes, Donald Trump was really talking about killing Hillary Clinton if she appoints the wrong judges — but not really, but also that's really what the Second Amendment is for, right? Like Trump, they're trying to have it both ways. We're not saying Hillary should be killed. We're saying the Second Amendment is for killing tyrants. Is Hillary a tyrant? (Whistles softly and ambiguously down the street.)

So let's be clear and deliver the proper response to this silly Second Amendment utopianism: Guns can be used to defend against tyrants. They can also be used to undermine and destroy legitimate governments that have popular support. Guns can crush rights just as surely as guns can defend them. The same goes for threats — subtle and not-so-subtle — made with guns used as backing, i.e.: The deterrence that Ben and Julie support.

In Hillary's case, Donald was envisioning a scenario in which: A) Hillary had won the election and B) was trying to appoint judges, in which case she'd need the cooperation of the Senate. (And because of B, would probably need some cooperation from Republicans, even if they lose the Senate, because that's how things work nowadays.) Ultimately, what Donald is suggesting is that the desires of "Second Amendment People" should undo a government elected by popular will, held in check by senators who are also accountable to voters.

Is that what the Founders really meant? I'm deeply skeptical that "Hillary appoints judges disliked by the NRA" sets the bar high enough to justify armed revolution. My friends, who believe that undermining the Second Amendment would be an assault on the Constitution, have a different sense of where that bar should be set.

But yeah: Donald Trump was suggesting — never mind his backtracking — that election results can be undone with a gun. Ben and Julie endorse that notion in broad strokes, just not necessarily specifically in this case. Makes little matter. "Deterrence" is just a nice way of saying: "That's a nice candidate for president you have there. Be a shame if something happened to her." There's no amount of Founder-loving philosophizing that can dress it up.

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