Rich’s post asserts nothing that I disagree with but nonetheless omits what I think it is most important to say.
No, there was no “presidential incitement to mass murder.”
There was the strangeness of the president’s musing about using weapons against a migrant caravan — as if it were specially noteworthy that the United States does not simply slaughter such civilians, or specially generous of the president not to have instructed agents of the state to commit such a slaughter.
Then there was a man’s shouting out that we should, indeed, shoot the caravan. Was this a joke? “Shoot them, ha ha ha”? Even if so, these were not the words of a shock-comic at a club or the proverbial Archie Bunker holding forth from his couch. They were a remark at a political rally, a forum meant for the earnest consideration of policies and political causes; “Shoot them, ha ha ha,” is much worse there, injected as it is into the heart of our civil life. “Shoot them, ha ha ha,” is, in almost any context I can imagine, a way of speaking that suggests the people in question are unworthy of basic human regard. And “ha ha ha” is of course our speculation here. Rich says that the statement was “outrageous,” but that word can have positive connotations, and it thereby avoids committing itself to any. The shock-comic and Archie Bunker might also be “outrageous,” and it might be part of what you like about them. There is nothing to like about “Shoot them” at a political rally. We should be willing to call the man’s remark what it was: offensive and alarming.
Then there was the president’s “acknowledg[ing]” the man’s statement “in a good-natured way,” as Rich says. “You can criticize the president’s reaction,” he also says. Then I will. It would not have been difficult for the president not to invite his audience down this path of dark musings. It certainly would not have been difficult, once he had, for him to respond to the man by repeating himself — “As I said, we can’t shoot them” — and moving on. That would have been bare-minimal leadership, I think.
Instead, the president and a rally-goer had a little chuckle over the idea — not actually endorsed by the president; let us repeat and repeat again, not endorsed! — of massacring a civilian migrant caravan.
I am more bothered by that than I am relieved that the president did not incite murder or annoyed that some people have falsely claimed that he incited murder.