A young British man was arrested last night in Las Vegas at a Donald Trump rally. He is accused of trying to seize a police officer’s gun and assassinate the Republican candidate for President. According to the BBC report:
‘He had reportedly tried to seize the gun after saying he wanted Mr Trump’s autograph at Saturday’s rally.
‘He said he had been planning to try to shoot Mr Trump for about a year but had decided to act now because he finally felt confident enough to do so, court papers say.’
We will have to wait to see how the legal case against this 20-year old British man plays out. But such an event can have surprised few people. Whatever the merits or demerits of this particular Presidential candidate, discussion of Trump’s ‘fascism’, for instance, seems to have become even more acceptable in the UK than in the US. On a BBC radio programme just a week ago I listened to a university sociology teacher blithely explaining (during a discussion about something else entirely) that it is in fact 1939 in America and that Donald Trump is Hitler. The presenter did not bother to haul their contributor up on this. Why would they? All right-thinking people agree, surely? This has been a staple of the right as well as left-wing press for months.
But it brings us back to the incitement point. It is perfectly imaginable that a 20-year-old year produced by the British education system would have few historical reference points other than the Second World War. Along comes the mainstream media explaining that a particular politician is the new Hitler. Cue the young British person has the opportunity to play out the empathy experiment they doubtless did at school: it’s the 1930s and you know what you know now – do you assassinate Hitler? Thanks to the media this historical thought-experiment becomes real. If Donald Trump is the next Hitler then who wouldn’t assassinate him? Suddenly politics turns from being a matter of open debates and discussion between people of differing views to a matter of moral hygiene in which any individual has the opportunity to avert a replay of history. In such an area nomenclature matters. Do those who call Trump ‘Hitler’ realise this?
I wonder whether there will be any reflection on this in the days ahead, or whether some people will remain comfortable with such tactics if their consequences broadly conform with their own political biases?