A man took this photograph and shared it with me because he could not simply drive by and grumble quietly to himself about the state of political speech in 2016.
The words on the back of this Jeep, registered in Maryland and parked on a quiet street in suburban Baltimore, advocate violence against the Democratic candidate for president of the United States, and the day we accept this as free expression is the day we lose all pretense of being a civilized country.
Americans have spoken with scorn of our enemies and of those of our allies. Americans have expressed hatred for certain politicians. Protesters have raised ugly effigies of presidents, Democrat and Republican. But, in my lifetime — and that of the man who took this picture — never have we seen such direct calls for violence against one of our own. We’ve never seen people driving around, openly calling for the murder of a public leader.
The man who took the picture does not want to be identified. I asked what he felt as he raised his camera to get the shot, and he said, “I felt contempt, like any normal human being.” He noted that other stickers on the vehicle included one for the National Rifle Association.
There might be nothing new in Republicans hating Hillary Clinton, but many Americans scratch their heads at the overheated rhetoric used against her -- right-wing conspiracists constantly blaming her for the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi that left four Americans dead, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya; Donald Trump speaking of her with contempt and calling her “Crooked Hillary” at every opportunity, Republican National Convention delegates chanting, “Lock her up!” as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie listed his reasons to do so. In July, there were calls to “hang the bitch” at a Trump rally in North Carolina, according to The New Republic, and that chant has been reported at rallies elsewhere.
Throw in former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s repeated assertions of "criminal intent" in Clinton’s handling of her private email server, and Trump’s threat to have Clinton jailed if he becomes president.
Don’t forget Trump’s creepy comment that “Second Amendment people” -- that is, the nation’s most ardent gun-rights activists -- might act against Clinton should she appoint federal judges who favor gun control measures.
Considering all that, it’s no surprise that people with even more diminished powers of reason and self-control openly call for her death.
There’s anxiety in the United States, all right, but it’s not only economic anxiety, the one commonly referenced as an explanation for Trump’s support in the coming election. It’s anxiety about the level of hate that infests the world’s most powerful democracy, anxiety that we’ve reached a point where violence is openly and brazenly suggested as a means of protest and change.