Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Our Revolution: Yes; But First Some Questions

Following Bernie Sanders Almost Anywhere

[NOTE: Since writing this, the Web site Support Progressives has been brought to my attention. It creatively addresses many of the questions and concerns about Our Revolution discussed, below, in the sections on "Candidate Selection" and "Coalitions." -- N.J., Sept. 1, 2016]

[Senator Bernie Sanders' campaign] was a campaign about doing, not about being [president]. Indeed, he would reject his crowds' chants of "Bernie! Bernie!" from the beginning of the campaign through his Santa Monica rally two nights ago [June 7, 2016], by telling them that it is they, not just he, who are "part of the political revolution."

-- Nicholas Johnson, "On Being, Doing and 'Compromise;' What's Next for Senator Sanders' Revolution? Here's My Suggestion," June 9, 2016

So what's the current status of "Our Revolution"?

What Can Be Learned From the Web Site?

"Who's on first; What's on second"

God or Mammon, that is the Question


Candidate Selection


The Money



Yes, Senator Bernie Sanders made it clear from the beginning of his campaign for the the Democratic Party's nomination for president. He was in this race for many reasons but, win or lose the Party's presidential nomination, the overriding reason was the creation of an ongoing organization, a political revolution to bring about the populist programs he had been advocating for at least 30 years. That organization now bears the name, "Our Revolution."

I had been involved in some way with every presidential election since 1948, but never before with the emotional and financial support I gave to the Bernie campaign. As some evidence, here's a list of some 14 blog essays I wrote, starting in June of 2015.
"On Being, Doing and 'Compromise;' What's Next for Senator Sanders' Revolution? Here's My Suggestion," June 9, 2016
"When 'The Morning After' Looks Even Worse," June 8, 2016
"Searching for the Media's Soul," June 7, 2016
"Why Won't Media Give Bernie a Break?" March 23, 2016
"The State of the Media," February 28, 2016
"Bernie's Extraordinary, Unacknowledged Accomplishment," February 3, 2016
Why Nobody 'Wins' the Iowa Caucus," February 1, 2016
"Caucus With Your Heart And Head -- For Bernie," January 28, 2016
"Why I'm Caucusing for Sanders and You Should Too," January 22, 2016
"Feeling the Bern at The Mill," December 9, 2015
"Anyone for Democracy," November 22, 2015
"Senator Bernie Sanders and America's 'Mainstream,'" July 25, 2015
"Bernie's Media Challenge," June 19, 2015
"Bernie! Why the 99% Should Support Bernie's Campaign," June 1, 2015
Now the primaries and caucuses -- and the Bernie Sanders for President campaign -- are over. On July 26, 2016, the Democratic National Convention delegates selected Hillary Clinton as their nominee for president of the United States. Notwithstanding his having run against Hillary -- with speeches noting the disparity between what each of them has chosen to fight for, and against, during the past 30 years -- Senator Sanders made the motion for her nomination at the Convention, endorsed her, and indicated he would campaign for her.

So what's the current status of "Our Revolution"?

The organization was officially "launched" with an hour-plus video stream into 2600 home gatherings across America the evening of August 24. David Weigel and John Wagner, "Bernie Sanders Launches 'Our Revolution With Electoral Targets -- and a Few Critics Left Behind," Washington Post (online), August 24, 2016.

Our Revolution is by now, among other things, a Web page: I would have preferred it was an "org" (as I am: rather than a "com." But a superficial search suggests "" may already be held by someone else. Hopefully, that's someone affiliated with, and confusion between the two can be controlled.

At the moment -- from July 26 through November 8 -- Our Revolution is in a kind of limbo. Bernie's enthusiastic throngs have nothing further they can do to get him elected. Many may end up voting for Hillary, but may feel that they never signed up to campaign for her. Moreover, 20 months into a 22-month presidential campaign season (Jan. 2015-Oct. 2016) most Americans inclined to political action have long since committed their time and other resources to presidential and other candidates for public office they probably want to stick with through election day.

After the votes have been counted in the national election on November 8th, and a presumptive president selected, Our Revolution's participants and programs can be more specifically self-selected.

Make no mistake, Our Revolution already has my support; it doesn't have to earn it, it just has to keep from losing it. I certainly want to give it a chance. But I do have some questions for which I will be seeking answers.

What Can Be Learned From the Web Site? The Web site opens with an invitation to "join," "Watch the Launch Event" (which occurred August 24) and to "Help five of our candidates win" with an option to click on "Take Action." Scrolling down further is an "In the News" section with three stories, including the August 29th announcement of an 11-person "board" chaired by Larry Cohen, former CWA President, 2005-15. Although at the "Launch Event" Senator Sanders named the organization's president (Jeff Weaver, formerly Sanders' campaign chair) and an executive director (whose name I can't find or recall), I was unable to find their names, descriptions -- or how and by whom they were chosen -- anywhere on the Web site. (That information may very well be there; it's just that I didn't see it.)

There are four locations on the Web site: About, Take Action, Issues, and Candidates -- along with a number of suggestions that we donate money.

"About" provides three general aspirations: "Revitalize American Democracy," "Empower Progressive Leaders," and "Elevate Political Consciousness."

"Take Action" promotes an anti-TPP project urging us to call and register our opposition with members of Congress. If you think to scroll down there are 7 state ballot initiatives for which a click will take you to the sponsoring organization's Web page or other information.

"Issues" reads like a party platform, itemizing and describing 18 policy areas familiar to Bernie supporters.

"Candidates" lists, with pictures, 62 presumably progressive individuals running for office (primarily state legislatures). A click on a candidate takes you to more information about each.

"Who's on first; What's on second." I'm sure things will become clearer with time, but at this point I'm reminded of the story of the city cousin who visited his country cousin's farm. Leaning against the fence, but wanting to be helpful, the city cousin inquires, "What can I do to help?" He's told, "Just grab a plow and start plowing."

That's about as much specific instruction as is provided those who "join" Our Revolution. Maybe that's enough. Look over the ballot initiatives; if there's one in your state, or elsewhere, that interests you check out its Web site and contribute money or other efforts to assist. Ditto for the candidates. Look 'em over. If you're willing to support one or more on the basis of the information provided, have at it.

But I would think there would be some reason to have a way of reporting back to someone what you did. With the links going directly to the Web sites of the ballot initiatives' organizations and candidates it would appear that's not going to happen. Even if one wished to report what was going on in one's hometown, or another location chosen for action, it's not clear to whom they would report or how.

God or Mammon, that is the Question. A more serious, fundamental question is the core heart and purpose of this organization. As California's Big Daddy Unruh was credited with observing, "Money is the mother's milk of politics." To run multiple local and statewide campaigns all across the country is going to require enormous sums of money. Will Bernie's followers be capable and inclined to provide it?

There's a big difference between an individual contributing money for a single candidate -- especially a presidential candidate, and more especially one like Bernie Sanders -- and contributing money to a fund diversified among 100 or more individuals running for everything from school board to U.S. Senate, candidates from distant cities whom one does not know and had no role in selecting.

The Web site shouts that Our Revolution is a Section 501(c)(4) organization (ineligible to provide donors a tax deduction). Is what is envisioned, in effect, just another PAC for millionaires and billionaires with progressive inclinations to give money subsequently distributed by Our Revolution staff members to candidates of their choosing? If so, I don't see that there is much role for the participation of at least most of what were once Bernie's enthusiastic followers.

I once asked Senator Hubert Humphrey what he told new U.S. Senators when they arrived. He said, "Nick, I tell 'em they have to give four years to the Lord, and then two years to get re-elected; four more years to the Lord, and then another two years to get re-elected."

Today's new senators are told, from their first day on the job, that it's six years of fund raising and campaigning to get re-elected, and then another six years to do it again. To make sure this happens, they are provided with targets for hours on the phone each day and week, and the sums they are expected to raise.

The question for Our Revolution is whether God and Mammon can co-exist; whether wealthy donors, and their large contributions, can co-exist with a progressive grassroots organization; and if not, whether either can bring about Our, or anyone else's, Revolution all by itself.

An insightful and fuller exploration of these and related issues can be found in Lambert Strether, "Is 'Our Revolution' the Way to Build Transformative Politics?", August 30, 2016.

Governance. There is a literature regarding board governance. See, for reading suggestions, e.g., Nicholas Johnson, "Board Governance: Theory and Practice," April 28, 2000.

Governance involves all stakeholders thinking through, agreeing upon, and putting in writing, the assignment of responsibilities, delegations, and the relationships between Senator Sanders, the Board chair Larry Cohen, other Board members, President Jeff Weaver, other administrative persons, staff, and Our Revolution "members."

For example, will board members be limited to providing direction, determining mission and goals, and overseeing a management information reporting system regularly disclosing accomplishments along a timeline toward measurable goals, or may they also involve themselves in some administrative decisions? Must all board statements and actions come from the entire board, acting as the board (including accompanying concurring or dissenting opinions), or can the chair -- or any individual member of the board -- speak on their own, whether to the president, a staff member, or the public?

Will the Board members create their own meeting agenda, or will "board meetings" become in effect "president's meetings" to which Board members are invited to attend for purposes of listening to reports from the president and other members of the staff? Will the president sit in on all board meetings, or are they just for board members -- and whomever else the board may invite to discuss a specific item at a single meeting?

What will be the day-to-day role of Senator Sanders with Our Revolution, given his responsibilities to his Vermont constituents and his Senate colleagues?

There is no one "right" way to answer these, and dozens of other challenging questions regarding governance. The only truly "wrong" way to proceed is to fail to identify, address, and resolve them as the board's very first order of business.

Candidate Selection. If the, or at least a, major purpose and strategy of Our Revolution involves the election of populist, progressive candidates "from school boards to the White House," a central process question is the way, the process, and the standards for Our Revolution's selection of those candidates. There is then the process question of what resources (whether campaign worker hours or money) will be provided these candidates, how much will be accorded each (and the standards for making those decisions), and what kind of oversight and regular reporting will be used.

Will the final decisions be made by Senator Sanders, the Board, its chair, the president, a staff group, a referendum of the members? How heavily will the decisions be influenced by major donors (if any)? Or will there be no such decisions? Will Our Revolution simply accept nominations from any of the above, put together a little information about each, post them on the Web site (as now), and leave it to members and donors to do the due diligence, and then put their time and money wherever they choose?

Or will there be a consensus as to who will receive Our Revolution's support, and will the goal be to limit the number of candidates to a number that can be supported (with workers and money) sufficiently to make a real difference in the outcome of their election? Will there be a preference for first-time candidates -- or for progressive incumbents in close races?

Will there be a preference for candidates whose polling numbers and other evidence indicate a real chance of winning, or is the goal to provide at least some token support and encouragement to as many first-time progressives as possible? What are the standards for deciding who is a "true progressive" worthy of Our Revolution's support?

Coalitions. Is it the goal of Our Revolution to be recognized as the single, preeminent, progressive policy and political organization in America? Or is the goal to bring some order and focus (on, say, electing progressive candidates) to the sometime chaos of America's progressive individuals, organizations, and media?

As the old saying has it, "There's no limit to what you can accomplish if you're willing to let others take the credit." Will Our Revolution be willing to stand by while "others take the credit"?

We've seen what splintered, underfunded, off-again-on-again efforts produce. What might a true coalition, a United Nations-style effort, be able to produce? What goals might be shared across all progressive organizations -- as was sort of the case with the coming together that was the Senator Sanders' presidential campaign -- while still leaving each organization to pursue its own other issues and strategic choices? (See, e.g., Nicholas Johnson, "Bernie's Extraordinary, Unacknowledged Accomplishment," February 3, 2016.)

The Money. I would be stunned if there was anything even mildly inappropriate, let alone illegal, in the way the money was handled in the Bernie Sanders campaign. But I also think transparency is even more important for Our Revolution. So I ask the following questions:

One of the most valuable assets of the campaign, and could be for Our Revolution, is the campaign's mailing list of donors, volunteers, and supporters. Has it been made available to the DNC, Hillary Clinton's campaign, other candidates? Are there plans to do so in the future? Who now has access to copies of this list? Will it become the main list for Our Revolution?

How much campaign money was left on July 26 -- the formal end of the Bernie for President campaign? What has happened to it? Has any gone to the Clinton campaign? The DNC, or other groups funding Democratic candidates (chosen by someone other than Senator Sanders)? How much has gone to candidates Senator Sanders supports? Is any used for his expenses while campaigning for Clinton? How much (if any) will ultimately be transferred into Our Revolution's resources?

Transparency. Transparency is important for any organization that requires the trust and support of its stakeholders. This is especially true for non-profit, progressive organizations. Members (and the public) need to know where Our Revolution's money is coming from, and what it's going to. Our Revolution needs to comply with the standards used by those evaluating non-profits. (A Google search on "evaluations of non-profit organizations' fundraising and salary expenses" brings up over 3.5 million hits.)

How do the salaries of Our Revolution administrators and staff, and expenses for Board meetings, compare with organizations of similar size? How do its expenses for fundraising, as a percentage of money raised, compare?

For Our Revolution, salaries and benefit packages are relevant to stakeholders not only because some may consider them "too high," but more likely because they might be thought to be "too low" -- given our "Issues" that focus on "Income Inequality," "A Living Wage," and "Creating Decent Paying Jobs."

And of course, Our Revolution being what it is, there will be member and public interest in the organization's employment practices with regard to gender equality, LGBT rights, and diversity of all kinds within the workforce.

Conclusion. There could be more, but there need not be. I'll simply close as I began: "Make no mistake, Our Revolution already has my support; it doesn't have to earn it, it just has to keep from losing it. I certainly want to give it a chance. But I do have some questions for which I will be seeking answers." What is spelled out above are some, illustrative, examples of those questions. Whether I hear from any Our Revolution administrators or staff or not, I'll keep looking for answers as I weigh whether Our Revolution has retained, or has lost, my support. (And see Roots Action's email and petition, "If It's Our Revolution, Let's Make It Better," Roots Action, August 31, 2016.)

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Doping Dilemma

[See below, at bottom of this blog entry, for comment exchange.]

Should Sports Allow Drugs that Enhance Performance?

Nicholas Johnson

The Gazette, August 17, 2016, p. 5A

I'm not proud to say it.

It was the 1960s. Illegal drugs were everywhere. I was a young lawyer, living as a hippie-public official. That’s what kept me from drugs – not health concerns, personal discipline, or common sense. Illegal drugs simply couldn’t be part of my life.

That doesn't mean I'm a fan of our "War on Drugs."

Illegalization has promoted more crime, not less, probably contributing even more deaths from the use of guns than from drugs. Because there's no quality control of illegal drugs they’re even more deadly. It's occasionally involved our government in the cocaine trade.

Not only has it cost taxpayers billions of dollars, it has simultaneously kept the government from collecting taxes on sales (as it does with alcohol and tobacco).

When it rarely produces a dip in supply, that simply drives up street prices and profits for dealers. It’s made us the number one nation for percentage of incarcerated citizens -- including more blacks working as prison laborers today than once worked as slaves.

So what’s the alternative?

In 2001, Portugal repealed criminal penalties for possession of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Fears of increased costs and consumption proved unwarranted. Health services for addicts were cheaper than incarceration. Teens' drug use and HIV from dirty needles declined. Addicts seeking treatment more than doubled.

The elephant in the Rio Olympics’ venues – performance enhancing drugs (PED) – brought Portugal’s experience to mind.

Athletes’ PED use began with the first Olympics 2000 years ago, 776-393 BC. Today it’s present in most sports, and from high school, to college, to the Olympics, to professional athletes. Efforts to stop it have proven as futile as our 1920s prohibition of alcohol, and more recent War on Drugs.

If only ineffective it would just be a waste of money. As it is, it also infuses otherwise honorable, sportsmanlike contests with subterfuge, lying, and deceit – to the harm of sports’ fans, athletes, and our children. It risks athletes' health from the lack of physician monitoring and the use of unsafe, untested substances and dosages. It encourages a contest of escalating sophistication in the design and detection of ever more difficult-to-detect substances.

Need athletes be protected from themselves? Injuries and death occur in many sports; athletes "assume the risk," legally and morally – think brain injuries from football. Shouldn't adults be as free to do their own benefit-cost risk assessments of doping as of any athletic or other risk?

Want a level playing field? It doesn’t exist.

Many things can enhance performance. Athletic parents who start training their three-year-olds. Poor students who run five or ten miles each way to school. Wealthy parents who provide private coaching and clubs, and free their college athletes from the need to work. Coaches with the equipment and knowledge of sports science (including diets) to maximize training efficiency. Working out at higher altitudes to gain an oxygen boost upon return.

Doping also can and does affect performance. But because it is also illegal, surreptitious, and widespread, it creates a terrible conflict for coaches and athletes – dope and risk getting caught, or comply with the rules and risk adding the hundredths of a second that can separate winners from losers.

Perhaps organized athletics, including the Olympics, should consider abandoning their ineffective anti-doping efforts. Perhaps they should consider the sports equivalent of the Portugal approach. Let doping join the long list of other things by which athletes and coaches can enhance performance – with approved drugs, dosages, and supervision by medical doctors and pharmacists.

A perfect solution? Of course not. But with a 2000-year history of failed bans, it may be a least-worst option worth trying.

Given today’s widespread doping in all sports, the competitive results would be little different. But it would be safer, less deceitful, and create a more honorable and level playing field for athletes, coaches, and fans alike.
Nicholas Johnson, a former sports law professor, lives in Iowa City. Contact:


Gary Ellis provided the following response by email to this column:
Saw your piece in the Gazette. Got to ask, aren't you just saying that if it feels good do it? Is there any morality of what is right and wrong?

Perhaps we should just stop spending any public money on sports and let it survive on its own? Maybe we should do away with some of the celebrity status of activities like sports. Society would be better off if we focused on science and economics where our goals would be to improve the human existence.

To which I replied by email:
I can see how what you say in your first sentence could be a reader's take-away from the column.

There's law, morality, and there're also public health issues. But there's always that balance between personal freedom and self-imposed harms of such severity as to warrant what the opponents of regulation call "the nanny state."

For example, tobacco use is the single greatest cause of Americans' deaths. Alcohol is the nation's number one hard drug by every conceivable measure. We have anti-tobacco and alcohol encouragement, education, treatment centers and so forth -- but we do not ban the sale of either. That also could be said to be a form of "if it feels good do it."

Your second sentence is something I've advocated over the years (splitting the money collegiate sports off from universities) and that has some support from at least some athletes and agents.
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Monday, August 15, 2016

Maybe This Explains Trump

Understanding Donald Trump

Listen, you know these politicians, they don’t know me. They don’t understand me.

-- Donald Trump, "Second Amendment Speech," "Read the Full Transcript of Donald Trump’s ‘Second Amendment’ Speech," TIME, August 9, 2016

Donald Trump says we don't understand him. He's right. Politicians, reporters, and voters have had little to go on beyond their own speculations.

Some professional, and many armchair, psychiatrists think he displays classic, textbook narcissism and varieties of mental illness. Others believe he's just naturally mean-spirited, unthinking, crude, and lacking in empathy when he attacks military personnel who are captured, women, people with disabilities, Muslims, Gold Star families, and whoever else happens to be in his sights when his mouth opens.

There's speculation that he never has been serious about running, was surprised to have won the Republican nomination, and is preparing himself and us for his general election loss -- already blaming such an outcome on a hostile media ("the lowest form of life") and the "rigged" voting that will require his army of poll watchers.

And we can't overlook his brag reported by Fortune magazine: “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it." Jerry Useem, "What Does Donald Trump Really Want?" Fortune, April 3, 2000. For a 2016 update, see Joseph P. Williams, "Is Trump’s Campaign Breaking the Law by Paying Money to Trump’s Businesses? Campaign Finance Experts Say It's Hard to Tell," U.S.News, June 22, 2016. Roughly 20% of his campaign expenditures involve payments to his own companies. Drew Griffin, Paul Murphy and Theodore Schleifer, "Trump Directs Nearly One-Fifth of His Money to His Own Businesses," CNN Politics, June 22, 2016.

So he can make money while running for president. Moreover, since much of his "property" is his brand, his name, he will be able to continue to make money as someone who ran for president -- not to mention larger royalties for ghost-written books, speaking fees for lectures, and a possible future TV show.

But wait; there's more.

There are at least three ways to get the goods and services one needs for a political campaign: (1) pay for them yourself (including the Trump option of paying your own companies), (2) get campaign contributions from donors used to pay for what you need, or (3) obtain what you need without having anyone pay for it.

Given the proportion of campaign funds for advertising that go (mostly) to the purchase of radio and television time (80%), option (3), above -- getting it for free -- is clearly the best approach. "In 2012, fundraising for various campaigns reached $6.5 billion. Of that, an estimated $5.2 billion [or 80%] was spent on advertising." This year one estimate puts total contributions at $7.5 billion with, again, 80% going to advertising. Meg James, "Political Ad Spending Estimated At $6 Billion in 2016," Los Angeles Times, November 18, 2015.

So how has Donald Trump made out with free media? Like a bandit! Two billion dollars worth of free media by March -- a record. Nicholas Confessore and Karen Yourish, "$2 Billion Worth of Free Media for Donald Trump," The New York Times, March 17, 2016, p. A3

All of which now brings me to my hypothesis regarding a possible understanding of Trump.

One of his more recent wild assertions is that ISIS' founder, the person who created the organization, was none other than our President, Barack Obama. Tal Kopan, "Donald Trump Tries to Walk Back Claim Obama Founded ISIS: 'Sarcasm,'" CNN Politics, August 12, 2016.

I, along with others who, unlike me are actually informed on the issues, have noted that our entry into Iraq -- as well as our exit, and re-entry -- have contributed to the recruitment of terrorists and more attacks on Americans, as the organizations have evolved and changed names over time. When Trump appeared on the program of conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, Hewitt tried to use this analysis to help Trump out of his absurd assertion regarding Obama as "founder of ISIS." Trump was having none of it:
Hugh Hewitt (HH): I’ve got two more questions. Last night, you said the President was the founder of ISIS. I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace.

Donald Trump (DT): No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.

HH: But he’s not sympathetic to them. He hates them. He’s trying to kill them.

DT: I don’t care. He was the founder.
Duane Patterson, "Donald Trump Makes A Return Visit,", August 11, 2016

The discussion continued along these lines:
HH: You don’t get any argument from me. But by using the term "founder," they’re hitting with you on this again. Mistake?

DT: No, it’s no mistake. Everyone’s liking it. I think they’re liking it. I give him the most valuable player award. And I give it to him, and I give it to, I gave the co-founder to Hillary. I don’t know if you heard that.

HH: I did. I did. I played it.

DT: I gave her the co-founder.

HH: I know what you’re arguing…

DT: You’re not, and let me ask you, do you not like that?

HH: I don’t. I think I would say they created, they lost the peace. They created the Libyan vacuum, they created the vacuum into which ISIS came, but they didn’t create ISIS. That’s what I would say.

DT: Well, I disagree.

HH: All right, that’s okay. . . . I’d just use different language to communicate it . . ..

DT: But they wouldn’t talk about your language, and they do talk about my language, right?

HH: Well, good point. Good point.
"They do talk about my language." Those six words of Trump's really tell the tale. Trump's playbook is a variant of the old line, "Say anything you want about me as long as you spell my name right;" the belief that there is no such thing as bad publicity -- especially when the price tag would have been $2 billion for that much publicity.

The media is talking about Trump. You and I are talking about Trump. I'm sitting here writing about Trump. It all helps to fire up his supporters -- even, perhaps especially, the perceived criticism of Trump. Whether or not those loyal followers are of sufficient numbers to deliver him 270 electoral votes, I wonder how much he even cares. He can't "lose" -- regardless of what happens November 8. The value of his brand, his name on his properties, will have increased by hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars.

And all because, as he says, "they do talk about my language, right?"

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

When Words Can Kill

"Will no one rid me of the turbulent priest?"

-- King Henry II's casual reference to Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket, following which four devoted knights were inspired to go to Canterbury, where they found and murdered Beckett, December 29, 1170

"Like the extreme right in Israel, many Republicans conveniently ignore the fact that words can kill. . . . [T]hey could use a short session with Yigal Amir, Yitzhak Rabin's assassin, who was inspired by the rabid rhetoric hurled at the Isrraeli prime minister . . .."

-- Chemi Shalev, Israel's Haaretz newspaper columnist, quoted in Thomas Friedman, "Trump's Wink Wink to 'Second Amendment People,'" New York Times, August 10, 2016, p. A19

"If she [Hillary Clinton] gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people -- maybe there is, I don't know."

-- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Wilmington, North Carolina, August 9, 2016

This morning [August 10] the Times editorialized: "Three months from the presidential election . . . Americans find themselves asking whether Donald Trump has called for the assassination of Hillary Clinton. . . . His supporters have shouted 'kill her' . . . A New Hampshire delegate [said she should] 'be put in the firing line and shot for treason.'" Editorial, "Further Into the Muck With Mr. Trump," New York Times, August 10, 2016, p. A18. And see, Nick Corasaniti and Maggie Haberman, "Donald Trump Suggests 'Second Amendment People' Could Act Against Hillary Clinton," New York Times, August 10, 2016, p. A1.

Trump's opponents argue that Trump's remark -- "nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people -- maybe there is, I don't know" -- was his intentional call for the assassination of Hillary Clinton.

His defenders say that's ridiculous; he was just saying that the Second Amendment supporters have proven to be well organized and politically effective, and that they might be able to bring enough political pressure to prevent a President Hillary Clinton from successfully nominating liberal judges.

In my view, both sides miss the point.

No one can know if, or what, Trump (or anyone else) is thinking when they speak. With Trump's often rambling and disjointed exposition it's often difficult to figure out what he has said after he has said it. And it is even more perilous to speculate about another's motive.

So the argument between those who believe Trump was advocating assassination of his opponent and those who think he was just urging citizen participation in the judicial selection process is one that cannot be, and will not be, resolved.

The point is that, based on what he said, that argument can (and did) take place.

That is to say, what he said was open to the interpretation, an interpretation by many, that he was calling for her to be shot -- an interpretation supported by the context.

Trump's now oft-quoted potential threat was preceded by the line, "Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment." Paul Barrett, "What Trump Gets Wrong About Clinton and the Second Amendment; Hint: everything," Bloomberg, August 10, 2016.

Put aside for the moment the facts that (a) none of the fact checkers who have researched this charge have been able to find a scintilla of evidence that Hillary Clinton has ever hinted of a desire to do away with the Second Amendment -- indeed, quite the opposite. She has said that she supports the Second Amendment. And (b), as the Constitution makes clear, constitutional amendments are not, like executive orders, something the president can simply "abolish" whenever she or he wants to.

In other words, his disjointed appeal -- "Although the Second Amendment people -- maybe there is, I don't know." -- came in the context of an attack on Hillary Clinton (however false its premise) regarding the constitutional amendment most near and dear to the hearts of America's gun owners.

In the past, I have often gone out of my way to defend those who were fired, or otherwise severely punished, for what sometimes seemed to be a single, relatively innocuous remark. See, e.g., Nicholas Johnson, "Was It Something I Said? General Semantics, the Outspoken Seven, and the Unacceptable Remark," Institute for General Semantics presentation, New York City, October 30, 2010.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's remarks in Wilmington, North Carolina, yesterday were seriously dangerous. I would not, and do not, defend them. They forcefully bring into question not only his lack of fitness for office, but that of those other Republicans who continue to urge us to join with them in voting for him -- including Iowa's principal statewide-elected officials: Governor Branstad, and U.S. Senators Grassley and Ernst. Think about it.

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