President Donald Trump retweeted a post from conservative comedian and commentator Terrence K. Williams on Sunday that accused Trump’s political rivals, former President Bill Clinton and former senator and presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, essentially of being killers.
Trump is not legitimizing the claim that the Clintons are wrong on taxes or insufficiently supportive of police. He’s legitimizing the claim that the Clintons have people killed.
If this downward trajectory continues, our offspring may one day play the parlor game “If you could go back in time and stop Trump, would you?”
It’s not yet likely that our nation will derail badly enough to warrant that future fantasizing, but it’s possible. It’s possible because the Republican leaders who are honor bound to call out Trump for eroding and exploding our norms and values are failing the nation.
Williams’ tweet, referencing the suicide of sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in his jail cell, says, “Died of SUICIDE on 24/7 SUICIDE WATCH ? Yeah right! How does that happen . . . #JefferyEpstein had information on Bill Clinton & now he’s dead . . . I see #TrumpBodyCount trending but we know who did this! RT if you’re not Surprised . . . #EpsteinSuicide #ClintonBodyCount #ClintonCrimeFamily.”
Epstein solicited young girls for sex. Trump and Bill Clinton knew Epstein, and have controversial sexual histories. Rumors that Epstein could implicate both men have been rampant. But none of that comes close to justifying Trump’s response.
Tuesday, Trump said Williams is “a very highly respected conservative pundit and a big Trump fan” and pointed out that he merely retweeted Williams’ message but didn’t say it himself.
One key element of the “travel in time to save the world” question is always whether people in nations where dictators would soon wreak havoc knew, or should have known, it was coming.
If this all goes bad, our grandkids will likely cite this tweet about the Clintons as evidence all Americans should have known about the danger Trump’s behavior presented, and spoken up. But they also will cite Trump’s delegitimization of four minority congresswomen, all of them citizens and three of them born here, and his demand that they “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” They will cite Trump’s placement of family members in positions of great power to which they brought no qualifications. They will cite his profiting from the spending of favor-currying businesses and foreign governments at Trump properties. They will cite his attempts to delegitimize media outlets and journalists, his cries of “fake news” even when the media merely print or broadcast his own words. And they will cite his grim and relentless destruction of the idea of truth, of facts and proof and evidence, in favor of a model in which what Trump says has merit because he says it, and everything his opponents say is without value because they are opponents.
The Republican senators and representatives, trusted by those who voted them in, have a duty to call out Trump’s behavior as destructive and unacceptable. They have a responsibility to actively oppose him. That they are not doing so because their support for him brings the big tax cuts and loosened environmental standards their contributors want or the hearty and jingoistic bluster their voters have momentarily fallen for, is no excuse.
They, and we, do not need a time machine to stop Trump, nor the benefit of hindsight to see how dangerous his behavior is.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.