Why This Historian Is Worried for His Country

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tags: violence, assassinations



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, August 2015).

"McKinleyAssassination" by T. Dart Walker (1869-1914) - Artwork by T. Dart Walker. Copy online at http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/96521677/.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.


Hate speech is reaching new heights with the participants in the Donald Trump campaign. With the continuing and rapid growth of Donald Trump’s support, and the increased likelihood of Trump either winning or ending up a strong second in the Iowa Caucuses on February 1, and now seen as having a real chance to be the GOP nominee, after seven months as the frontrunner in public opinion polls, history indicates to us that there is clearly a growing danger of assassination due to rising rhetoric on all sides!

The shocking news of a Trump supporter shouting “Sieg Heil” at a Black Lives Matter protestor at a rally in Las Vegas, as that person was being removed from the Trump gathering, is an alarm bell ringing in the night! The gathering of extremist right wing elements around Trump, similar to what happened when George C. Wallace ran for President in 1968 and 1972, is alarming, and history tells us what happened to Wallace in 1972.

It is well recognized that there is now more fear of terrorism and a growing sense of insecurity since Paris and San Bernardino, than there has been since September 11, 2001. It is further fueled by the controversial rhetoric of Trump calling for a halt in Muslim immigration to the United States. The “Establishment” Republican Party, along with the Democratic Party, has denounced his program, but it is ratcheted up by those who support his proposal, and also by those who bitterly denounce it. The attacks on Mexican immigration also have become a major incendiary factor in the presidential campaign of 2016.

With the growing evidence of anti Muslim and anti Latino harassment and violence, the odds are growing that someone out there on either side of the issue will see a “cause” to go out and strike against Trump or the opposition in a dangerous manner. There are those who will see Trump as a “savior” and think we cannot afford to have Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in the Oval Office in 2017, as they would “sell America down the river.”

All that is needed is for one mentally disturbed individual or group, which has political and economic grievances and a commitment to follow through and gain notoriety by action, and we could be down the road of a new tragedy, 53 years after John F. Kennedy was assassinated; 48 years after Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated; 44 years after George C. Wallace was shot and paralyzed for life; and 35 years after Ronald Reagan was shot and seriously wounded. The odds of violence are starting to catch up, and it is a very worrisome situation.

Realize that it was such domestic turmoil that led to John Wilkes Booth assassinating Abraham Lincoln in 1865 at the end of the Civil War; that led Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, to assassinate William McKinley in 1901; that caused John Flammang Schrank, in the time of the Progressive Era, to wound Theodore Roosevelt in 1912; that made Giuseppe Zangara attempt to assassinate Franklin D. Roosevelt in the midst of the Great Depression in 1933; that led Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate John F. Kennedy in the cauldron of the Cold War in 1963; and that caused two malcontents, Sirhan Sirhan and Arthur Bremer, to take actions against Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 and George C. Wallace in 1972 in a time of highly controversial political rhetoric.

If only the heated political rhetoric, fueling hate and division, could somehow be overcome, but that does not seem likely in this 2016 Presidential campaign. So the Secret Service, more than ever, is under tremendous strain as it attempts to protect Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and really any rising perceived “threat” by either political extreme.

This is a time that demands a cooling down of emotions, but that seems impossible to achieve with the constant threat of domestic and international terrorism.



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