You're not supposed to joke about assassinating the President.
I realize it's been two days since Johnny Depp made his distasteful joke and in the ever changing news and political cycles, that makes it old news. But over eight years, I called out the hatred hurled at Pres. Obama. The cruel, racist caricatures – I remember a Facebook image of Obama with a noose around his neck. And there were people who called for his assassination, as well. The severed head mentality aimed at Trump isn't cool either.
I could see wanting to kill someone like Adolph Hitler. But Trump, no matter how bad he is or how much people dislike him (and I don't like him one bit) is not Hitler.
Do I think Trump is a threat to a free press and civil liberties – basically democracy? Do I think he does unconstitutional things every day of his life? Yes. Do I think he colluded with Russia in rigging the election? Probably, but so far that hasn't been proven.
No, I don't think he's a good person and like anybody in America, I can criticize him all night long because criticism and threats aren't the same thing. One is “political speech,” which I learned in communication law class at WSU, is the most Constitutionally protected speech. The other, the courts recognize as “fighting words” – words that are threatening or likely to incite violence.
I don't think Depp meant his words to be threatening. I think it was stupid and reckless. But saying those words against Trump is just as bad as when people said that kind of thing against Obama. And anytime somebody says something like that, it has to be looked into by the Secret Service. In today's world, we don't know if words like that will drive someone to do something terrible. Words are powerful.
It's a thin line between Constitutionally protected hate speech and fighting words. I think when people let emotions overrule reason, lose their filter, don't put on the brakes, there's that danger of their words being a bridge to violence.
But we never learn. After the shooting that put GOP Congressman Steve Scalise in critical condition, there was talk of the two sides, Democrat and Republican, toning down the hostility and “coming together as Americans.” That lasted about two days.
Last week, you had Nebraska Democratic official Phil Montag saying, “I'm fucking glad he was shot...I wish he was fucking dead.” He was rightfully fired. Sure, he apologized. The whole “that's not me thing.” But it's just like when Republican congressional candidate (now Montana Congressman) Greg Gianforte apologized for beating up the reporter. Insisted he's not really like that. BS. I think that's exactly who they are.
I knew all the togetherness wouldn't last. I remember all the talk of Americans uniting after 9-11. That didn't last. And if 9-11 couldn't change people, I don't think anything will.
That doesn't mean we should stop trying.