The Wall Street Journal reports that last week a group of demonstrators assembled in Times Square to protest the president's declaration ending transgender participation in the U.S. military. The demonstrators brandished several large handmade signs. One such placard read, in black against a red background: "Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy, Trump."
Of course, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy are the American presidents murdered in office. Clearly, the bearer of this despicable sign advocates the assassination of President Trump.
It's not an isolated incident. Many in the entertainment and sports worlds have suggested the same, and Kathy Griffin's beheaded president "prank" has become an unfortunate part of all future political discourse defining excess.
Though these kinds of threats are now increasingly part of the political mainstream, they are not specific nor imminent, meaning they fall just within the line of political speech protected under the First Amendment. It may not cross the legal line, but such inflammatory and dangerous speech does go too far morally and socially. I believe it should, at the very least, be denounced and socially circumscribed.
According to press reports, this sign advocating presidential assassination was prominently displayed in full sight of the NYPD and numerous elected officials for the entire duration of the event. Yet no one who had taken an oath to defend the public safety apparently felt led to even ask the sign holder about whether he was indeed seeking to incite someone to kill the president. I hope some kind of investigation ensues.
We all have a stake in this. I am old enough to remember America's trauma after the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. It has been 54 years and some of us believe we still haven't recovered fully from the national trauma of that day. God forbid that it should happen again, plunging our nation into another extended season of emotional trauma, social dislocation, and psychological angst.
I was always taught as a "baby boomer" American that freedom of speech was a bedrock American conviction and a fundamental and essential protector of the liberties enshrined in our Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. I still fully embrace these foundational truths. I have, and will always, ascribe to the sentiment, "I disagree with everything you say, and I will defend to the death your right to say it!"
However, no right is absolute. Any freedom can be abused to the point where liberty becomes license, inciting lethal violence and endangering the lives of others.
When people are openly, shamelessly, calling for the assassination of the president, I believe we have reached such a tipping point.
The late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart observed once that he couldn't define pornography, but he knew it when he saw it. I may not be able to define the line, but this sign and other increasingly common statements similar to it crosses it. And I would say the same thing if the sign advocated the murder of former President Obama.
If you even made a joke about bombs at an airport, you would be detained for questioning. If you passed through an airport with a poster advocating blowing up airplanes you would be arrested. Why is threatening the president's life different? The answer is it isn't.
May God forgive those who have aided and abetted such violence by reckless and inflammatory speech.