Opinion

Republican hatred of Hillary Clinton has taken a harrowing turn

There are countries where in a national election one side promises to prosecute and imprison the other side's candidate if they win. America is not one of them.

We knew for days there were going to be heaping helpings of Hillary-hatred served up to the crowd at the Republican National Convention. After all, if there's one thing that brings together establishment Republicans and tea partiers, supply-siders and neo-cons, values voters and Ayn Rand acolytes, it's that they all hate Hillary Clinton. They don't just think she has bad ideas on policy, or that she can't match the limitless integrity and honesty of their nominee, or that she wouldn't manage the federal government with sufficient dexterity. They hate her, in a deep and primal way that goes beyond anything logical or rational, much less anything having to do with issues or the challenges of the presidency.

Even so, what's coming out of Cleveland is getting ugly.

I'll admit that I got fooled by the official program for the second night of the convention, and I wasn't the only one. Night 2 was billed as "Making America Work Again," where speakers would lay out Republican ideas on how to improve the economy. So yesterday morning I predicted 10 different economic lies and distortions we'd be certain to hear in this night of economic discussion. But weirdly, only a couple of them made an appearance. That's because on this night supposedly devoted to the economy, there was almost no discussion of the economy. We did, however, hear multiple speakers talk about Benghazi.

And the Republicans' 2016 campaign has a new slogan: "Lock Her Up," which began on the first night and continued into the second, chanted by the crowd practically every time Clinton was mentioned.

Perhaps it was predictable — the idea that Clinton has committed crimes has been widespread among Republicans for some time now. As far as they're concerned, the only reason she isn't in jail is that we haven't looked hard enough to find the proof of her misdeeds that must surely be waiting to be discovered. And anyone who has followed Donald Trump on the campaign trail has seen the bottomless venom directed at Clinton in a call-and-response between the stage and the crowd, with the assembled mob taking things a few steps beyond where even Trump himself will go.

The most popular T-shirt at Trump rallies reads "Trump That Bitch" in huge letters. As Jenna Johnson wrote last month:

The word is often shouted from the audience as Trump attacks her, murmured in pre-rally conversations, and typed on Twitter. It appears on a popular button sold by vendors at many rallies: 'Life's a bitch, don't vote for one.' And, most prominently, it is on those white T-shirts, created by the Ohio-based Street Talk Tees and sold at nearly all of Trump's rallies. [The Washington Post]

And as Jared Yates Sexton has reported, cries of "Hang that bitch!" have become common at Trump events.

That particular cry wasn't heard from the convention floor, but "Lock her up!" was everywhere. While the headliner of the convention's second night was supposed to be Donald Trump, Jr., the speech we should and will remember came from Chris Christie. The former prosecutor presented his speech as a series of indictments, where he accused Clinton of all manner of betrayals and misdeeds, each one followed by asking the crowd, "Is she guilty or not guilty?", at which the lusty cry "Guilty!" reverberated through the hall. In an evening featuring long stretches in which a sleepy crowd offered tepid applause for some boring politician while waiting for the good stuff, Christie's speech was the one that stood out. It captured all the passion and excitement of a good old-fashioned witch trial; all that was missing was the climax where the demonic harpy is set aflame.

It shouldn't require pointing out that while there are countries where in a national election one side promises to prosecute and imprison the other side's candidate if they win, America is not one of them.

You might say that we've seen this before. Didn't Democrats hate George W. Bush? Plenty of them did. Don't Republicans still hate Barack Obama? My goodness, do they ever. And didn't Jefferson and Adams' supporters call the other side's man all sorts of scurrilous names? Absolutely. But there's a kind of fevered loathing here that feels new, and I'm beginning to suspect that what's different about it is the evident joy so many Republicans are taking in their hatred of Clinton. When they cry "Lock her up!", they're smiling and laughing.

Maybe it's the way Trump has liberated them, told them that giving voice to their ugliest feelings is an act of brave rebellion, a blow against the "political correctness" that keeps good people in chains. When you shout "Hang that bitch!" you're not a contemptible misogynist, you're a champion of liberty, a pioneer helping to create our new more candid age.

The weird thing is, the person among them who hates Clinton the least may be Donald Trump himself. Before he started running for president, he called Clinton a friend and sang her praises to the media. But just as he intuited that the path to victory lay not in the purest expression of conservative ideology or the assemblage of concrete policy plans but in a campaign of angry white nationalism, he realized that loathing for Clinton was a powerful force just begging to be unleashed.

And unleashed it most certainly is. The question now is how much farther it will go.

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