The Republicans held a mock trial on Tuesday. The prosecution was led by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The jury was the audience at the National Convention in Cleveland.
There was no one putting forward a defence, no one on hand to rebut some of the “evidence” put before the makeshift court.
Christie, who appeared to be auditioning for the role of attorney general in a Trump administration having missed out on the vice presidential slot, covered the usual ground.
The attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012. The use or misuse of private email servers. The nuclear deal with Iran.
“Guilty or not guilty,” he asked after every change, and they responded overwhelmingly, even joyfully, in the affirmative. Often chants of “Lock her up” erupted in the hall and delegates joined in enthusiastically.
Criticising, even demonising the opposition candidate is nothing new. It’s been around in US politics for more than 100 years – but this has a bitter, angry edge to it.
There is no doubt that Hillary Clinton has questions to answer about her record and behaviour over the use of private email servers and the subsequent inquiries. There is no doubt some of the points Governor Christie made were correct.
But this political dialogue is creating potential problems.
The bestselling items at the convention hall? T-shirts and hats calling for the jailing of Clinton. It’s hardly surprising when the Republican nominee calls her “Crooked Hillary” and repeatedly says there is good reason to arrest her and jail her.
And on Wednesday, one of Trump’s strongest supporters, a New Hampshire Assemblyman called Al Baldasaro, called for Clinton to be “put in the firing line and shot for treason”.
Baldasaro is not some fringe character. He has spoken at Trump events in his home state and in New York.
The campaign’s reaction: “We are incredibly grateful for his support, but we don’t agree with his comments.” A bland statement usually reserved for minor policy disagreements. There was no forceful repudiation of the idea about killing another politician. None.
Trump has built the idea that Clinton has escaped punishment because of the influence of others. It adds to the idea he has often repeated that the system is rigged.
‘A threat to democracy’
There was a moment of hope that his tone had changed during his acceptance speech on Thursday. He claimed Hillary Clinton was corrupt – and as the crowd began the refrain of “Lock her up”, he waved them down saying simply: “Let’s beat her in November”.
Twenty-four hours later he was back tweeting about “crooked Hillary”.
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As Democrats gather in Philadelphia for their Convention, they have dismissed the “lock her up” chants as “childish and silly”. That underestimates their potential and potency.
Say Clinton wins the election in November – and the current polls suggest she will. Trump has painted a picture that she is a politician who should be in jail. He is posing the question even now that she will win through crooked means, and therefore she will be an illegitimate president.
He took a similar line with Barack Obama with the “birther” controversy, claiming he should not be president because he was not born in the US. Even when the birth certificate was produced in Hawaii, Trump did not back down. Even now some of his supporters believe the 44th president is a Muslim who was born in Kenya.
Donald Trump has convinced his supporters that Clinton should never be allowed to move into the White House, even if she gets more votes.
If she does get more votes, this latent anger will only grow. It is a threat to democracy and America will become an even more divided nation.