Donald Trump’s people are dismissing his outrageous threat that he would jail Hillary Clinton if he’s elected president, claiming it was “a quip,” or “a humorous line of retort.” Yeah, sure. Claiming any old unfunny, abusive remark was a joke is a typical right-wing line of defense that shows something about why there aren’t more right-wing comedians crossing over into broad popularity. It was also a line that’s been popping up in Trump rallies for a long time now that he hasn’t exactly pushed back on, and in his recent non-rehearsal rehearsal, he said Clinton belongs “in the hoosegow.” No, Trump meant his threat, at least as a way to assert dominance and righteousness. So it’s definitely worth looking at the company he’s aspiring to join, of leaders who got elected and turned around and put their opponents in jail.
There’s an unfortunately long list of such people, but one name stands out: Ukraine’s Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych. Why does Yanukovych stand out over, say, Myanmar’s military junta, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, or Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni? Because Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, worked for Yanukovych. And after Yanokovych was elected, his opponent was jailed for what were widely seen as political reasons.
You hire a guy who has gotten someone elected who went on to imprison their political opponent, you don’t get to claim you’re joking when you threaten the same thing. And you don’t get to downplay its significance. It’s like the Clinton campaign says:
“That is the comment of a dictator that you expect to hear in a banana republic — the idea of jailing your political opponents,” Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon told Yahoo News after the debate.
Trump wasn’t joking. He was saying what he would like to do as president. It’s likely that, even under a Trump presidency, the United States has enough checks and balances to prevent him from jailing his political enemies, but do we really want to find out?