Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump turns away from the cameras as he speaks at a town hall event in Appleton, Wis., March 30, 2016.
Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters

Trump responds to ‘lock them up’ chant in an unsettling way

Updated

Toward the end of his campaign rally in Pennsylvania last night, Donald Trump used some ridiculous rhetoric that, alas, has become quite routine.

“They were spying, they were spying on our campaign. I’ll tell you what: if that ever happened to the other side, this thing would have been over two years ago and you know it would have been treason, they would have called it treason and that’s what it is. It was treason and it should never be allowed to happen to another president again ever. Ever, ever, ever.”

At this point, the president started to return to his prepared remarks – and his usual wrap-up rhetoric – when his followers interrupted him with a chant. “Lock them up,” they said, “Lock them up.”

If you watch the clip, note that Trump actually paused, took a couple of steps away from the podium, and reveled for a while, enjoying the chant. The Republican eventually returned to the microphone with some words that were intended to be reassuring.

“Well,” Trump told his audience, “we have a great new attorney general who’s going to give it a very fair look.”

His supporters roared with approval.

The president quickly added, “You have always been loyal to this nation. Now you finally have a president who is loyal to you. It’s taken you a long time.”

It was all quite creepy. Here was an American president, accusing his perceived enemies of “treason,” and comforting his followers – who want U.S. officials imprisoned – with promises about the attorney general looking into it. Trump thought nothing of following this up with boasts about how he, unlike his recent predecessors, is “loyal” to Americans.

Those who recoiled in discomfort can take solace in the fact that they weren’t alone. Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, suggested that this portion of the far-right rally had “shades of 1937.”

Ideally, we’d heard from Attorney General Bill Barr this morning, and he could make clear that he isn’t investigating anyone for “treason.” He could also explain that he has no intention of locking up federal investigators who did nothing wrong.

In a perfect world, we might even expect an attorney general to make clear he’s uncomfortable with such undemocratic displays, perhaps even threatening to resign unless the president stops using him this way.

But Barr seems unwilling to do anything of the kind. If he’s at all concerned with what Trump said, the Republican lawyer has not shared those apprehensions with the public.