Why assassination remains a fool’s errand


The word itself repels most Americans — It sounds totalitarian, fanatic, vicious and violent. For most, it conjures up the horrific spectacle of a presidential assassination. We have been there too often.

Our history haunts us. Four American presidents have been assassinated with another twelve attempted or foiled attempts against incumbent presidents, stretching from Andrew Jackson in the 19th century to Barack Obama in the 21st.

Five of these attempts were close calls during which the president could have died. Another two presidents, (Zachary Taylor and Warren G. Harding) were widely believed to have been poisoned, but persuasive evidence is lacking in both cases. Altogether, more than one in every three presidents has been the victim of assassination or attempted assassination.

Recently, a Missouri state legislator, State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, discovered how repugnant the specter of assassination could be when she posted to her Facebook account, “I hope Trump is assassinated.” Public outcry was immediate and almost uniformly excoriating. She was removed from all her legislative committee posts amid strident calls for her resignation or expulsion from office.


Our bloody history doubtlessly influences our swift denunciation of anyone foolish enough to call down violence against a president. And that is any president, no matter how unpopular, controversial or despised that president may be. It’s a moral judgment, but also a political judgment, that removing a president by other than constitutional remedies are un-American, anti-democratic and wrong.

But, American aversion to political assassination should also be rooted in the compelling lesson from history that even “successful” assassinations usually don’t achieve the assassin’s goals.

Historian Miles Hudson’s book Assassination uses the ideas of sociologist Alfred Hirschman to explain why…

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