What does "Although the Second Amendment people" mean?

52

6

I don't quite understand what Donald Trump just said, especially the phrase in bold:

"Hillary wants to abolish—essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know," (Source.)

haile

Posted 2016-08-10T05:33:40.257

Reputation: 2 214

9@jcast Indeed, I've downvoted the question. Trying to understand Trump's stream of consciousness when he speaks extemporaneously is tough enough for a native English speaker. For those trying to learn it as a second language, the task is virtually impossible. – Monty Harder – 2016-08-10T15:48:50.733

50

@MontyH - You have the right to downvote, of course, but, in my opinion, that's a pretty rash reason to do so. Whether you like Trump or detest him, people ought to be able to inquire about excerpts of campaign speeches if they have trouble understanding the meaning – so long as the question is truly about understanding the English, and stays away from underlying political implications (there's another SE site for that).

– J.R. – 2016-08-10T16:23:11.960

About the Lock on this post: 20 flags is enough. Sorry, but it's time to move on. – J.R. – 2016-08-22T21:50:59.547

Answers

87

Many analysts, across the spectrum of political belief, claim that Mr Trump engages here in what is termed dog whistle political speech. In the same way that a dog whistle produces a tone which is audible to a dog but not to a human, dog whistle rhetoric carries a specific meaning which is clearly understood by the targeted audience, but which is sufficiently ambiguous that listeners outside of that targeted audience will not perceive it as they do.

In this case, the targeted audience is assumed by these analysts to comprise those Americans who believe that the Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is planning secretly to deprive them of their rights under the second amendment to the United States Constitution, which prevents the government from infringing upon their right "to keep and bear arms."

The aforementioned analysts deduce that the candidate here infers that the Second Amendment people (Americans who zealously defend that right and who own firearms) may be able to punish Ms Clinton should she be elected to the Presidency and succeed in her alleged plot to appoint Supreme Court justices who would somehow revoke the Second Amendment. Implicit in their deduction is the unsupported belief that the Second Amendment people are willing to employ violence in defense of their rights under that amendment. The dog whistle in their analysis is the unspoken threat that this punishment will be effected with firearms: that she (or the Supreme Court justices whom she might appoint) will be shot.

Mr Trump and his supporters rejoin that he intended to imply nothing of the sort, and that his statement was merely an admonition to vote against Ms Clinton.

P. E. Dant

Posted 2016-08-10T05:33:40.257

Reputation: 9 002

22Is there any evidence to support your claim that "the majority of analysts" believe he is calling people to arms to shoot the Democrat nominee? – mikeazo – 2016-08-10T14:15:39.240

17Why do you assume he meant "she will be shot", and not that the "Second Amendment People" will vote for Trump, keep her from attaining office, and thwart this result? – Keeta – 2016-08-10T14:23:47.607

1I would assume it's Hillary's nominees for the Supreme Court who would be assassinated, not her – Jonathan Cast – 2016-08-10T14:30:34.733

61@Keeta Because that interpretation is honestly akin to interpreting "put it where the sun don't shine" as "you'd better keep that in a well-closed box, dear". – oerkelens – 2016-08-10T15:38:04.147

6@mikeazo When even analysts at Fox opine that "it was awkwardly phrased," and when even Paul Ryan characterizes the statement as "a joke gone bad," (fsvo "joke") then I think we can assume that a majority hold that view. Nevertheless, your point is valid. – P. E. Dant – 2016-08-10T17:57:34.630

7@Keeta From the time perspective of Mr Trump's statement, the judges have already been picked. There is no question about this. What puzzles me is why his supporters are expending so much effort on this? Most viewers are sharp enough to "get it" on first hearing. The first rule of holes is: "When your head is level with the ground, stop digging." – P. E. Dant – 2016-08-10T18:07:40.103

3Do you honestly believe that saying something is "awkwardly phrased" or "a joke gone bad" means that they believe it is "dog-whistling"? – mikeazo – 2016-08-10T18:33:14.490

@mikeazo Setting aside this particular situation (because, wow), can't something still be a dogwhistle even if not intended by the whistler? If it incites a particular political reaction among the listeners, then I think so. FOX et al might be playing this off as having been unintentional but unfortunate in how it can be construed by their opponents. But I dunno. – underscore_d – 2016-08-10T19:25:58.280

36

@mikeazo I intentionally focussed my answer on the dog whistle device because it has value for a student of English. If the reader imputes political judgment to my answer, I have at least as much plausible deniability as Mr Trump. I have to say, though, that at this stage in the proceedings, those who hold that his statement was an innocent call to vote are in the minority. Even the Secret Service have met with the campaign over the statement. Are we to assume that they also are mistaken?

– P. E. Dant – 2016-08-10T19:30:10.080

9@vsz My answer intentionalky analyzes only the rhetorical device. However, partisans routinely interpret neurrality only as reflecting a lack of positive reference to their own views. – P. E. Dant – 2016-08-11T06:46:57.267

24Trump said that if Hillary is elected, then the "second amendment people" can still change things. Clearly, what he meant was that the "second amendment" people could go back in time and peacefully encourage people to vote differently.It is a little known fact that the founding fathers also intended the second amendment to cover time machines, and armed with that knowledge, it is clear that Trump was not encouraging violence. – danwyand – 2016-08-11T15:44:26.093

6Holy cow. He simply did what he does best: BEING SNARKY. It is an injustice to "educate" someone about "dog whistles" when it is really simply just a crosswise remark that is made to be amusing. There was no implied threat or hidden message embedded in this. Come on people, quit trying to read too much into things like this. Our nation has become obsessed with absurd notions such these. Do you recall Hillary's comments about staying in the race with Obama back when she was running against him and used the "It's only June" reference to Robert Kennedy's assassination? Was that a dog whistle? – ylluminate – 2016-08-11T19:20:05.907

2@ylluminate Of course it was, and it was extensively covered in the press at that time, just as was Mr Reagan's "strapping young bucks." The Wikipedia article (to which a link is provided in my answer) provides other examples as well. Non-native speakers, though, may not understand this rhetorical device without context and explanation, just as your interjection Holy cow may not be understandable (and may be misunderstood by a Hindi speaker!) This is why I provided the answer. – P. E. Dant – 2016-08-11T19:26:59.260

Much of this conversation has been moved to chat.

– J.R. – 2016-08-13T02:58:00.040

4@ylluminate - it's OK, this poster simply dog-whistled at HIS intended audience who thinks Trump and anyone who likes him are rabid evil people and the worst accusations will easily stick without any shred of proof. – DVK – 2016-08-13T15:54:41.190

2Even the Secret Service have met with the campaign over the statement. That's an argument from authority fallacy if I've ever seen one. – René Roth – 2016-08-14T03:31:44.990

2+1 for reprise of Introduction to Logic (101, Basehart, J. Ricardo, 1993 Hoth, Rinehart Winston) – P. E. Dant – 2016-08-14T04:12:18.123

7@Keeta: Because the "Second Amendment people" were never going to vote for her in the first place. I think it's pretty clear what he meant, given the particular group he decided to specifically name. – Lightness Races in Orbit – 2016-08-14T20:00:17.027

1

I agree @DVK that "this poster" (P. E. Dant) is unable to understand the passage as not being a threat and a threat of a of a certain kind. The comment he left to my answer is his own confession of this.

– Alan Carmack – 2016-08-15T14:11:12.480

1You are trolling, @AlanCarmack and this is your last cookie. My belief is unknown to you, and is not germane in any case. Neither is yours nor anyone's. That is why no judgment is expressed or implied in the answer above regarding whether or not the candidate employed the device. It discusses and attempts to explain only the way in which the device is alleged to have been deployed. If you find any bias in my answer, as I have asked you repeatedly, point it out and I will elide it. My comment to your answer signified that yours merely reprised mine, however circuitously (prior to your edit.) – P. E. Dant – 2016-08-15T21:40:46.117

Shouldn't that last sentence read "..he intended to imply nothing of the sort,..."? – agc – 2016-09-05T00:21:35.277

@agc You're right. Speaker implies, listener infers. – P. E. Dant – 2016-09-05T00:23:47.000

92

The Second Amendment refers to:

The Second Amendment (Amendment II) to the United States Constitution protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms and was adopted on December 15, 1791, as part of the first ten amendments contained in the Bill of Rights.

Loosely speaking, "Second Amendment people" are people who strongly believe, defend, and practice their Second Amendment rights to carry firearms.

Trump claimed that if Clinton gets to pick the judge, that judge would abolish the Second Amendment and there is "nothing you can do". In other words, there would no longer be the right to keep and bear arms in the US. He then said, "Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is". This last part is poorly formed. We can infer some of the missing details and rephrase it as

  1. Although, maybe there is something the Second Amendment people can do. or
  2. Although, maybe the Second Amendment people can do something about it.

With a few more details, it is easier to see why this has been widely interpreted as threatening language. Since the "Second Amendment people" are known for their guns, Trump's statement has been interpreted as a suggestion to them to take their firearms and harm Clinton.

Em.

Posted 2016-08-10T05:33:40.257

Reputation: 37 507

1Thanks. Although I'm a native English speaker, I didn't understand this at all until I read your explanation. – Owen – 2016-08-11T09:30:52.950

7This is a better answer for this site than the one above that's getting all the argumentative comments, because it focuses on the language, not the politics. – Barmar – 2016-08-12T18:02:27.517

2I believe this answer is a breath of fresh air compared to the highly politicized and biased answer that is the currently selected answer, and which is therefore misleading to @haile. I also think it is important to point put that 'Second Amendment People' do not advocate the use of "their guns" to commit illegal actions. If the question were edited to make that point, it would, in my opinion, be more helpful and well-rounded. – Alan Carmack – 2016-08-13T04:04:05.263

1@AlanCarmack Can you cite an instance of bias in my answer? It discusses only the dog whistle rhetorical device as it is alleged to have been employed here, and links only to a Wikipedia article on the same device. The entire answer is rife with usages of alleged and assumed, and intentionally so. Absolutely nowhere in the answer is it asserted that this group advocate the illegal use of firearms. The point is made only that those who allege that the candidate is using the device make such an assertion. Again: please cite a single instance of bias. I think you cannot. – P. E. Dant – 2016-08-13T05:48:29.117

2Also, may I say that it is exceedingly bad form to comment upon a different answer here. The commentary under my answer was moved to chat for a good reason. This sort of thing does no credit to Max, whose own answer analyzes the constructions rather than the rhetorical device, and is, in my estimation, of equal value. – P. E. Dant – 2016-08-13T05:55:07.590

1I'd interpret him as adressing "the Second amendment people" - in the second person, not in the third person; talking a part of his audience, not about someone outside of it. E.g. "There's nothing you can do; although John, maybe there is [something particularly you can do]." which seems a much more well-formed sentence. – Peteris – 2016-08-14T11:44:39.167

1@AlanCarmack I finally have an edit in mind. However, in the interest of neutrality, I'm not entirely comfortable with your suggestion. Instead, I'm more comfortable with something like ""Second Amendment people" does not imply that these people advocate using guns to commit illegal actions." I was wondering what you thought. – Em. – 2016-08-16T08:46:13.250

It seems pretty close to what I said. How do the two statements differ, Max?

– Alan Carmack – 2016-08-16T12:50:39.300

@AlanCarmack I think most would agree that what I proposed seems fair. Those words do not imply what I said. I think there are a significant amount of people that would disagree with what you proposed and say that Second Amendment people do advocate the use of their guns for illegal actions. But I might be overcomplicating things. I guess I could just stick a "broadly speaking" in there, maybe? Also, I was planning on explain how I actually arrived "maybe there is something the Second Amendment people can do". Would that be overkill? – Em. – 2016-08-17T13:13:28.787

1@Max You could say something neutral like "Implicit in their interpretation is the unsupported belief that the Second Amendment people are willing to employ violence in defense of their rights under that amendment." – P. E. Dant – 2016-08-18T00:04:17.550

I can't tell you how to edit your answer... – Alan Carmack – 2016-08-19T04:58:39.887

1This Answer is closer than the Marked Answer. His statement might appear poorly formed unless you are aware that there is still significant support for Second Amendment rights in the Democrat party as well which, when combined with Republican support, could block unsupportive judges. – boatseller – 2016-09-05T03:54:29.433

9

We might as well take a quick look at the grammar of the amendment and of Trump's statement while we're at it.

As you know, the "Second Amendment people" are ardent supporters of the right of the people to bear arms, as set forth here:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Note the absolute clause there: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state". [Modernized punctuation; the comma after "militia" in the original does not change the meaning, and today we would hyphenate well-regulated.] The absolute clause establishes the rationale or basis for the right: to protect its security a free state requires a well-regulated militia. This need is "a given".

By the way, colonial militias maintained detailed lists of their members and of the weapons each man possessed.

When Trump says "Although the Second Amendment people—maybe there is" [sic], he is dropping the word "with", offering us his own absolute construction, presenting us with another "given": "Although, with the Second Amendment people..." which would mean "Although, given how the Second Amendment people are wont to act...".

As Trump might say, he was "just tossing the idea out there".

Tᴚoɯɐuo

Posted 2016-08-10T05:33:40.257

Reputation: 103 853

1If Trump supporters claim that he was absolutely just calling them to vote against Hillary, why does he say "I don't know" at the end? What doesn't he know? It makes it sound like he is "just tossing the idea out there" of a call to violence. – Zack – 2016-08-10T14:53:13.683

6No wish to comment on anything but the grammar. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-08-10T15:19:44.813

Did you actually watch the video of him saying it? Because there is a definite pause after "Although", that makes it sound like he is addressing them directly, not leaving out a word. – Zack – 2016-08-10T15:26:51.377

I did not hear the intonation of direct address. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-08-10T17:41:31.647

2"By the way, colonial militias maintained detailed lists of their members and of the weapons each man possessed." Interesting. – underscore_d – 2016-08-10T19:30:58.557

1@Zack Trump says exactly what he means. Unless he doesn't. But he does if it's something I agree with. But he doesn't if I think it might make Trump look negative. – SGR – 2016-08-11T12:08:53.917

2Some people, when they open their mouth, have a whole sentence planned. Some people, not so much. – Anton Sherwood – 2016-08-12T05:11:06.617

"As you know"?? This is "English Language Learners"--most of the people asking questions will not be from English-speaking countries--which would say they're not Americans. They very well might not know what the Second Amendment even refers to. – Loren Pechtel – 2016-08-14T00:12:36.553

@Loren Pechtel: Yes, "as you know". Answers given before I added this one had already explained what the Second Amendment was, and who the "people" were. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-08-14T02:40:47.763

9

"Maybe there is, I don't know..."

This is the meat of what he was getting at. If his intent was to suggest that supporters of the second amendment should go out and vote, he would have simply said that, as it has no negative connotations. However, in the common vernacular of the US, the phrase "I don't know" used in a context like this is almost certainly a way of saying something he couldn't or shouldn't actually verbalize. What exactly it was that he couldn't verbalize is what's not 100% clear. It's only 95% clear (no source, just opinion) that he was implying that "the second amendment people" when faced with the situation where there would be "nothing [they] can do," that some portion of them would come to the natural (though morbid) conclusion that the only thing they could do would be to shoot Clinton and/or her SCOTUS picks.

JustSayin'

Posted 2016-08-10T05:33:40.257

Reputation: 115

2I feel as though this is the true gist of the joke, of which many choose not to accept-- as you say bury one's head. The 'nothing to do but shoot' is the immediate connotation I had when I heard this statement, though I suppose one could (at great length I assume) construe this to mean else-wise. – scape – 2016-08-10T19:36:59.040

1Or he is suggesting that the "second amendment people" would rise in arms if judges appointed to the Supreme Court by Clinton were to eliminate gun rights. – David42 – 2016-08-11T20:56:51.897

@DavidC He knows who he is pandering to. As this answer says, the second amendment people: the rabid supporters of gun ownership who are marginally supportive of his agenda (not the normal, apolitical gun owners who would have nothing to do with this man.) – Kristopher – 2016-08-12T14:39:31.820

@Kristopher I think the relevant question is, "What do the 'second amendment people' say they will 'do about it'?" Whatever that is, Trump is referring to it. We need reliable sources to answer this question. – David42 – 2016-08-12T15:59:37.163

7

TRomano's answer very briefly touched on the grammatical side of the issue. Nobody else seems to have gone near it. So here's my explanation.

Grammatically, there are several missing elements that are left implied.

I make no judgements on the quality of Trump's speaking. This is a very common way of speaking, particularly in informal situations, and native speakers will be able to "fill in the blanks".

In this case, there do seem to be some different opinions on how to fill in the blanks, but I believe they are a minority. The majority of listeners/readers and commentators seem to agree on the following interpretation:

...if she gets to pick her judges, there is nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people– [sentence cuts off] Maybe there is something the Second Amendment people can do.

Wait, where did I pull "something" from? The implied contrast that takes us from "nothing" to "something" goes like this:

There is not a thing ("is nothing") you can do.

Although [reversing previous statement], maybe there is a thing ("is something").

With the grammar understood, the meaning should follow relatively easily; others have given good explanations of who "Second Amendment people" are and what they might do.

Tim Pederick

Posted 2016-08-10T05:33:40.257

Reputation: 5 002

1When Alan offered a bounty on this question I cringed because it's already generated so much political angst completely unrelated to English. +1 for sticking to the English in a succinct and neutral way. – ColleenV – 2016-08-15T12:43:29.323

6

"Hillary wants to abolish—essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know,"

I just heard this clip now, thanks to your question.

The following following is a natural, apolitical filling-in-the-ellipses left out of the clip. The passage, as I heard it in the video clip you provided, is naturally interpreted as:

Hillary wants to abolish--(that is) essentially abolish--the Second Amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick...{sound of boos in response to first sentence} If she gets to pick her judges {pause} (there is) nothing you can do, folks (to prevent her from "essentially" abolishing the Second Amendment).

{pause} Although (let's not forget the existence of or there is the existence of) the Second Amendment people... (therefore) maybe there is (a way to prevent her from "essentially" abolishing the Second Amendment). I don't know.

This is what the clip says, from a grammatical point of view.

I understand the noun phrase The Second Amendment people to refer to People who support the Second Amendment and would be against abolishing it. In this context, it refers to "people" (including groups) who have made protecting the rights guaranteed in the Second Amendment part of their political stance.

As I have indicated above, the phrase Although the Second Amendment People means, grammatically:

Although (let's not forget the existence of or there is the existence of) the Second Amendment people...

or simply

Although (there are) the Second Amendment people...

or again:

Although the Second Amendment people (exist)...

As the ELL question “exist” vs. “there are” shows, there is basically no difference in meaning when filling in the ellipsis (deleted part) to mean either there are or exist.

Alan Carmack

Posted 2016-08-10T05:33:40.257

Reputation: 11 299

4

Nouns as adjectives

Let's move away from the politics a bit and look at this phrase at face value.

The Second Amendment people

To move even farther from that subject, I'll just use another noun, Milk.

The milk people.

That phrase can have two meanings

  • People who are made out of milk
  • People who advocate milk.

Some examples with other nouns

  • Mud people
  • Lego people
  • Tree people
  • Lizard people
  • Spider people

Each one of these can have the 2 meanings described above. Tree people can be people who are made out of trees or they can be people who are for trees. a.k.a tree-huggers.

But there are also buzzwords.

  • immigration
  • "The Wall"
  • same-sex marriage
  • pro-life / pro-choice (abortion)
  • green (renewable energy)

A person cannot be made of "pro-life", but they can be an advocate for it.

So, when Donald Trump says "Second Amendment" people, you have to ask yourself

Can you be made of The Second Amendment? No.

You now know that he means people who are advocating the 2nd amendment.

dockeryZ

Posted 2016-08-10T05:33:40.257

Reputation: 1 672

2

I think the last bit is a tongue in cheek morbid joke and not any sort of threat or call to arms if she's elected.

The statement that maybe a gun nut will assassinate Hilary if she becomes president doesn't make him more electable so he is not saying "Vote for me or else Hilary will get assassinated".

Maybe he's saying "Vote for me or one of you will have to take it upon yourself to murder her if you want to keep your guns". This is unlikely in my opinion because it just doesn't make sense. Even if the 2nd amendment were completely repealed then the 5th amendment would make it practically impossible for the government to actually collect everyone's guns even if it were a crime to possess them.

I think that referring to people as "Second Amendment people" is derogatory. People that vigorously espouse their 2nd amendment rights don't refer to themselves as "Second Amendment people". He then, albeit subtly, talks about someone killing a US president. People generally don't want to murder others and those that want to kill a US president have to get past the Secret Service to do so. Judging by the way he speaks of this so trivially, I would say he was attempting to make a morbid joke. Of course, making such a morbid joke on purpose would be only a little more acceptable for a presidential candidate than a veiled threat so he couldn't come out and say he was joking either.

Dean MacGregor

Posted 2016-08-10T05:33:40.257

Reputation: 275

So he made a derogatory reference to the very people whose votes he's counting on? – JoeTaxpayer – 2016-08-13T03:48:47.797

@JoeTaxpayer Well yes but most gun enthusiasts don't consider themselves "2nd amendment people" however many of them would recognize that there are crazies who do belong in that camp. It's kind of like how a bunch of poor people will vote against social programs because they don't realize they benefit from them. – Dean MacGregor – 2016-08-15T15:20:00.397

0

It's only "confusing" because apparently no one wants to punctuate it correctly.

[Update: Actually, it seems someone else noticed what I'm about to say, too.]


Of course it doesn't make sense -- it's not even grammatical:

Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.

But try punctuating it correctly, and the meaning becomes clear:

Although... the Second Amendment, people! Maybe there is; I don't know...

He's quite obviously saying that the Second Amendment provides a potential solution, but stopping short of actually explaining what the solution might be, claiming he "doesn't know".

I'm sure your imagination won't have trouble figuring out what that means.


But didn't Trump himself verify there was no comma?!

Don't forget he also "verified" that by "blood coming out of her wherever" he meant Megyn Kelly's face.

Did you believe him there too? Because he became a subject of national ridicule.

Mehrdad

Posted 2016-08-10T05:33:40.257

Reputation: 190

Comments are not for extended discussion; a conversation here has been moved to chat.

– J.R. – 2016-08-16T09:10:01.137