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When Donald Trump Met Hannibal Lecter

How many of your acquaintances have been eaten by an immigrant who crossed the U.S. border illegally? How many such cases have you read or heard about?

I’m going to go out on a limb — the botanical kind, not the sort that a cannibal might call dinner — and guess zero. I’m also going to guess that a few of you are wondering if I’ve lost my mind. It’s the right worry, directed at the wrong person.

Donald Trump is the one who should be drawing your concern.

Although he has always allowed himself the loopiest of digressions, frequently babbled pure nonsense and found metaphors in strange and sinister places, a new oratorical preoccupation of his suggests a doubling of the bats in his belfry.

On numerous occasions, including a speech last weekend in Wildwood, N.J., Trump has swerved from the accusation that other countries are dumping criminals and institutionalized psychiatric patients on us to mentions of the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter, a.k.a. Hannibal the Cannibal. You know, from “The Silence of the Lambs.” The character who once ate the liver of an impertinent census worker “with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” A role that won Anthony Hopkins an Oscar.

Trump is apparently implying that illegal immigration puts such monsters in our midst. But the “apparently” in that last sentence bears a load heavier than Atlas’s, because Trump’s remarks in New Jersey grew odder even than that lurid specter. After introducing Lecter, Trump celebrated him — as if he were a real person, as if we should be impressed by his hunger. Here’s Trump:

Where to begin? In that scene, “this poor doctor” is being marked for murder and mastication, so where do the “congratulations” come in? Heck, why not “bon appétit”? And in the novels and movies that have featured Lecter, he has never died, so why is he “late” (not to mention “great”)? If Trump is being sarcastic, well, that doesn’t come through, and if he’s doing some MAGA version of stand-up, well, it stinks. Besides which, the staccato sentences, the free association: They constitute something much less controlled, and they raise doubts about Trump’s very coherence.

That should be getting more serious attention than it is.

Trump’s legal travails and courtroom antics have to some extent obscured his performances on the stump, where his overwrought descriptions of the United States as a wasteland besieged by crime and overrun by migrants have traveled far beyond the “American carnage” of his 2017 inauguration speech, and where his proposed remedies have grown more severe. “Very simply, if you rob a store, you can fully expect to be shot as you are leaving that store,” Trump told one crowd late last year. He was speaking not of some multimillion-dollar bank heist. He was referring to shoplifters.

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