Why Donald Trump ended up praising Hollywood’s most famous cannibal

When Donald Trump is not reading the teleprompter, it’s hard to know what you’re going to get. Perhaps you’ll get the standard angry riffs about the things Trump has been saying he is angry about for the past nine years. Perhaps you’ll get an anecdote about how a big, strong man came up to Trump, tears in his eyes, and thanked the former president — “Sir, thank you!” — for what he did on whatever issue Trump had just talked about.

Or perhaps, as was the case in New Jersey this weekend, you’ll get a bit of praise for the murderous cannibal from the movie “Silence of the Lambs.”

“The late, great Hannibal Lecter is a wonderful man,” Trump said — a sentence that has, it seems safe to assume, never before been uttered by a current or former American president. He prefaced this comment by asking whether anyone had seen the aforementioned movie. It would be safe to assume that perhaps Trump hadn’t, given his description of Lecter as “wonderful,” except that he then made reference to the final scene in the film, in which Lecter is about to murder someone. After mentioning that scene, Trump for some reason offered Lecter his congratulations.

One might justifiably wonder how this subject came up and why. The answer is uncomplicated in the way that Trump’s “sir” stories are.

Trump had just finished describing President Biden as a moron, worse than the 10 worst presidents in U.S. history combined.

“We’re supposed to cherish the office of president,” Trump said. “You don’t do what he did to try and win votes” — that is, serve as president as your predecessor racks up criminal indictments. (Trump frames this as proactive targeting by Biden, of course, but it isn’t.) Then Trump pivoted to his need to win back the White House in November.

“The biggest thing we have is we have millions of people here that are criminals,” he said. “We really — I mean, they’re criminals.”

“Send them back!” someone in the crowd shouted.

“Think of it: Venezuela just announced — and they had a new number was 67 now it’s 72 percent — 72 percent they’re down in crime because they took their gangs, their gang members, they took a lot of their criminals and they moved them into the United States of America,” Trump continued. “Jail populations all over the world are way down and these” — Trump searched for the best word for a moment — “fools back there, the press, the fake news — they don’t want to report it.”

“You know why they’re down?” he continued. “Because they’re sending people in their jails into the United States. From Africa, from Asia, from all over the world. They’re emptying out their jails into the United States.”

The media isn’t reporting that crime in Venezuela is down 72 percent or that countries are emptying their jails into the United States because those things are not true, and we, unlike candidates for the presidency, are duty-bound to present information accurately.

The Venezuela thing was assessed by PolitiFact. The drop in crime was far smaller than Trump suggests because of several factors, including that the poor economy leaves less opportunity for criminals. There is no evidence that the government is sending criminals to the United States, and, in fact, most migration out of Venezuela is to nearby countries.

The idea that other countries, like those in Africa and Asia, are sending prison populations to the United States is more obviously baseless. How does that work, exactly? Not rhetorically, obviously; it’s clear how warnings about non-White people from exotic places are meant to land with the audience. But practically. Streams of 737s taking off from Lagos and landing in Tijuana?

It’s just an exaggeration, pushing the rhetoric further and further. If you accept that the media is lying to you and that there is evidence that Venezuela is shipping people north, then why not take it further? Why not believe, say, that China is building an army inside the United States?

Trump’s exaggerations had not yet peaked, of course.

“They’re emptying out their mental institutions into the United States, our beautiful country,” he continued. “And now the prison populations all over the world are down. They don’t want to report that. The mental institution population is down because they’re taking people from insane asylums and from mental institution — you know what the difference is, right? An insane asylum is a mental institution on steroids.”

Well, the difference really is that the former sounds scarier and more pejorative than the latter, so it has fallen out of favor. But scarier and pejorative is exactly what Trump is going for. And what better way to do that than to remind people of perhaps the scariest resident of a mental institution in American popular culture?

“‘Silence of the Lamb,’” Trump said. “Has anyone ever seen ‘The Silence of the Lambs’?”

And here we go.

“The late, great Hannibal Lecter is a wonderful man,” Trump continued. “He oftentimes would have a friend for dinner. Remember the last scene? ‘Excuse me, I’m about to have a friend for dinner’ as this poor doctor walked by. ‘I’m about to have a friend for dinner.’ But Hannibal Lecter, congratulations. The late, great Hannibal Lecter.”

And that was it. This was all off teleprompter, mind you, so there was no careful tying of the story back to the purported immigrant threat or to some evidence that, say, Thailand had sent the residents of a mental hospital to some swing state. Just a little riff on how scary this one guy from a movie is.

But Trump did put a fine point on the anecdote in the abstract.

“We have people that are being released into our country that we don’t want in our country,” Trump said, again using the baseless verb “released” to imply that it was part of some intentional effort. “And they’re coming in totally unchecked, totally unvetted, and we can’t let this happen. They’re just destroying our country.”

Once again, from the crowd: “Send them back!”

“And we’re sitting back,” Trump continued, “and we better damn well win this election ’cause if we don’t, our country is going to be doomed. It’s going to be doomed.”

It’s all apocalypticism. Everything is a slippery slope, and we’re all nearly at the bottom, all the time, in all ways. This is and has long been Trump’s pitch to voters, either that the United States is doomed because of the current president or (as was offered in 2020) that the collapse will occur imminently should he lose his position. The nuance comes only from how far Trump is willing to take it.

Praising Hannibal Lecter’s cannibalism is further than usual.

Doha Madani

Doha Madani is a senior breaking news reporter for NKY News.

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