Donald Trump’s hair-trigger venom is just a taunt away

As Donald Trump continues to gather supporters by the bushel, it has become all too clear that this preening New Yorker whom we laughed at for decades might have the last nasty laugh on us.

Not only does it appear that Trump will be the Republican presidential nominee, but the latest Real Clear Politics poll average shows Trump less than 3 points behind Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump has always been humorous, though often inadvertently. Even Democrats chuckled at his New York-style takedowns of such bumbling politicians as former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (“he puts on glasses so people think he’s smart”).

Like any great entertainer, Trump can make us laugh or cry. But when he threatens to do the latter to anyone who dares protest at his events, it turns into something far from humorous. As a protester was ejected from one of his rallies, Trump told attendees, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” A man with a “Veterans to Trump: End Hate Speech Against Muslims” sign heard Trump bellow, “Get him the hell out!” Supporters jeered the veteran as he was removed.

Free speech is a bedrock of our democracy. But when the words include criticism of him, legitimate or otherwise, the thin-skinned Trump turns venomous.

A disturbing pattern has emerged of Trump appealing to the worst instincts of his followers, whether the target be protesters or minorities. At one rally, Trump did a mocking, cruel imitation of disabled New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski.

But it’s not only at the candidate’s events that bullying and ugliness reign.

When Republican political strategist Cheri Jacobus mildly criticized Trump for skipping an Iowa debate, he went after her with a vengeance on Twitter, calling her a rejected job seeker and “a dummy.”

According to the Times, Trump’s Twitter followers quickly took his cue, hurling vile names and vulgar photographs her way.

After the protester Trump said he’d like to punch in the face was escorted out to taunts, Trump told supporters he longed for the “old days” when “guys like that” would be “carried out on a stretcher.”

Which old days? 1938 Germany?

Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.