So, now we know who was allegedly behind the attempted pipe bomb attacks against various and sundry Democrats in media and politics: a crazy 56-year-old guy with a long criminal history, a shocking number of pro-Trump bumper stickers on his van, and an inglorious record of criminal threats against various Democrats on his social media.
Here’s a picture of Crazy Guy’s van:
So, he’s a Crazy Guy. There has always been an inverse proportionality between sanity and the number of bumper stickers on your van.
Nonetheless, we’re now having a national conversation about issues unrelated to the Crazy Guy. That’s because the media are fully invested in finding a way to blame President Trump for Crazy Guy, even though he’s a Crazy Guy.
So, some thoughts.
1. Politicians Are Not Responsible For Inciting Violence Unless Their Rhetoric Amounts To Incitement. Naturally, the media excitedly reported that because this particular Crazy Guy happened to be a huge Trumpster, that means that President Trump’s rhetoric was responsible for Crazy Guy sending pipe bombs through the mail. They made no similar argument regarding the Congressional baseball shooter last year – an enormous Bernie Sanders fan who began firing at Republicans while shouting, “This is for health care!” just weeks after Sanders stated that Republican health care plans would kill millions of Americans. Neither Trump nor Sanders are responsible for crazy people doing crazy things. I said so in 2017 with regard to Sanders; I said so in 2016 with regard to Barack Obama; I agree with me now.
2. Some Political Rhetoric Is More Closely Connected With Incitement Of Particular Violence Than Other Political Rhetoric. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) blamed President Trump for the bombing attempts pre-emptively, before knowing who the suspect was. She stated, “I think the president of United States should take responsibility for the kind of violence that we are seeing for the first time in different ways.” This is the same Maxine Waters who, just months ago, suggested, “if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they're not welcome anymore, anywhere.” It’s not too aggressive to state that Waters’ rhetoric may have incited mob confrontations against Republican politicians. And for what it’s worth, I said the same about President Trump’s hot talk about punching protesters – when Trump said he might pay the legal bills for a man who sucker-punched a protester, that looked like incitement to punch protesters. But Waters isn’t responsible for nut cases sending Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) ricin, and Trump isn’t responsible for attempted bombings. Not all incitement is incitement to attempted murder.
3. Treating Right-Wing Rhetoric And Left-Wing Rhetoric Differently Leads To More Polarization. We should all be worried about the political climate right now. It does inspire more fringe people to act in crazy ways. But there is a difference between inspiration and incitement. And it’s also important to recognize that one of the ways you can heat up a political climate is by blaming one side alone for that political climate. Let’s take at face value the Left’s argument that Crazy Guy was inspired by Trump’s hatred for the media, and his constantly overheated rhetoric. Based on the evidence, it’s also true that Crazy Guy was inspired by the media’s hatred for Trump, and their constantly overheated rhetoric. Just because Crazy Guy was crazy doesn’t mean the media have acted responsibly for the past several years, just as Crazy Guy’s craziness doesn’t mean Trump has. It turns out that it’s bad when President Trump targets and lies, and it is also bad when Leftists target and lie. Reactionary idiocy on all sides is more likely to heat up the climate, cudgeling people into either evidence-free "FALSE FLAG!" insanity or evidence-free "TRUMP IS HITLER!" insanity. If you wish to reduce the temperature of our political climate, everybody has to stop blowing hot air.
4. Conflating Overheated Rhetoric And Violence Is A Dangerous Game, Too. Worrying about the political climate is worthwhile. Conflating overheated rhetoric with incitement is dangerous. For years, we’ve been watching as campus radicals suggest that speech is violence, and use that as an excuse to participate in actual violence. If we want a free country, we’re going to have to tolerate abrasive speech, nasty speech, speech we don’t like. Speech isn’t violence, and speech isn’t responsible for violence unless it calls for violence. As I wrote yesterday:
[I]n terms of mental health, the American body politic is like a series of concentric circles: a core of mentally healthy people who won’t commit political violence no matter what, a larger group of people who can easily distinguish heated rhetoric from violently inciting rhetoric, and a very small fringe of people, often mentally ill, who could react violently to heated rhetoric. Our law and morality has never held that rhetoric’s effect on that small fringe outweighs the actual content or intent of the speech. To do so would be to attack the core of speech.
Unfortunately, things are about to get worse, not better. These rather common sense observations are likely to be ignored by both sides. Partisans will continue to suggest that overheated rhetoric from the other side – and only the other side – is responsible for violence. And so we’ll continue to spiral downward, maintaining our own virtuous rectitude and the other side’s violent evil all the while.