After two stories about terrorism in two weeks – one, a nutcase sending pipe bombs to various Democratic figures, and the other, a white supremacist murdering 11 Jews at a synagogue in Pittsburgh – the media narrative has been set: this is all about rhetoric. Inflammatory rhetoric must be to blame for radicalization, the argument goes. Furthermore, the only true inflammatory rhetoric is rhetoric emanating from the mouth of President Trump and his allies. Thus, the execrable Paul Krugman writes in The New York Times:
All of these hate crimes seem clearly linked to the climate of paranoia and racism deliberately fostered by Donald Trump and his allies in Congress and the media. … There’s a straight line from Fox News coverage of the caravan to the Tree of Life massacre.
Not satisfied to peg Republican rhetoric for violent actions Republicans have never incited, Krugman then drops the hammer: the only bad actors are Republicans.
So how are Trump apologists dealing with this ugly picture? Partly through denial, pretending not to see any link between hateful rhetoric and hate crimes. But also through attempts to spread the blame by claiming that Democrats are just as bad if not worse. Trump supporters try to kill his critics? Well, some Trump opponents have yelled at politicians in restaurants! ... The fact is that one side of the political spectrum is peddling hatred, while the other isn’t. And refusing to point that out for fear of sounding partisan is, in effect, lending aid and comfort to the people poisoning our politics. Yes, hate is on the ballot next week.
One side, Krugman argues, is clean as the driven snow; the other is the font of all evil. That’s also the perspective of CNN’s Don Lemon, who stated just 24 hours ago that Democrats have never committed a terrorist act: “I don’t see Democrats killing people because of political – yeah, maybe democratic operatives who are out there … There is no equivalence there!”
Literally last year, a Democratic fan of Bernie Sanders shot up a Congressional baseball game and almost murdered House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) while shouting about healthcare, shortly after Sanders informed the public that Republican healthcare plans would kill millions. Within the past few years, we’ve seen politically-motivated riots in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charlotte, all urged on by radical Leftist rhetoric. We've seen open street battles involving Antifa, a far-Left violent group. A Leftist who hated the police murdered six Dallas police officers and injured nine others. Within the past 48 hours, someone – presumably of the Left – shot the window of a Volusia County Republican field office.
It’s true that violent, inflammatory rhetoric can lead to radicalization among a small minority of the population; such rhetoric is not to blame for violence, whether it emanates from the mouth of Donald Trump or whether it emanates from the mouth of Barack Obama.
But there’s another element to radicalization: gaslighting. It turns out that people can radicalize when they are lied to and about. Telling people not to believe their lying eyes makes them more likely to engage in extreme rhetoric, less likely to engage in decent conversation, more likely to raise the temperature. And that increased temperature makes fringe radicals more likely to engage in violence.
And mainstream actors on the Left are involved in just such a process.
To remind Americans that the rhetoric on all sides is far too inflammatory is not “whataboutism.” It is to reiterate basic fact. There is simply no question that the Left has indeed been involved in promoting and exacerbating extreme rhetoric, up to and including the greenlighting of violence.
And some of those currently involved in gaslighting the Right have been the chief promulgators of that rhetoric. Don Lemon himself said yesterday that he wanted to avoid demonization, and then proceeded to explain that the country needed to crack down on white men.
So, we have to stop demonizing people and realize the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right. And we have to start doing something about them.
Lemon has defended the violent group Antifa, simply noting “No organization is perfect.”
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) said last week that President Trump “should take responsibility” for the bomb threats; this is the same Maxine Waters who called the LA Riots an “uprising” and called for Republican public officials to be confronted every place they went. Julia Ioffe of GQ has targeted President Trump for his extreme rhetoric – and then she went on CNN and said that Trump had radicalized more people than ISIS.
Vice President Joe Biden urged Americans to vote for politicians of "character," meaning Democrats. This is the same Joe Biden who once suggested that Mitt Romney wanted to re-enslave black Americans.
The political temperature is too high. It’s too high because reactionaries on both sides – yes, both sides – are lashing out at one another, while steadfastly refusing to look in the mirror. For rhetorical de-escalation to take place, somebody has to be the adult in the room. So far, though, nobody seems willing to take any measure of responsibility for toning things down. Far better to shout and scream at the opposition, castigating them as brutal liars and incipient terrorists. Surely that will fix things.