Democrats may be horrified by today’s attempted massacre of the GOP House baseball team by an avowed progressive, but their incendiary demands for “massive resistance” since November have been an open plea for the escalation of words into violent action. The daily repetition that President Trump is an illegitimate usurper who stole the election through collusion with foreign powers has been a hypnotic incantation in search of an Oswald: a siren call for an assassin.
We don’t have to look too hard to find extremist rhetoric from influential people whose appeals for violence are only partially veiled. In March, former attorney general Loretta Lynch made a brief video in which she called for people “who see our rights being assailed, being trampled on and even being rolled back” to follow the example of freedom fighters of the past. “They’ve marched, they’ve bled and yes, some of them died. This is hard. Every good thing is. We have done this before. We can do this again.” The Senate Democrats shared Lynch’s call for street action leading to bloody sacrifice on their Facebook page.
At the Women’s March on Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration, Angela Davis’s appeal for militancy was met with cheers. “Over the next months and years we will be called upon to intensify our demands for social justice to become more militant in our defense of vulnerable populations,” announced Davis, who in 1970 bought the shotgun used two days later to murder a judge. “Those who still defend the supremacy of white male hetero-patriarchy had better watch out,” she concluded. At the same event, pop legend Madonna spoke about her fantasies of “blowing up the White House.”
Liberals frequently complain that conservatives disseminate propaganda to their secretly racist supporters via “dog whistle” tactics, which send the desired message in coded language or gestures. The same liberals have dispensed with high-frequency whistles in favor of a simpler message: “Treason!” Following the now-debunked February 14 New York Times report that Trump’s campaign had been in direct contact with Russian agents before the election, a late-night host commented, “It’s funny because it’s treason.” Comedian Rosie O’Donnell led an anti-Trump rally outside the White House, declaring, “He is going down and so will all of his administration. The charge is treason.”
Joy Behar, host of The View, has claimed that the president’s allegiance to the Kremlin is treasonous, but she is also concerned about his work on behalf of Islamic State caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. “Do you think,” mused Behar, “that because he is the recruiter-in-chief, and by his words he’s getting more people to go on the side of ISIS, that he could be considered treasonous? I mean, that is against the Constitution, that is against America. That’s a treasonous act in my opinion.” Treason, of course, is a capital crime; the constant reiteration of the charge that Trump is a traitor has supplied the groundwork of justification for political violence.
Reputable figures in the media have normalized radical, violent discourse. Popular television writer/producer David Simon tweeted this week, “If Donald Trump fires Robert Mueller and is allowed to do so, pick up a goddamn brick. That's all that’s left to you.” Writing in The Nation, Natasha Lennard praised street violence as “kinetic beauty,” and Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, exhorted, “Don’t play footsie with proto-fascism. Fucking smash it.” A protestor at a rally in New York City’s Tompkins Square Park held a sign reading, “Hug a refugee (with permission); Punch a Nazi (with precision.)”
Every policy difference, no matter how trivial, has been cast as a matter of life and death. Proposed changes in federal Medicaid reimbursement practices will consign “tens of thousands of people” to early death, according to Senator Bernie Sanders, while rolling back federal guidelines on transgender bathroom signage will cause more teenagers to kill themselves, according to ThinkProgress. Abandonment of the non-enforceable and voluntary Paris Accord on Climate Change will doom the world to “catastrophe” and imminent mass extinction, according to Jill Stein.
In the last few weeks, the violent rhetoric crossed a fever line. CNN personality Kathy Griffin posed deadpan holding a severed and bloody head resembling Donald Trump; on television the next day, she tearfully denounced the many “old white men” who have supposedly bullied her. New York’s venerable Shakespeare in the Park is currently performing a modern-dress version of Julius Caesar, in which a Trump-qua-Caesar character is murdered every night in a particularly bloody and graphic staging.
Following the shooting, liberal Twitter erupted in cynical snark. Op-ed writer Malcolm Harris wondered if the shooter could plead self-defense, in the event he had a pre-existing condition. Sonia Gupta, a Louisiana former prosecutor, counseled her followers not to be too sad about the wounding of Representative Steve Scalise, because “he’s a racist piece of shit and hateful bigot.” David Frum, though not a liberal, reminded us that “the president is the country's noisiest inciter of political violence,” though the violence he has supposedly incited appears to be mostly from the other side.
Trump’s opponents in the media, academia, and politics can pretend that their calls for radical action were meant metaphorically or in a nonviolent sense. But they are the ones who opened this box of fear, panic, and rage. Let them take responsibility for the climate that now exists.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images