Does Violent Rhetoric Beget Violence? Only if the Victims Are Democrats
It is an article of faith -- indeed, a religious tenet -- that the mailing of bomb-like packages to prominent Democrats is the result of Donald Trump's violent rhetoric. No other explanation is possible. No other explanation is accepted. Any attempt to point out anything different brings an avalanche of ridicule, criticism, and hysterical denunciations of conspiracy mongering.
The link between political rhetoric and political violence is tenuous. There is little scientific basis for such a link, although there are correlations that are interesting.
In fact, considering all of Trump's threats, his approval of violent actions, his accusations that the media are the "enemy of the people," his insults, and his hints of dark forces conspiring against him, how come there hasn't been a tsunami of bombs sent to Democrats? How come this recent rash of bomb threats is the exception rather than the rule?
Therein lies the conundrum for those trying to link Donald Trump's violent, despicable rhetoric with actual acts of violence. How come some of the president's rhetoric triggers violence and other, equally disgusting rhetoric doesn't? If some rhetoric leads to violence, shouldn't there at least be a strong correlation when looking at Trump's threats and Democrats under attack?
No doubt it makes for good politics to link the president's unbalanced language to potentially violent acts. Blaming Trump and Republicans for their hateful rhetoric triggering a violent response to angelic Democrats who are only speaking truth to power may tip some races to the Democrats when midterm voting has ended.
But it is the media coverage of the bomb threats that shows why the press and the Democrats trying to link rhetoric to action has a cynical, partisan bent.
Here is an opinion article on the liberal site Vox that appeared in the aftermath of the shooting of GOP Rep. Steve Scalise last June.
The headline says a lot: "Blaming heated political rhetoric' is the most useless response to a shooting."
It’s natural to search for political motivations when politicians are shot. The rush to blame political rhetoric for inciting violence is a particularly Washingtonian reflex. It costs nothing to demand more politeness in politics. There is no way to measure it. And as history proves, such appeals are quickly forgotten.
But to accuse others of “political rhetorical terrorism,” as Rep. Rodney Davis did on Wednesday, is nothing more than a political ploy itself — an attempt to use a tragedy to silence opponents.
Oh, really? As bad as all that then?
"Quickly forgotten"? Perhaps in the case of the Scalise shooting. But with just 12 days until the midterm elections, you can bet the media and Democrats will be stoking this story for all it's worth.
What's more, the news stories themselves, as written in most major media outlets, never fail to mention the rhetoric = political violence charge against Trump, usually right up front. It's written as fact, not speculation.
Contrast the way the news is being reported today with the careful, cautious attempts to link the shooter in the Scalise shooting to politics.
Hodgkinson, an ardent supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, also made no effort to hide a simmering contempt for Republican politics.
In a series of 2012 letters to the local Belleville News-Democrat, the gunman offered scathing critiques of GOP policies, focusing largely on tax issues.
"I have never said 'life sucks,' only the policies of the Republicans,'' he wrote on Aug. 28, 2012.
The next month, he cited the MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show as one of his favorite television programs, adding that a recent show had highlighted the contributions of 17 wealthy donors to the Republican Party.
"These men are trying to buy our country,'' he wrote. "You know they expect something for all this money. That something is that (then-GOP presidential candidate) Mitt Romney and a Republican Congress won't raise their taxes.''
Note the lack of effort to connect Hodgkinson's politics to his violence. It's barely hinted at. The mention of Sanders is pro forma as is the mention of far-left Rachel Maddow, whose own rhetoric toward Republicans is far from civil.
Hillary Clinton's call for incivility directed toward Republicans goes far beyond the normal give and take of political combat. It is an invitation to carry out violent acts against the Democrats' political enemies. And while many honorable people on both sides of the political divide condemned Mrs. Clinton for her rhetoric, few on the left took notice of the spate of vandalism and threats against Republicans that occurred in the immediate aftermath of her comments.
Donald Trump's disgusting rhetoric should be condemned for what it is, not what it might or might not incite. Extremists on both sides do not need the "excuse" of Trump's rhetoric, or the rhetoric of Mrs. Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Maxine Waters, or Hollywood actors to violently attack the opposition.
Only partisans and a biased media need the meme that violent rhetoric leads to violent acts to score political points with the voters.