Fred LaSor: Violence in politics: We all lose
Seven months after the November election the only political yard sign remaining in my neighborhood reads “Trump: a national disgrace.” In the eight months since Trump won his party’s nomination, that same property has displayed a variety of signs attacking the president personally, not his policies. The signs have criticized his family, his supposed ties to Russia, and his business links. Following the attack on Republican congressmen in Virginia, I have to wonder if that neighbor will consider following the example of James Hodgkinson, the shooter who injured four people on the ballfield.
I wonder if my neighbor is as consumed by hate as the shooter, and convinced by Democrat talking points the last few remaining miles of the Dakota Access pipeline will poison water for millions, or that transforming Obamacare will kill 28 million Americans, or that dropping out of the Paris agreement will end life on Earth. That is the nature of political debate in America today; not “vote for my candidate because he will bring jobs to Middle America,” rather “don’t vote for your candidate because he is evil, hateful, has ugly hair, and bad kids.”
We need to ask if this is where we’re headed: to personal violence because political parties rely on hate speech to polarize the electorate. Will inaugurations from now on be followed by a counter-march that features violence, knitted pink hats, and hateful speeches by Hollywood actresses? Will terrorists calling themselves “anti-fa” (anti-fascists) continue to trash private businesses and banks because their candidate lost?
Much of the constant media campaign against Trump has been created for fundraising purposes. Several fundraising emails were sent out immediately after the shooting in Virginia. But this long-standing tradition has grown constantly more repulsive and uncivil. Bernie Sanders made a speech in the Senate the day of the baseball shooting criticizing the shooter, who had once worked on Sanders’ campaign. But don’t forget Sanders also sent out a fundraising letter following the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords six years ago, blaming that shooting on a climate of hate fomented by Sarah Palin.
The Virginia shooter has been called mentally unstable. But he wasn’t crazy; he was angry, just as my neighbor is angry. It’s an anger that too often simmers with violent fantasies, and sometimes boils over. If the resulting violence involves the use of firearms we can count on leading Democrats to speak out against the easy availability of guns in America even though millions of American gun owners go a lifetime without engaging in this hateful violence. There’s another problem here; not gun ownership.
Criticism of President Trump’s policies barely skirts dangerous territory that incites the kind of violence we saw in Virginia. We heard calls for impeachment within a month of the election, there were charges of collusion with Russians which seven months of investigation have failed to prove, there was an anti-Trump “women’s march” on inauguration day, and Hollywood stars and newspaper columnists have maintained a constant barrage against Trump, his family, his staff, his nominations, and his party. Each example of criticism is more outrageous than the last: Kathy Griffin famously published a photo this month of her holding a severed head that looked like Trump’s.
All of which isn’t to say we should cancel the First Amendment. I’m the last person to suggest that. Rather, we should expect our leaders to demonstrate greater civility and self-restraint. We should expect our political parties to avoid negative messaging, even though it cuts their fundraising. We should affirm politics isn’t a zero sum game, where one side wins only when the other loses. Under that theory, we all lose.
Fred LaSor recognizes that politics is often a contact sport, but thinks it should be otherwise.