Matthew McGowen’s October 9 article in the Cornell Daily Sun about Congressman Tom Reed’s visit to campus emphasized Republican students’ fears about being subjected to social backlash if they wore their MAGA hats on campus. Senator Rand Paul recently said that political divisiveness will lead to “an assassination” and that “someone is going to be killed and that those who are ratcheting up the conversation ... they have to realize that they bear some responsibility if this elevates to violence.” Tom Reed’s website claims that his staff members have been threatened by his opponent, Tracy Mitrano’s, supporters and blamed Representative Maxine Waters for encouraging harassment of public servants. And Republicans are quick to point out the attempted assassination of GOP Representative Steve Scalise in June 2016.
It is time to put Republican claims of perpetual victimhood in context.
First, Congresswoman Waters did indeed tell her supporters to “create a crowd” and “push back” at Trump cabinet officials when they appeared in public and “tell them they’re not welcome”. However, Reed forgot to mention on his website that Waters clarified her position the next day by saying, “I did not call for harm for anybody . . . As a matter of fact I believe in peaceful protest. I believe that protest is at the centerpiece of our democracy. I believe that the constitution guarantees us freedom of speech. And I think that protest is civil.”
Second, Reed has tried to smear Tracy Mitrano by proxy by making exaggerated distorted claims about the actions of a few of her supporters. I have looked closely at his claims and found his twisted association of a Vietnam veteran with a Nazi "flag" to be particularly slimy.
Third, the Instigator-in-Chief of political violence is Donald Trump. He has encouraged violence at his rallies. For example, at a February 2016 rally he said, “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, ok. Just knock the hell — I promise you I will pay for the legal fees, I promise.” And though Trump is fond of accusing Democrats of being an angry mob, these don't look like Democrats to me.
Trump has endangered journalists by calling most of the press “the enemy of the people.” (The phrase "the enemy of the people" was used by Nazis to demonize Jews and by Stalin to attack his political opponents.) He has praised GOP Representative Greg Gianforte for body slamming a reporter.
President Trump praising Rep. Greg Gianforte for body slamming a reporter, a crime for which Gianforte pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault. pic.twitter.com/DS1z3YBE0C
— Axios (@axios) October 19, 2018
Reporter: "Do you regret bringing up, last night at your rally, the assault on a reporter by a Congressman?"
President Trump: "No, not at all ... That was a different league and different world." pic.twitter.com/vHvGbRsMOy
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) October 19, 2018
And he has done what no major American politician has done before—he threatened to lock up his political opponents. He takes great delight when his crowds chant “Lock her up”—mainly about Hillary Clinton, but also recently about Senator Diane Feinstein as well. At a recent rally he referred to Christine Blasey Ford and those who supported her as “really evil people”. Trump has recently tweeted, “Democrats have become too EXTREME and TOO DANGEROUS to govern. Republicans believe in the rule of law - not the rule of the mob.” He also tweeted the anti-Semitic lie that those protesting the Kavanaugh appointment were doing so because they were being paid by George Soros.
You don’t hand matches to an arsonist, and you don’t give power to an angry left-wing mob. Democrats have become too EXTREME and TOO DANGEROUS to govern. Republicans believe in the rule of law - not the rule of the mob. VOTE REPUBLICAN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2018
The very rude elevator screamers are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad. Don’t fall for it! Also, look at all of the professionally made identical signs. Paid for by Soros and others. These are not signs made in the basement from love! #Troublemakers
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 5, 2018
Is it just a coincidence that someone left a bomb in George Soros's mailbox less than three weeks after this tweet?
Fourth: Democrats ARE angry at the illegitimate way Republicans have bullied their way into power and have ruled in bad faith. Voter suppression played a role in the 2016 election and it looks like it will play a role in this one. Todd Allbaugh, a former Chief of Staff for Wisconsin State Senator Dale Schultz, explained why he quit the Republican Party in a 2016 Facebook post.
You wanna know why I left the Republican Party as it exists today? Here it is; this was the last straw: I was in the closed Senate Republican Caucus when the final round of multiple Voter ID bills were being discussed. A handful of the GOP Senators were giddy about the ramifications and literally singled out the prospects of suppressing minority and college voters. Think about that for a minute. Elected officials planning and happy to help deny a fellow American's constitutional right to vote in order to increase their own chances to hang onto power. A vigorous debate on the ideas wasn't good enough. Inspiring the electorate and relying on their agenda being better to get people to vote for them wasn't good enough. No, they had to take the coward's way out and come up with a plan to suppress the vote under the guise of 'voter fraud.' The truth? There was almost none. Oh wait, GOP Speaker Voss' estranged wife voted twice in both Idaho and WI, and a GOP staffer was caught voting twice.
And this year, Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, is blocking 53,000 people, 70% of whom are Black, from registering to vote. This is an especially egregious conflict of interest given that Kemp is running for Governor. The man running for Governor should not be in the position of deciding who gets to vote. And Republicans in North Dakota are trying to suppress the votes of Native Americans by inventing a new rule requiring that voters must have their street addresses on their IDs to be eligible to vote. Rachel Maddow explains:
How do Republicans justify their outrageous voter suppression schemes? The claim that they HAVE to enact such measures to combat wide-scale voter fraud. But the claim that there has been wide-spread voter fraud is itself a fraudulent claim.
Voter suppression only represents the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Democratic grievances against oppressive Republican political ham-handedness. Mitch McConnell started the political thuggery by denying Merrick Garland the opportunity to be considered for the Supreme Court. That was only the beginning. There is good reason to believe that Donald Trump illegitimately colluded with the Russians to steal the election from Hillary Clinton. And if Trump illegitimately stole the election, that makes Trump’s appointment of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court illegitimate as well. And even if we ignore Trump’s questionable legitimacy, the way the White House tied the FBI’s hands to prevent it from conducting a serious investigation into allegations of attempted rape against Kavanaugh proves that the Republicans were more interested in providing political cover for themselves and ramming Kavanaugh through than they were in getting at the truth.
When those who are elected did not achieve power through legitimate means--When people feel the system is tilted against them and they have no real chance of being represented by someone they choose, OF COURSE they are going to be angry. And that's not the only thing Democrats are angry about. They are angry that Republicans have tried to jeopardize their lives by killing the Affordable Care Act and eliminating the requirement that insurers cover pre-existing conditions. Watch the passion that Geoff Ginter demonstrated when he confronted his Congressman, Tom MacArthur, over MacArthur's role in trying to pass a bill that would prevent his wife and children who have life threatening preconditions from getting insurance.
Mr. Ginter was seething with a righteous rage. Fortunately he was eloquent and was able to express his anger in words. There were many thousands of people around the country that shared his rage. Not all of them are as eloquent as Mr. Ginter. Not all of them are as capable of putting their thoughts into words. Not all of them are as rational. Now, imagine some of them lived in a district where their Congressman had won a close race thanks to voter suppression. Imagine what some might do if they think their government was illegitimate. Imagine if some had watched their children die because their apparently illegitimately elected official helped pass a law that prevented them from being able to afford health insurance. America is awash in guns. This is a recipe for disaster.
When people are robbed of the opportunity to have a voice in government because of gerrymandering and voter suppression then they are subjected to taxation without representation. I am not advocating we have a revolution. I hope to God we don't. If we are not careful we could end up looking like Syria. But it is hard not to notice that our Founding Fathers rebelled when they faced taxation without representation. Given the Republican win-at-all-costs-even-if-it -means-installing-an-illegitimate-government attitude, it is surprising that there hasn't been more political violence.
Fifth: Someone has already been assassinated due to political divisiveness. Her name was Heather Heyer. She was murdered by a right-wing extremist at a Neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump did not condemn the racists at the rally and said there were “some very fine people on both sides.”
I don't mean to imply that ALL of the political violence is caused by the right. Antifa has been politically violent, but as Jonathan Chait points out, they are "a fringe sect that views the Democratic party with contempt". And while their actions have been deeply disturbing and while a strong case has been made that they have done more harm than good, it is important to remember that their rise was a natural reaction to a rising White Nationalist movement whose ideology cannot be achieved without violence. Had Donald Trump not sent the message that political violence was acceptable, had he not aligned himself with racists--and make no mistake about it, Trump is a racist-- then Antifa would have remained so obscure that few would have heard about it.
All decent people want to see an end to political violence. But that is unlikely to happen when Republicans use violence by the extreme left to demonize Democrats. It is unlikely to happen until Republicans throughout the Party, ESPECIALLY REPUBLICANS AT THE TOP, thoroughly repudiate racists and White Nationalists. And it is unlikely to happen if Republicans refuse to acknowledge their role in creating the environment which would inevitably lead to the rise of political violence.
Update 10/24/18 8:40 pm: When I posted this article this morning I only knew of one explosive that had been found in George Soros's mailbox. Now it appears that explosive devices have been mailed to Maxine Waters, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, John Brennan c/o CNN, Debbie
Wasserman Schultz, and Andrew Cuomo. These are all people that Donald Trump has attacked. I am now seeing various right wingers on Twitter claiming that the Democrats are responsible for these mail bombs. Their arguments come in two flavors. 1) Democrats had it coming to them for being verbally aggressive against Republicans. They cite Maxine Waters's call for aggressively confronting Trump cabinet member and approval by some Democrats of Antifa's confronting Neo-Nazis with violence. 2) They claim this was a false flag violation. They claim that a Democrat or other left-winger is mailing these bombs to Trump's critics in order to make right-wingers look bad.
Most of this article addresses the first point. The violence was started mainly by the right, with Donald Trump being the main instigator. I wrote a column back in October 2016 predicting that Donald Trump would be an existential threat to our Democracy. I based that column in part on what could be interpreted as a call by Trump in August 2016 to assassinate President Hillary Clinton if she appointed Justices who ruled in favor of gun control. He said, "If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know." This statement, along with Trump's call to lock Clinton up, caused me to fear for my country's future. I called Trump an existential threat to Democracy back then. I stand even more firmly behind that assessment now.
As for the second point-- It is conceivable that these bombs could have been mailed by someone on the left in order to tarnish the reputation of those on the right. It is possible. But it isn't likely. Usually, the most obvious and simplest explanation is correct, and without any supporting evidence for the false flag theory it is best to assume that these bombs were probably mailed by someone on the right who was incited by the venomous rhetoric spewing forth from Trump and other hate mongerers. It is also best to keep an open mind to the possibility this could be the rare instance where the obvious suspect isn't the right suspect (pun intended). It is fine to say that these bombs were probably mailed by a Trump-loving right winger, but we should refrain from definitively pointing our fingers to the right without further evidence.
What we CAN say is that hateful rhetoric coming from Donald Trump has poisoned the environment and made it more likely that attacks like this would be launched against the left. And it isn't just what Donald Trump has said that has poisoned the atmosphere. His failure to thorouhgly and loudly denounce the likes of David Duke and the tiki-torch carrying Neo-Nazis has sent a signal, whether intended or not, that violence against minorities and those sympathetic towards minorities will be tolerated. The buck stops at the top, and EVERYONE, especially those on the Right, has a duty to pressure Donald Trump to stop his divisive, hateful rhetoric if they want to prevent violence in the future.
Update 10/28/18: In my previous update I said that packages had been sent to Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Andrew Cuomo. That early report was incorrect. The mail bomber, Cesar Sayoc was caught after sending at least 13 bombs through the mail. One package had been sent to Eric Holder, but it had the wrong address. The return address on the package was Debbie Wasserman Schultz's, so when the package was sent to Wasserman Schultz when it couldn't be delivered to Eric Holder. Others targeted by the pipe bombs include the Clintons, Barack Obama, George Soros, John Brennan c/o CNN, Maxine Waters, Robert Dinero, Joe Biden, Cory Booker, James Clapper, Kamala Harris, and Tom Steyer. Surprise, Surprise, Cesar Sayoc was a superfan of Donald Trump's.