Let it be said right now: Protest, even strident, loud and in-your-face political protest, is not the same as sending bombs to the homes of former presidents in what can only be characterized as assassination attempts.
We’ve already seen some people saying in response to the mail bombs sent to prominent opponents of President Donald Trump that the rhetoric on “both sides” has gotten out of control and everyone needs to tamp it down. These claims have been made not just by GOP hucksters like Sen. Ted Cruz but even by Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Those who promote or engage in violence and assassination attempts should be harshly criticized and certainly brought to justice. But that doesn’t mean all protests and political rhetoric need to be tamped down. Any moral equivalence to nonviolent, passionate protest is an attempt to silence dissent. Trump is already trying to use these frightening terrorist attacks to do that.
Responding to the attempted bombing attacks in a Wisconsin rally Wednesday night, he blamed “all sides” and said we should no longer “compare political opponents to historical villains,” clearly an attempt to halt comparisons of him to dictators and fascists of history.
On Twitter, Trump blamed the media for bringing the violence on itself and others this week, seemingly threatening more violence if outlets don’t stop “false reporting,” a tweet that can be taken as a direct encouragement to the terrorist or terrorists to continue what they’re doing.
I said this a year and a half ago and again four months ago, and I’ll say it again now: Protest politicians everywhere they go. That includes at lunch, at dinner, outside their homes, at their public offices. Vigorous ― peaceful ― protest is the cornerstone of every movement for social change.
It’s an exercise of the First Amendment, and it works: If two sexual assault survivors didn’t confront Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) in an elevator, loudly conveying their concerns about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the vote on the nomination wouldn’t have been put off. While it didn’t stop the rampaging Republicans from eventually putting Kavanaugh on the court, it allowed more time for more people to think about it and to see the recklessness of the GOP hellbent on hijacking the Supreme Court, ordering a sham investigation and throwing by the wayside the highly credible Christine Blasey Ford.
Protest doesn’t have to be polite, nor for that matter civil. In fact, that certainly isn’t appropriate when those being protested have engaged in horrendous actions, stripping people of their rights or separating parents from their children at the border. However, incivility ― defined as “rude or unsociable behavior” ― doesn’t mean being violent.
Trump and Republicans will try to use this moment to silence their critics, making a false equivalence between protesting and the promotion of violence.
Trump promotes violence. He’s surely uncivil but he is also a promoter of brutality and hostile behavior. He supports violence as a means to shut down the speech of others and intimidate his opponents and the press that covers him. He’s made that clear at rally after rally over several years now. Just a week ago, he lauded GOP Congressman Greg Gianforte for “body-slamming” a reporter, breaking The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs’ glasses and sending him to the hospital for X-rays.
It seems like the entire leadership of the Republican Party now tacitly approves of Trump’s promotion of violence. We’re not even seeing perfunctory condemnations of Trump’s attacks anymore ― just silence from Senate and House leaders.
As usual, Trump supporters are grasping at straws in trying to excuse Trump’s behavior by saying Democrats do the same thing. They throw out Antifa, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and former Attorney General Eric Holder in making weak, idiotic comparisons.
The anti-fascist group Antifa, which actually doesn’t consider itself left or right, has no connection to the Democratic Party nor have any of its leaders been invited to speak before Democrats (as Proud Boys’ Gavin McInnes, a man who promotes violence as a means of political battle, was invited to speak before Republicans two weeks ago). Democrats have condemned violence of all kinds against all people, including the horrific shooting in which GOP House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was seriously wounded during a baseball practice of GOP members of Congress by a man who appeared to have a political grievance.
You cannot find any Democratic leader starkly promoting violence like Trump does. Congresswoman Maxine Waters ― one of the Democrats targeted with two mail bombs this week, one sent to her office in Washington, the other to her office in Los Angeles ― encouraged people to protest stridently and passionately after the brutal Trump administration policy of separating children from their parents at the border was exposed. When some twisted her call for Trump officials to “steel yourself” for public confrontations, she clarified immediately that she meant protest and nothing violent.
Protest does’t have to be polite, nor for that matter civil. However, incivility doesn’t mean being violent.
When former Attorney General Eric Holder said we need to rework Michelle Obama’s famous line to say, “When they go low, we kick them,” he quickly explained, after GOP faux outrage, that he meant it as a figure of speech ― such as when I say Democratic Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum “wiped the floor” with Congressman Ron DeSantis, his Republican opponent, in a debate this week.
And when Hillary Clinton recently said, “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for,” she not only was right but she, too, wasn’t talking about violence.
The moral equivalence being drawn between protests and the assassination attempts on Democrats including former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, former first lady Michelle Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is not only ludicrous but dangerous.
As I said, we’re not obligated to be polite, nor civil, especially with people who are engaging in reckless behavior. And we certainly shouldn’t be civil with people promoting, condoning or looking the other way of violence ― which the Republican Party appears to be doing this week.
Trump and Republicans will try to use this moment to silence their critics, making a false equivalence between protesting and the promotion of violence. Progressives’ response must be to protest even more vigorously.