It's Time for Democrats to Look in the Mirror
Nancy Pelosi made a startling admission on the floor of the House Wednesday after Speaker Paul Ryan spoke about the shooting attack on Republican members of Congress and staff at a baseball practice: “To my colleagues, you’re going to hear me say something you’ve never heard me say before: I identify myself with the remarks of the speaker.” She was making a light-hearted reference to how unusual it is for her to agree with the leader of the Republican majority. She looked around as she delivered the line, expecting a laugh.
It would be better if she instead looked in a mirror and considered how a culture of vilification she helped to create may have motivated that morning’s attacker. James T. Hodgkinson, the man who died after a shootout with Alexandria, Va., and Capitol Police officers, has been described by neighbors, acquaintances and at least one friend as a “mellow” guy who was politically active but in control. He campaigned for presidential contender Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary. But somewhere along the line, his outlook started to go off the rails and he joined various anti-GOP Facebook groups, including "Terminate the Republican Party"; "The Road to Hell Is Paved With Republicans"; and "Join the Resistance Worldwide!!"
It’s easy to see how Hodgkinson’s anger at Republicans might have been fed by a steady diet of toxic hyperbole dished up by progressives. It’s trendy now to frame disagreement with Trump’s agenda as “resistance.” The term evokes the French Resistance in World War II that carried out sabotage and assassinations. It implies that the properly elected president of the United States is the head of an illegitimate regime akin to North Korea’s or Syria’s. Such provocative, self-indulgent language may make those who voted for Hillary Clinton feel better, but it may also encourage someone like Hodgkinson to take the “resistance” to the next level.
Rachel Maddow, one of the shooter’s heroes, according to his Facebook page and a letter he wrote to the editor of the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat, accused then-presidential aspirant Donald Trump of deliberately inciting violence in what she called tinderbox cities. Maddow was talking about Trump’s campaign comments that protesters were bad people and his promises to pay the legal bills of supporters who might get into trouble for ejecting them from rallies. Such language from the candidate may not have been wise. Yet where was the concern from media figures or politicians on the left five years earlier when progressive group The Agenda Project released a political ad depicting a Paul Ryan look-alike pushing a distressed elderly woman off a cliff in a wheelchair? The meaning was clear: The party of elephants will murder you if they are allowed to have power. Vote for a donkey or die.
The theme that Republicans are out to get people has been the Democratic narrative for quite some time. In 2012, President Obama’s re-election campaign prominently featured an angry former steelworker who essentially blamed Mitt Romney for his wife’s death from cancer. The timeline in the widower’s story didn’t really hold up – the steelworker’s wife died several years after the steel plant in question closed down – but that discrepancy didn’t bother the Democrats. Two years later, the central campaign message of the 2014 midterm elections was that the GOP was waging a “war on women.”
That’s a word choice with consequences. Historically speaking, “war” involves actual killing, and lots of it, and is caused by disagreements over policy, territory, and irreconcilable national aspirations. Again, the implication was not subtle. If you are a woman or related to one, voting for a Republican is tantamount to approving genocide.
At least one man took the left at its word. Before James T. Hodgkinson opened fire on Republicans practicing for a charity ballgame, he asked Reps. Ron DeSantis and Jeff Duncan if the players on the field were Republicans or Democrats. Having been told for years that the former are and perpetuate evil, he took matters into his own hands.
The fact that it took an unprecedented act of violence for Pelosi to publically affiliate herself with something said by the leader of the Republican Party reflects the nature of the problem. In her statement of solidarity on the House floor, Pelosi intended it as levity. But it was more than a throwaway line. It was a simple and factual observation that underscores something a lot darker than our partisan divide.