MEMBERS ONLY: Incivility And Violent Rhetoric Begins And Ends With Trump’s GOP

Apparently, it’s okay to use violent, eliminationist rhetoric if you’re Donald Trump or a pack of fascist incels who call themselves “Proud Boys.” For everyone else, especially liberal activists, petitioning our government is the act of a ruthless mob of screaming thugs.

Ever since the confirmation battle over Brett Kavanaugh, the Trump-Republicans have tried — successfully in many cases — to convince the rest of the public that it’s the exclusively left that’s engaged in violent acts against Trump supporters and other figures including, apparently, Tucker Carlson who can’t eat in restaurants any more. Awww.

This isn’t to suggest there aren’t any leftists who’ve used violence to make their case. We’ve seen in-person protests where activists shout things at Trump administration officials and the like, and we’ve seen isolated cases in which a Nazi or three have been physically attacked. But as of today, not a single high ranking Democrat has asked his or her supporters to punch, kick, or beat anyone. Not once.

Nevertheless, the word from Trump and other Republican leaders is that these isolated incidents are the result of flagrant stoking of violence by Democratic congresspersons and the like. Trump himself referred to protesters as an “angry mob.” Everyone from Mitch McConnell on down the line has repeated such nonsense.

Even a prominent NeverTrumper, Ben Howe, excoriated Democratic leadership for using language like fight for your lives and “war on Republicans” and therefore allegedly inciting violent incidents like these two in which one Republican candidate was punched on the shoulder, and other sustained a concussion after being punched in the head. While these attacks are horrible and wrong, I don’t hear any serious voices on the left calling for literal violence. The closest example, I suppose, was when Maxine Waters told Democrats to “push back on” Trump officials. Other than that, it just doesn’t exist, despite the aforementioned punching.

What’s been completely lost as the Republicans collapse on their fainting couches over tough rhetoric from 80-year-old Waters is precisely how and why this trend toward physical confrontations began. To examine incivility in a 2018 vacuum without looking at how we got here is nearsighted. It’s more gaslighting, is what it is. It’s not unlike blaming Christine Blasey Ford or other sexual assault victims for stepping forward without taking seriously why they’re stepping forward.

We also need to draw a distinction between rank-and-file citizens on the ground and well-known political leaders, including the president himself. Members of Congress and the president should always be held to a higher standard than your average street activists. The price of leadership is exercising the restraint commensurate with making decisions that impact 320 million Americans, not to mention the rest of the world. This requires a grounded temperament, especially knowing we have 1,500 nukes ready to launch on the president’s orders, or through a declaration of war by Congress.

So, what about these leaders and their violent screeching?

In the modern context, I tend to trace the use of eliminationist rhetoric to the campaign ads that started to pop up in the early Obama years. You probably remember them. There’s an entire series of political ads in which Republicans (save for one or two red state Dems) literally shoot the laws they don’t like.

And just because he’s so utterly clueless, here’s Ted Cruz using a firearm to cook bacon, clearly because semi-automatic rifles aren’t just for shooting kindergarteners.

Jesus. These are American leaders, representing American political parties with advertisements airing on American television networks and on American computer browsers. Some of these bastards never rose to elected office, but the winners keep being re-elected because they’re enthusiastically willing exploit the darkest instincts of their voters, in part by suggesting that it’s patriotic to shoot the political ideas being proposed by the other side.

Even after the near-fatal shootings of two members of Congress, this is what we’re being conditioned to accept: that there’s no problem that can’t be solved by pulling out a semi- or fully-automatic weapon and ejaculating bullets into whatever’s bugging us.

I’m also old enough to remember G. Gordon Liddy on his former radio show instructing his listeners to shoot ATF agents in the head due to the Kevlar vests. I also remember seeing shooting targets with Democratic faces on them. No wonder, given how Republican leadership comports itself.

Speaking of which, there’s also Donald Trump. Of course. Trump has a lengthy record of not ambiguous metaphors and off-the-shelf political rhetoric (“the war on [blank]”) but outright violent threats and encouragement of the same. Fluffing his Red Hats with talk like this is what he does best.

  • “Knock the crap out of them!”
  • “Maybe he should have been roughed up.”
  • “I’ll beat the crap out of you.”
  • “I’d like to punch him in the face.”
  • “Part of the problem… is nobody wants to hurt each other.”
  • “The audience hit back and that’s what we need a little bit more of.”
  • “Try not to hurt them.” Oh good! I’m wrong! “If you do, I’ll defend you in court so don’t worry about it.” Never mind.

Not fake news. It’s all on video. Trump isn’t toying around with vague, semi-tough political tropes, he’s flagrantly telling his people to literally accost protesters, which they did on countless occasions.

This is what the Republicans do. They start shit, then they stand back and play this ludicrous “who me?” routine, while pointing accusatory fingers at the rest of us. Don’t let anyone tell you this is a Democratic problem. This began with Trump and his predecessors, and liberal activists are done being played as suckers with “kick me” signs on their backs. So they’re pushing back, as Waters said. Some are getting the wrong idea and playing on the Red Hats’ level — don’t. First, they’re better at it. Second, we have facts, reality, and a fighting spirit, not to mention all of the most creative and funniest people in the nation on our side, so let’s use all that.

Meanwhile, feel free to kick Trump’s ass with your voices and especially with your votes.

20 days to go.

Bob Cesca is the host of the Bob Cesca Show podcast, a twice weekly political talk show. He’s also a contributor to Salon.com. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.