What happens when you combine the classic “Republicans pounce” media narrative with a healthy dose of whataboutism? You get the sad spectacle of the last few days, in which the media has rationalized and minimized genuinely menacing, troubling left-wing mob action — because, after all, there can be only one villain on the national stage.
First, let’s begin with the easy distinctions. There is a yawning legal and moral gap between First Amendment–protected activity, no matter how angry and boisterous, and a true mob. Screaming protesters picketing on a sidewalk are in a fundamentally different position from screaming protesters who invade private property to chase a senator from his meal. Angry demonstrators chanting in front of the Supreme Court are different from people who break police cordons and pound on its doors. Handmaids silently mourning the birth of Gilead are not the same as men and women who disrupt Senate hearings and votes.
Legally protected protest is safe. It’s consistent with the best traditions of American dissent. It’s truly what “democracy looks like.” Mob action, by contrast, is dangerous. It creates imminent risk of personal harm. It’s designed to frighten and intimidate. There is no place for the mob in a constitutional republic.
So why are leading Democrats stoking mob action, and why are members of the media attacking Republicans who raise the alarm?
On CNN, Brooke Baldwin told Daily Beast columnist Matt Lewis, “Oh, you’re not going to use the mob word here,” when he condemned protesters who drove Ted and Heidi Cruz out of a restaurant.
Also on CNN, Don Lemon objected to the use of the word “mob” to describe the same incident, declaring, “No, it’s not mob behavior. It’s people who are upset and they’re angry with the way the country is going.” Well, yes, they’re upset and angry, but Lemon was fundamentally wrong when he also said that the Constitution allows people to protest “wherever you want.”
NPR, in an article that included descriptions of death threats against Republican senators, framed the story this way: “Republicans Seize On ‘Angry Mob’ Mantra To Keep Their Midterm Base Fired Up.”
Then there’s the whataboutism. Dear media, there is no comparison between a “lock her up” chant at a controlled-entry rally and the kinds of direct, in-your-face actions we’ve seen from #Resistance protesters or the Antifa street takeovers we’ve seen in Portland and elsewhere. Now, if that same Trump crowd surged out of the arena, broke through police barriers, and pounded on the doors of government buildings, we’d have a mob.
It is a simple fact that prominent Democratic politicians and left-wing activists are making dangerous calls for direct action, and it’s a simple fact that #Resistance protesters are crossing dangerous lines. Remember this, from Maxine Waters?
Maxine Waters calls for attacks on Trump administration: "If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere." pic.twitter.com/jMV7wk48wM
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) June 24, 2018
Remember this since-deleted tweet from ThinkProgress’s Ian Millhiser?
Presidential contender Cory Booker urged protestors to “get up in the face of some congresspeople.” Former attorney general Eric Holder said — to loud cheers — “When they go low, we kick them” (before assuring the crowd that he didn’t mean anything inappropriate). Members of the media rightly had no problem condemning Trump when he called for violence in response to protests at his campaign rallies. Why the reluctance to engage with Democratic threats?
We cannot — we must not — forget that only the heroism of police officers and the terrible aim of a vicious progressive terrorist saved America from a history-altering massacre of GOP officials last year. We cannot and must not look at the images of men screaming inches from the face of Republican women and think, “This is acceptable.” Watch this clip again, from the last wave of mob action this summer, and tell me it’s not dangerous:
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) June 25, 2018
If leading members of the media cannot recognize the risks, then they deserve the public’s distrust. If Democrats keep stoking those fires, then they don’t deserve the public’s votes. And if you don’t believe me — a conservative writer for a conservative magazine — believe Michelle Obama. Today she directly responded to Eric Holder with words our nation needs to hear:
.@HillaryClinton & @EricHolder called for an end to civility.@MichelleObama disagreed: Fear is not a proper motivator. Hope wins. If you think about your kids, do you want them afraid of their neighbors? Do you want them angry? Do you want them vengeful?pic.twitter.com/1OEdq3yzBH
— Jerry Christmas, B.A. (@JerryDunleavy) October 11, 2018
It’s time for Democrats — and members of the media — to dial back the rhetoric. It’s time to stop excusing, rationalizing, and minimizing behavior that is dangerous, menacing, and threatening. When public disorder threatens, and when we’re one wayward shove or impulsive shot from a truly ugly moment, it’s imperative for the people who aspire to lead to shed their preferred narratives and unite behind a single, common idea: Dissent, yes. Mobs, no.