The Corner

Politics & Policy

An Old, Multi-Angled Question: Rhetoric and Responsibility

One of the things I most dislike is this: An atrocity occurs, and people on one political side say to the other, “You created the atmosphere for this.” Sometimes they use the word “environment,” sometimes “climate.”

People on the left did this when Rabin was murdered. They also did it when Oklahoma City was bombed. I’ve written about this several times, including in this 2011 post.

Okay. A young man in Michigan has been arrested for threatening CNN — to wit, “Fake News. I’m coming to gun you all down.” Sometimes these guys call ahead; sometimes they don’t. It’s always a courtesy when they do.

(To read a news article about this case, go here.)

I don’t say that Trump & Co. are responsible for this would-be mass-murderer. Certainly not. I don’t think it’s too much to say that presidential rhetoric matters. It matters for good or ill. It matters no matter who is president, and no matter what his views are.

And when you say that the other party is running a child-sex ring out of a D.C. pizzeria? That matters too. Someone might just go shoot up the place.

And when you put the Family Research Council on a “hate map” and otherwise demonize it — that, too, can spur a shooter.

Obviously, people are responsible for their own actions. If I say that a news outlet botched a story, or that a pianist botched a prelude, and someone then commits violence against the outlet or pianist — that’s not on me. But demonization, especially from on high, matters. We would have to be indifferent to reality to think otherwise.

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