Hearken unto me, o ye students of political history, and recall the ancient days of . . . 2011.
Anybody remember 2011? I remember 2011 pretty well. One of the infamous and horrifying events of that year was the shooting of Gabby Giffords by a pathetic misfit in Tucson. That was followed by a veritable Wagner opera of alarm and distress regarding the state of American political rhetoric. Oh, you remember, do you not: Sarah Palin, who had targeted several purportedly vulnerable Democrats for special electoral attention, had published a map with crosshairs — crosshairs, people! — over those Democrats’ congressional districts.
You’d have thought that Palin had pulled the trigger herself. Every good liberal on God’s green Earth began lecturing us about the need for “civility,” about the horrifyingly violent rhetoric of the Tea Party, etc. The president himself lectured us on civility. E. J. Dionne went the Full Yglesias (What’s the Full Yglesias? Stroking your beard and wetting yourself at the same time), writing:
Since President Obama’s election, it is incontestable that significant parts of the American far right have adopted a language of revolutionary violence in the name of overthrowing “tyranny.” . . . We must now insist with more force than ever that threats of violence no less than violence itself are antithetical to democracy. Violent talk and playacting cannot be part of our political routine.
Former senator Gary Hart, writing in the Huffington Post, insisted that riling up partisans by employing martial tropes in political campaigns (but we can’t call them “campaigns!”) is “to invite and welcome their predictable violence.”
The editors at the Huffington Post seem to have evolved on the issue, having just published a column by Jesse Benn, whose mirth-inducing bio-line identifies him as a doctoral student in journalism, in which he calls not for a revival in violent political rhetoric but for actual political violence: “Sorry Liberals, A Violent Response To Trump Is As Logical As Any,” the headline reads. Benn argues that the Trump phenomenon is not “a typical political disagreement between partisans,” and that “there’s an inherent value in forestalling Trump’s normalization. Violent resistance accomplishes this.”
E. J. Dionne has not been heard from.
A few days ago, Vox suspended an editor (after considerable criticism) who called for violence, in the form of riots, in response to Trump.
Gary Hart has not been heard from.
Neither has the president.
What’s violent rhetoric compared with genuine calls for violence?
Actual political violence is apparently to be encouraged when the goons are on the left and the target is (I suppose) on the right. Let a couple of ranchers in Nevada get squirrely, though, and it’s the end of days.