Vitriol in American politics is not necessarily a new phenomenon. But both in type and volume, the current level is out of control.
This week we saw an attempted political assassination when a gunman opened fire on a group of Republican Congressmen who were at an early morning baseball practice for the annual Congressional charity baseball game. The gunman, a Bernie Sanders supporter from Illinois, had a list on him of several GOP lawmakers who were marked for assassination.
This comes a couple of weeks after comedian Kathy Griffin, in an imitation of ISIS displaying the heads of their victims, posted a picture of her holding the bloody head of a Donald Trump mannequin. Somehow she thought that imitating ISIS beheadings with the President of the United States was funny?
And last weekend in New York, the New York Public Theatre put on a performance of Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar but with the main character a Donald Trump look-alike whose wife speaks with a Slavic accent. The killing of Julius Caesar/Donald Trump depiction comes shortly after Kathy Griffin’s bloody head post.
The election of Donald Trump has certainly generated passionate responses. Though not unique, the volume and passion of opposition surely seems different than anything in recent memory. One can’t recall any ‘political opposition’ that had a TV personality and comedian posing with a bloodied, severed head of a President look alike. And all of the above three incidents were within a month of each other.
To their credit, Bank of America and Delta Airlines pulled their sponsorship of the play in New York. And CNN cancelled Kathy Griffin as host of their annual New Year’s Eve special.
However what is worrisome is the people that defend such things, in the name of ‘art’ or some other babbling grasp of rationale. The CEO of Time Warner, another sponsor of the New York Public Theatre, defended his company’s sponsorship and defended the play as a legitimate way to raise political awareness. The Comptroller of New York said that it’s ‘art’ and so therefore it’s ok, as if calling it ‘art’ justifies anything that would be heinous in any other circumstance. (And maybe that’s a reason not to use taxpayer money to fund ‘art’, but that’s an argument for another day). Kathy Griffin, after initially apologizing then showed that she really wasn’t sorry and blamed President Trump and others for the backlash and her cancelled shows, saying they had “picked on the wrong red-head”, as if her imitation of ISIS by using a prop of the President’s bloodied head had nothing to do with it.
And then there are the total nutjobs who are lacking in any sense of morality or humanity, to the point of being dangerous to society. People like Jesse Benn (Twitter @jessebenn). Benn writes for the liberal Huffington Post and after the shootings this week, posted that what happened wasn’t as bad as what Trump has done. Yet he went further and advocated organized violence when he posted on the day of the shooting that individual violence won’t be as effective as organized violence. He wasn’t only calloused at the assault on our political system, but was in effect saying that others should follow suit in a more organized way. And this after previously writing an article saying that violence against Trump was justified.
Yet this individual is employed by the Huffington Post and they publish and distribute his ideas. And nothing is done? There is a famous court case that talks about the limits of the First Amendment’s right to free speech stopping when one yells ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theatre. Such should also be the case when advocating violence to the point of killing, much less against the President.
Political debate, even impassioned debate is part of what makes representative government great. The ability to express political ideas, debate them, oppose those you dislike and work to see them defeated is part of the great political and social contract in a democracy. When that is threatened by violence, those people are in effect saying that they don’t believe in democracy, and that they and their ideas are superior even if they are in the minority and they should be telling everyone else what to do. That is dangerous in and of itself. When those same people are willing to advocate violence to get what they want, they become dangerous. They should be locked up.