October 31, 2018
Special Guest Perspective by Dan O’Donnell
Our response to tragedy has over the past decade or so become sadly predictable: Watch the events unfold, tweet half-hearted concern for those affected, and then, before the dead are even identified, search for something, anything about the tragedy to use as a political bludgeon.
Nothing you’ll see on Halloween today comes close to this level of ghoulishness.
The talking heads on cable news seemingly round-the-clock since Saturday’s massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh likely can’t name a single victim and can’t possibly know everything about the gunman, but are more certain than ever that they know exactly what motivated his anti-Semitism: Donald Trump’s rhetoric.
Forget for a second that the president’s daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism to marry Jared Kushner, quite possibly Trump’s most trusted advisor. According to those looking to weaponize the shooting ahead of next week’s midterms, Trump has radicalized the hateful and unhinged in this country by the power of his…dithering on the Charlottesville riot last year or something.
“This president has radicalized so many more people than ISIS ever did,” liberal pundit Julia Ioffe declared on CNN Monday night (before anchor Jake Tapper did “a little housecleaning” and allowed her to “clarify” her remarks because, as he put it, “the Republican National Committee is jumping on [her] comments”).
“What we are seeing—just as we saw young, displaced, evil, or sick, or just plain losers be radicalized by ISIS—we are seeing in the United States right now,” MSNBC pundit and former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt said (completely unchallenged by host Chris Hayes). “These two losers [the gunman and the suspect charged with sending bombs to prominent Democrats last week], these two sick people, these two evil people…[are] being radicalized by this right-wing propaganda industry.”
Apparently oblivious to his network’s admonitions for everyone—President Trump chief among us—to tone down the rhetoric, Schmidt compared this “right-wing rhetoric” to “the same type of rhetoric, the same type of propaganda that you would have seen in Germany in 1938.”
He even referred to the migrant caravan making its way through Mexico to America’s southern border as “Trump’s Reichstag fire.” Trump, it seems, must turn down the rhetoric, while comparing Trump to Hitler and his “radicalized” followers to Brownshirts is perfectly reasonable.
In fact, Democrats have made such a habit of comparing Trump and Republicans to Nazis that it has become passé. In 2016, Trump rallies were like Hitler rallies. In 2017, each new Trump policy was going to kill thousands more people than the last.
Yet there never seemed to be this level of concern over rhetoric, even when a crazed Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer traveled from Illinois to Virginia with the intent of killing as many Republicans as he could.
When he opened fire on a field where the Republican Congressional baseball team was practicing, he screamed, “This is for health care!”
For months before that, Sanders had made a point of telling anyone who would listen that the Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare would kill thousands of people.
“As Republicans try to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they should be reminded every day that 36,000 people will die yearly as a result,” Sanders tweeted in January of 2017.
“If Obamacare is repealed, we are looking at hundreds of thousands of people who got Medicaid extension losing that. And how many of those folks will die?” he asked at a town hall in West Virginia aired on MSNBC that March. “It is a lot. I don’t know exactly, but it is a whole lot.”
Did the gunman take Sanders’ repeated message to heart? Did he try to kill Republicans to prevent them from killing thousands with their Obamacare repeal? Had he been radicalized by Sanders’ rhetoric?
No one bothered to ask. In fact, so few people blamed the shooting on Sanders’ rhetoric that he repeated it nine days later.
“When you throw 23 million people off of health insurance—people with cancer, people with heart disease, people with diabetes—thousands of people will die,” he said on “Meet the Press.”
He even said the same thing about the Republican tax cut bill three months later.
“Many thousands of people will die unnecessarily every single year in order to give tax breaks to billionaires,” Sanders said at a rally three months after the shooting.
He was far from alone in claiming this. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the tax cuts “the end of the world” and “Armageddon,” while Obama Administration Treasury Secretary Larry Summers predicted that it would kill 10,000 people per year.
Forget about calling out this apocalyptic rhetoric—the media echoed it. Twelve days after the gunman screaming about health care tried to kill more than a dozen Republicans, news “explainer” site Vox.com ran a piece titled, “The GOP plan for Obamacare could kill more people each year than gun homicides.”
Earlier that year, The Washington Post asserted that “repealing the Affordable Care Act will kill more than 43,000 people annually.” The Week opined that “killing Obamacare will literally kill people.” Washington Monthly claimed that “killing Obamacare is killing people.”
None of those outlets—or the cable news channels whose talking heads repeated the same dire predictions—did a minute’s worth of self-reflection after a crazed liberal screaming, “This is for health care,” tried to kill the supposed killer.
Yet now, those same outlets and the same Democrats who have spent years telling their voters that Republican tax cuts and health care bills will kill thousands suddenly believe that extreme political rhetoric is to blame for the Pittsburgh shooting.
Conveniently enough, a week before the midterm elections, their political opponents have the blood of innocents on their hands. Conveniently enough, a week before the midterm elections, conservative political speech (and only conservative political speech) needs to be more carefully monitored and policed.
The politicking is so ham-handed and the demagoguery so obvious that it would defy belief if it wasn’t a cycle that repeated itself every time there is a national tragedy.
Mass shootings in Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida? Republicans beholden to the NRA were responsible. Hurricane Maria? Trump’s failure killed thousands of Puerto Ricans…and his disputing of the official death toll could kill even more. Every other hurricane? Republican refusal to act on climate change could kill every single person on Earth.
It’s as predictable as it is tiresome, and now even Republicans’ words are as deadly as Republicans’ actions. Without a second thought about how constantly casting Republicans as Nazis and murderers in increasingly hysterical proclamations about standard political disagreements might incite violent actions against them, the same pattern is repeating itself in response to this latest tragedy.
It’s well past time to recognize that pattern for what it is: Politics at its most shameless.