Rhetoric and Political Violence

On January 8, 2011 a mentally disturbed man named Jared Lee Loughner shot 18 people, killing 6. Those wounded included Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, who represented Arizona’s 8th Congressional District. Loughner, diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic was initially found, in May of 2011, to be incompetent to stand trial. By August he was found to have recovered sufficiently to be able to stand trial, at which time he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.


The professional left wasted no time blaming Republicans generally, and Sarah Palin specifically, for the use of “violent rhetoric” that encouraged the shooting. The day after, on January 9, 20011, The Daily News editorialized that Sarah Palin “had blood on her hands”. On January 10, 2011, The Atlantic posted a story that examined the question “Did Sarah Palin’s Target Map Play Role in Giffords Shooting?” in the best tradition of examining the question “When did you stop beating your wife?” And on it went.


The professional left has a long history of accusing Republicans of fomenting violence but winking at violence from the left, while stirring up the pot themselves. Hillary Clinton, for instance, compared Republicans who oppose abortion rights to “terrorist groups.” Way back in 2009 when President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, RNC Chair Michael Steele had the effrontery to say that Obama did not deserve to win it. The response from DNC press secretary Hari Sevugan was to say that Steele’s response was similar to reactions from Hamas and the Taliban.


Let us not forget the Mayor of Baltimore, who in the midst of rioting in that city said in response to a reporter’s question about her instructions to police: “we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well”. Then there were the riots on Berkley’s campus, and the violence at Middlebury College that put one professor in the hospital. Has anyone who actually acted violently been expelled, suspended or otherwise disciplined? No. The cultural left is busy building safe spaces instead of defending free speech.


Virginia Shooting


And now comes the news that a shooter arrived at a baseball field where Congressmen do something useful—namely play baseball. The shooter (subsequently identified as James T Hodgkinson) got off about 50 rounds before being subdued. In the process he shot and wounded House Majority leader Steve Scalise (R-LA).


It turns out that Hodgkinson, now deceased, was a rabid hater of all things Republican. CNN reports that his Facebook profile included such gems as: “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co”. And how about this: “Republicans are the Taliban of the USA”. (Wonder where he got that one from?) Rounding out the profile, it seems Hodgkinson was a big fan of –Bernie Sanders. To his credit, Senator Sanders did not hesitate to announce that he “was sickened” by the shooting.



The problem we have is not that any sensible politician of the left actually espouses the use of political violence, the operative word being sensible. The problem is that politics today has wandered far away from a being a contest of ideas. Instead politics has descended into the raw tribalism represented by the likes of the Hatfields and McCoys, the Sharks and the Jets, where loyalties are based on identity and emotions rather than ideas. This is bound to set off the unbalanced among us. And as the days and weeks go by we will almost certainly find that the shooter was mentally unbalanced.


But let’s not mistake heated rhetoric for being the cause of political violence in the U.S. The cause is often some form of mental illness. That said, there are groups that employ violence in an attempt to achieve political goals. (See Middlebury College above, militia and other radical groups). They should be firmly dealt with.


Accepting, condoning or winking at political violence is not merely stupid, although it is that. It harms the body politic by depleting social capital and social trust. These provide the social glue that an advanced society needs to function. So perhaps politicians should lay off the overheated rhetoric and spend some time repairing the social fabric instead of tearing it further. A vigorous battle over ideas is healthy and necessary. Winking at violence is never acceptable in a free society.


That includes you, Mr. Trump, Mrs. Clinton, DNC Chair Perez.



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