“Legitimate Political Discourse”
“Violence is as American as cherry pie.”
-H. Rap Brown
The critical mid-term elections are only a week away, and the prospect of the Republicans taking over at least one, and perhaps both, Houses of Congress is growing, due to three major factors: a first-term president always loses seats due to disappointing policy initiatives, the worsening economy not least because of the after-effects of Covid and the Russian war in Ukraine, and the relative lack of popularity of President Joe Biden.
Social issues, especially the abrogation of women’s right to choose after the overruling of Roe v. Wade, have faded in importance. In addition to inflation and the economy, Republicans have attacked Democrats across the board as being “soft on crime” despite significant rises of criminal behavior in red states and a total disconnect in their minds from the reality that the number of guns in this country has risen to 400 million and Second Amendment fanaticism is proliferating. No, Virginia, more guns do not make us safer.
It is, therefore, ironic that the most outrageous recent crime was committed not with a handgun or the right’s weapon of choice, an assault rifle, but a basic everyday tool, a hammer. The attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in his own home by another conspiracy-spouting zealot was as inevitable as it was despicable. Violent threats have been directed at the Speaker at ten times the rate of any other political figure, and the Republicans bear significant blame for not only not condemning such threats, but at least tolerating, if not outright encouraging them. And, led by Trump, of course, they are even shamelessly mocking the attack and spouting conspiracy theories about it, apparently to their political benefit.
Yes, as the perpetually equivocating New York Times points out in its coverage of the Pelosi incident, there are threats on both sides as the shooting of Minority Whip Steve Scalise at a Congressional softball practice and the would-be assassin lurking outside the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh illustrates, but only one party would abide the likes of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who infamously said:
”[Pelosi’s] a traitor to our country, she’s guilty of treason. She took an oath to protect American citizens and uphold our laws and she gives aid and comfort to our enemies who illegally invade our land — that’s what treason is…[a]nd by our law, representatives and senators can be kicked out and no longer serve in our government, and it’s a crime punishable by death is what treason is.”
You can claim that such language is mere political hyperbole, but it is clear that the trend is getting more and more dangerous, and there are many out there who are willing to take such words literally and convert them to action. And Taylor Greene is not only gaining influence in the Party, she is a rising star.
There was a time, in the immediate aftermath of January 6, that the Republicans had a chance to renounce violence as part of the political discourse. Even Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy seemed to have had enough when he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that soon-to-be ex-President Trump was responsible for the attack on the Capitol and should resign. Well, we all know what happened next. McCarthy swallowed those words and made his humiliating trip to Mar-a-Lago to kiss the Donald’s keester, and the myth of the stolen election became the dominant Republican theme.
The fact is that the Republican Party has hitched their wagon to Trump and his claims of a stolen election. But theirs is a dangerous game and there is only a marginal difference between the erstwhile Party of Lincoln and the violent world of the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys and the rest of the simmering right. We can only hope that the elections next week will revert to this country’s historically unprecedented ability to change power peacefully. But there will be an even greater test in 2024 when Trump is the betting choice to be the Republican candidate. January 6 may then become merely the warmup for the scenario that will follow Trump’s second defeat. But at least we will know who to blame.