No, leaders on the left have not incited political violence as the Newt Gingrich’s and Donald Trump, Jr.’s want you to believe. Yet we heard this sentiment voiced after the horrific terrorist attack Wednesday on GOP members of Congress in Alexandria, Virginia.
To support this false narrative, Newt Gingrich was on Fox News yesterday specifically targeting Kathy Griffin and the New York production of Julius Caesar -where Caesar is depicted as in essence Trump -as creating the environment that led to the attack. Donald Jr., as well as countless others echoed a similar view on Twitter.
But the reality is that Griffin and the play’s producers are neither leaders of the Democratic Party nor the progressive movement. They are private citizens and Griffin was widely criticized by people on the left – including me- for her use of violent imagery involving Trump. (Interestingly when a production of Julius Caesar was staged in 2012 with a black Caesar representing President Obama, a well-known conservative publication praised the play.
In contrast, however, the person who has incited, encouraged and defended political violence is none other than the now head of the Republican Party: Donald J. Trump. We saw this countless times during the campaign. For example, Trump stunningly told his supporters after one punched a protester, “We need a little bit more of” that.
Then there was Trump sharing with throngs of fans how much he would personally like to commit political violence: “I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.”
And lets not forget Trump reminiscing with his supporters about the days when political violence was commonplace, “I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”
Trump even promised to pay the legal bills for any of his fans if they attacked people in his defense: “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you?”… I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.”
But one of the most despicable incidents of Trump calling for political violence was at a November 2015 rally in Birmingham, Alabama. There, Black Lives Matter activist Mercutio Southall yelled out during Trump’s speech. Well Trump was so outraged by the interruption that he bellowed to his cheering fans, “Get ’em the hell out of here!” and Trump’s white supporters followed Trump’s direction, beating Southall up while reportedly calling him a “monkey” and the “N word.”
Stunningly when asked about the attack the next day on Fox News, Trump defended it, saying “Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
Show me where Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi or any other leading Democrat has uttered similar words? You can’t because it doesn’t exist.
And Trump’s alarming embrace of violent imagery didn’t end on the campaign trial. Just two months ago Trump welcomed to the White House with open arms Ted Nugent. Yep, the same Nugent who just last year called for then President Obama and Hillary Clinton to “be tried for treason & hung.” The same Nugent who called Obama a “piece of shit” and declared that he wanted Obama to “suck on my machine gun” while calling Clinton a “worthless bitch” who he wanted to see ride his gun “into the sunset.”
In fact Nugent’s death threats directed against President Obama were so alarming he received a visit from the Secret Service. But under Trump, such conduct merits a visit to the White House. So there was Trump gleefully palling around with Nugent sending a clear message that Nugent’s violent words about political figures were okay in his book.
And here we are now with many on the right claiming that the actions of a comedian and a New York City play are the equivalent of Trump’s explicit calls for political violence. They are not.
We are truly at a crossroads in our country. If we continue down the path we are gong I fear we could see more political violence. There is a sense that people are losing confidence in our democracy and that some may -like in a third world nation- resort to bullets over ballots to address political grievances. This must be of grave concern to all Americans regardless of your political affiliation.
It’s time Trump makes a speech to the American public explaining that he sincerely recognizes that his past words embracing and defending political violence were wrong. He must also make it clear that there should be no violent imagery in American politics- be it from the left or right. Yet at same time Trump must re-affirm his commitment to freedom of expression and the rule of law. Anything less from Trump is a danger to our nation, its values and to us.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.