No, Republicans, Not Everyone Incites Violence

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- President Donald Trump’s greatest ally in escaping responsibility for the spasm of violence across the U.S. is false equivalence, the idea everybody is equally to blame.

Television commentators spent the weekend trying to be fair-minded by declaring that both sides contribute to the lack of civility that emboldens the crazed minds behind violent acts like sending bombs to Trump critics, or murdering worshipers in a Pittsburgh synagogue, or killing two African-Americans in a Kentucky grocery store.

An example cited was when Democrats use inflammatory phrases like “people will die” in debates over access to medical insurance. But that’s part of a policy argument over whether insurance companies should be allowed to deny coverage to people with preexisting medical conditions, and it’s not even close to the hate-filled rhetoric that Trump uses simply to stoke anger and resentment.

Obviously, there were many acts of violence before Trump appeared on the political scene. But unlike every other president, who in moments of trauma tried to tame the darker human impulses, he poisons the environment.

Cesar Sayoc, the stripper and low-level criminal accused of sending 14 pipe bombs to prominent Democrats, is an avid Trump fan who decorated his van with signs echoing the president’s anti-immigrant tweets and vitriolic rants against the media and Democrats. Robert Bowers, who has been charged with federal hate crimes in the killing of 11 people on Saturday inside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, was obsessed with the caravan of Latin Americans traveling across Mexico headed for the U.S. border.

It is Trump, in a gambit to help Republicans in the midterm elections next week, who has spun a false narrative about the caravan as an invading alien horde. There are several thousand people traveling in a caravan for safety, most of them from Honduras, to seek asylum from persecution from their repressive regime. There is no evidence, as Trump has charged, of terrorists in the caravan. If the migrants reach the border by the end of the year, the U.S. Border Patrol will be capable of handling the situation.

Other Republicans have seized on Trump’s demagoguery. In Arizona, GOP senate candidate Martha McSally responded angrily when queried about voting in the House of Representatives last year against insurance guarantees for people with preexisting medical conditions, asking why she wasn’t invited instead to discuss “real” issues like the caravan.

Trump’s race-tainted fear-mongering has little to with policy issues or differences between liberal and conservative values. He rode to political prominence on the fantastical claim that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., insulted an American-born judge for his Mexican heritage, cruelly mocked a person with disabilities, equated peaceful protesters with neo-Nazis who rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, calls the press “the enemy of the people” and declared a Republican congressman who body-slammed a reporter to be “my type.” None of this in any way resembles even the most tendentious policy arguments Democrats make about their opponents on health care or taxes.

Both sides do include fringe elements like the right-wing Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio and the left-wing Representative Maxine Waters of California who make extreme comments. Likewise, there are people on both flanks who engage in terrible behavior: left wingers insulting conservatives at restaurants or right wingers attacking women going to abortion clinics.

And there are many factors that contribute to violence, including permissive gun laws and social media.

Trump didn’t create the social divisions that cultivate hate. But he has made them worse.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.