But how did we get to this place? Is Trump responsible, in some way, for recent appalling events?
Is he responsible, in some way, for the bombs which were sent in the mail to the people he constantly targets? Is he responsible for Saturday's synagogue murders?
Is he responsible for the two people who were shot and killed in Kentucky last week? Is Trump responsible, in some way, for these appalling events? For the other events which are sure to come?
In this morning's Washington Post, Hugh Hewitt performs his usual slippery evasions built upon technical accuracies. Below, you see the way his slippery column starts.
Nothing Hewitt says in this passage is obviously "false." Some of this is accurate:
HEWITT (10/29/18): After the arrest of a Florida man for sending homemade bombs to former president Barack Obama, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and other Democratic leaders, many on the left—and not a few allegedly neutral reporters and pundits—predictably attempted to assign blame for his deranged and dangerous acts to President Trump. They pointed to “lock her up” chants at Trump’s noisy rallies, to the “fake news” charges and to a long list of Trump lines that left-wing activists and some mainstream media voices have categorized as beneath the dignity of the president.Some of that is accurate.
The truth is the spectrum of violent behavior runs from the far-left extreme of the Bernie Sanders-supporting shooter at an Alexandria baseball field to last week’s mailing of pipe bombs to prominent Democrats to Saturday’s stomach-turning massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue by a Trump-hating neo-Nazi, which made an already awful week even worse. That is the whole range of criminality at the fringes of American politics, a left-right full spectrum of angry, hate-filled obsessives. The threatening envelopes sent to both Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Vanessa Trump like those received by members of the media and no doubt by elected officials on the left, means crazy figures on the fringes of the far left and far right are a permanent part of the political terrain.
It's true that violent political behavior is perpetrated by disordered people on both the "left" and the "right." Presumably, it's also true that "[disordered] figures on the fringes of the far left and far right" are almost surely "a permanent part of the political terrain."
Something else is true. This sort of behavior, and its near cousins, long predates President Trump.
The gruesome mass shooting at Columbine occurred in April 1999, during the Bush-Gore campaign. It wasn't inspired by Trump.
Inevitably, the Columbine killings produced a ludicrous column in which Maureen Dowd criticized Candidate Gore for allegedly "telling everyone that he and Tipper just loved 'The Matrix.' " (Inevitably, Dowd included a jibe about Gore as "the Father of the Internet.") Inevitably, the liberal world just sat and accepted this Hewitt-esque drivel, as the liberal world would do right through the November 2000 election.
By now, gruesome mass murder by gunfire has become a familiar part of American culture. In a more explicitly political act, Lee Harvey Oswald committed an astonishing act of political murder all the way back in November 1963. Rather plainly, Donald J. Trump didn't inspire that act.
Parts of Hewitt's column are accurate. More striking is the way he skips past some of the events he describes. Let's return to that opening paragraph:
HEWITT: [F]ormer secretary of state Hillary Clinton and other Democratic leaders, many on the left—and not a few allegedly neutral reporters and pundits—predictably attempted to assign blame for his deranged and dangerous acts to President Trump. They pointed to “lock her up” chants at Trump’s noisy rallies, to the “fake news” charges and to a long list of Trump lines that left-wing activists and some mainstream media voices have categorized as beneath the dignity of the president.Hewitt blows past the amazing fact of those "Lock her up" chants at Trump's rallies. The rallies in question are "noisy," he says, inserting a word meant to undercut the remarkable nature of the behavior he describes—behavior Trump has cheered on for several years.
We've shown you Hewitt's opening paragraphs. From there, he moves to an amazingly technical discussion of what constitutes "incitement" under criminal law.
Soon, Hewitt is saying that President Clinton is the one who started this moral/intellectual mess. Clinton blamed Rush for Oklahoma City, the slick Post employee declares:
HEWITT: An early effort to link political violence to a political figure unrelated to it was President Bill Clinton’s assigning blame for the Oklahoma City bombing to Rush Limbaugh and talk radio. “We hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other,” Clinton claimed. “They spread hate. They leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable.” This speech set off endless rounds of seeking-to-assign-blame for violence and threats of violence to disfavored political speech. It was a low stunt by Clinton, a smear of people with whom he disagreed, but the tactic has lived on.As usual in this disordered world, it turns out to be Bill Clinton's fault!
That said, how strange! In the news report to which Hewitt links, Clinton doesn't cite Limbaugh or anyone else by name. In fact, the news report specifically notes that Clinton named no individuals as he complained about those "loud and angry voices."
There were no rallies in which Bill Clinton prodded foolish supporters to call for Limbaugh's arrest. A slippery fellow named Hugh Hewitt was slithering down a familiar path even as he quoted Clinton making blindingly accurate statements.
Along the way, Hewitt makes other accurate statements. As he parses the technical meaning of "incitement," he accurately describes recent behavior by some people who aren't Donald Trump:
HEWITT: We are now arguing over what is properly considered “incitement” to violent action of all segments of that fringe. Consider the moron who accosted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao in a Louisville restaurant, or the mobs that chased Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and his wife or Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen or Stephen Miller from their eateries: Who is responsible for inciting that behavior? For the physical attacks on two GOP candidates in Minnesota? For the Portland Antifa gang harassing motorists and a woman in a wheelchair? The reasonable apprehension of physical violence is assault, not free speech. Who is responsible for the assaults and the far worse violence of the bombs and the shootings?It's true! Waters, Holder and Hillary Clinton recently made those statements, which strike us as unwise.
Is it Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who explicitly called for confronting Trump officials in public places? Former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., who urged that when Republicans “go low, we kick them”? Hillary Clinton, who questioned the very idea of civility towards the GOP? Sanders and his “fight back” campaign and the rhetoric of class warfare that is a fixture of his rallies?
(You'll note that Hewitt couldn't come up with an actual statement by Sanders to criticize. Given long-standing, current rules of the road, the slick evader seemed to feel that he had to throw Sanders in.)
In this morning's slithery column, Hewitt displays who he is. He never attempts to parse the difference between training people to chant "Lock her up" and instructing supporters to "fight back" in the political realm.
"Enemies of the people?" The term doesn't appear in Hewitt's column. Presumably, this remarkable rhetoric belongs to the "long list of Trump lines that left-wing activists and some mainstream media voices have categorized as beneath the dignity of the president." So it goes when pundits like this are evasive all the way down.
Hewitt's slick evasions are part of the culture of modern American discourse. If it's accurate statements we want, this gruesome culture was firmly in place long before Trump swapped his brain-dead TV clowning for a role in the political world.
This slippery culture was firmly in place by March 1999, when coverage of the Bush-Gore campaign began. It had locked into place during the pursuit of the Whitewater pseudo-scandals—and in the way this slippery culture was directed at both Clintons and then at Candidate Gore, it was an artifact of the mainstream press at least as much as of the "right-wing noise machine."
During the twenty months of Campaign 2000, Maureen Dowd was a major part of that culture. If possible, TV talker Chris Matthews was worse.
In a demonstration of our greatest skill, we liberals just sat there and took it. As this culture spread and took hold, things got so bad that a fellow like Trump was able to slip-slide into the White House, with multimillionaire corporate liberals playing it safe every step of the way.
(Good God. In July 2016, Comey's attack on Candidate Clinton was strongly endorsed, for two straight nights, on Rachel Maddow's show! But dearest darlings, use your heads! Comey was a long-standing establishment god. It was careers in the balance!)
"May you live in interesting times!" It's often said that this is an ancient Chinese curse.
Apparently, that story is wrong. That said, we're all living today in deeply dangerous times. Given the role of our new tribal technologies, it isn't clear to us that we'll ever be able to find our way out of this dangerous place.
How did we get to this dangerous place? We'll ponder that question all week. Tomorrow, we'll start with Jim Rutenberg, the New York Times' media analyst, as he quotes Stephen Pinker in today's lengthy piece.
Did the press corps get played again this past week? That's what Pinker has said.
Tomorrow: As seen through the lens of the Times