TWO CONTRADICTORY messages emerged following Wednesday’s mass shooting in Alexandria, Virginia: One, the left and right need to come together in the spirit of bipartisanship. And two, this is all the left’s fault.
James Hodgkinson’s rampage against Republican members of Congress and staffers practicing for an annual Congressional baseball game left four of the victims wounded, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. There could have easily been many more dead beyond Hodgkinson himself.
The mass shooting was shocking enough on its own, but it quickly and predictably became politicized–not only because Hodgkinson appears to have specifically targeted Republicans, but also because he was a Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer with a long history of passionate and sometimes angry political posts on social media.
His rampage sparked deeply hypocritical denunciations of the left by the GOP–and not a few Democrats looking for a reason to discredit supporters of Sanders, who is currently the country’s most popular politician.
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ILLINOIS REPUBLICAN Rodney Davis told Fox News that the shooting was the product of “political rhetorical terrorism…that has to stop.”
That would be the same Fox News that built an empire on fomenting outrage over right-wing conspiracy theories and distortions–most recently with a hit piece denouncing author and activist Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor that inspired dozens of death threats.
Longtime Republican operative Roger Stone, a close confidant of Donald Trump, tweeted, “This is the climate of hate generated by the MSM and egged on by LibDems hath wrought.”
As if Stone isn’t notorious for his hateful Twitter history, including countless racist and sexist slurs, as well as the straightforward “DIE BITCH” he directed at former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson.
Then there was White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who tweeted, “James T. Hodgkinson was a Bernie Sanders staffer. Today he went on a shooting spree These are the people who call Trump supporters hateful.”
Beyond the fact that neither Trump nor anyone connected to him seem able to get to the end of 140 characters without getting at least one thing wrong–Hodgkinson was a volunteer with the Sanders campaign, not on staff–the hypocrisy of this statement is glaring to anyone who wondered if the White House would condemn the recent string of murders committed by the alt right.
The Trump administration is eager to use “these people” to link a killer to its political opponents, but it hasn’t acknowledged–much less taken responsibility for–the wave of violence whipped up over the past year by Trump’s racism and nationalism.
It took Trump over a week to condemn the February murder of Indian immigrant Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Kansas by a man shouting, “Get out of my country!”
And there has still been no word at all from Trump about Richard Collins III, a Black Army veteran murdered on Memorial Day by a white supremacist on the campus of the University of Maryland, half an hour’s drive from the White House.
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BY CONTRAST, Bernie Sanders took to the Senate floor within hours of the Alexandria shooting to declare, “I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society, and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”
But that didn’t stop the New York Times from running a shameful article the next day that claimed violence is an issue among Sanders supporters–because they express anger at the corruption of mainstream politics.
The Times article began by noting: “The most ardent supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders have long been outspoken about their anger toward Republicans–and in some cases toward Democrats. Their idol, the senator from Vermont, has called President Trump a ‘demagogue’ and said recently that he was ‘perhaps the worst and most dangerous president in the history of our country.'”
An online search of “NYTimes Trump demagogue” produces dozens of hits for articles where Trump is described in exactly these terms by politicians across the spectrum–not to mention New York Times columnists! But the article didn’t pause for a moment in portraying all expressions of left-wing anger at the system in an ominous light:
On Tuesday, Mr. Hodgkinson posted a cartoon on Facebook explaining “How does a bill work?” “That’s an easy one, Billy,” the cartoon reads. “Corporations write the bill and then bribe Congress until it becomes law.” “That’s Exactly How It Works…..” Mr. Hodgkinson wrote.
That is not far from Mr. Sanders’ own message. On Saturday, during a conference in Chicago filled with Sanders supporters, he thundered, “Today in the White House, we have perhaps the worst and most dangerous president in the history of our country,” to cheers from thousands. “And we also have, not to be forgotten, extreme right-wing leadership in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate.”
These are hardly radical sentiments from the crackpot fringe, as a regular reading of the New York Times, among other publications, confirms.
In fact, the irony is that many supporters of Hillary Clinton post the same and worse about Donald Trump and the Republicans. One source of the popularity of Bernie Sanders’ presidential primary campaign was that he did more than just criticize Trump, but actually put forward progressive policy alternatives.
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THERE’S NO automatic relationship between political enthusiasm and violence. Britain has far more shouting matches among its members of parliament and far fewer mass shootings, political and otherwise, than the U.S.
But the baseless attacks on Sanders and his supporters are really about something else: an attempt to discredit anger at the status quo as “extremism,” which is supposedly equally dangerous on both sides.
In reality, the balance of aggression and violence in the U.S. has always fallen very heavily to one side–the right–especially recently. As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor wrote on Facebook in reaction to media coverage of Hodgkinson’s attack:
Since the election of Trump, we have seen a dramatic escalation in hate crimes as white nationalists, alt right and white supremacists have taken the rise of Trump and Bannon as a cue to attack. The violence from the margins has been amplified in policy and the actions of public institutions like ICE, Homeland Security, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice. It has been open season on Muslims, immigrants, Latinx, and African Americans for months…
But now all of a sudden, political violence is the Left’s problem? Sanders, unlike the President, has never incited anyone to violence. And now scurrilous hacks in the Democratic Party try and seize this to marginalize Sanders–who represents the wing of the party that has any remote connection to reality.
Political violence attributed to the right or to the left aren’t interchangeable acts of “extremism.” They have very different consequences.
Right-wing violence, whether it’s officially condoned or not, helps to advance the reactionary agenda of intimidating and silencing the oppressed. This is obvious from the growing mobilizations of the far right in the Trump era, which have often come in liberal strongholds like Berkeley, California. Violence is a tried-and-true tactic of the right wing to keep opponents quiet.
By contrast, if Hodgkinson’s attack was motivated by opposition to the right–something that hasn’t been proven conclusively, though the media leapt to that conclusion–the effect won’t be to silence or marginalize the Republican Party.
The exact opposite is true: Trump and the Republicans will gain support for strengthening the forces of government repression–and the far right will be able to advance its false claim of needing to arm itself in “self-defense.”
This last point is an important one for the left to guard against in the coming days. The right wing, aided and abetted by the media, has been advancing its agenda in the guise of defending itself from left-wing attacks, whether in the form of restrictions on its “free speech” or physical confrontation. Hodgkinson’s rampage and the hysteria about the “violence” of Sanders supporters has handed them another excuse.
We need to be especially careful about right-wing provocations and violence in the days to come.
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THE FLIP side of the blame-the-Sanders-supporters argument is the sanctimonious call for the right and the left to “just get along.”
“Both sides need to look in the mirror,” Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator and Sanders supporter, told theNew York Times. “We have to decide what kind of language we are going to use in our political discourse.”
But these calls for bipartisan cooperation are only another means to silence opposition while the status quo remains undisturbed. The Republicans have no intention of stopping their assault, regardless of the various Trump White House train wrecks taking place on a daily basis.
If we censor ourselves in the name of “bipartisanship,” does anyone think the Republicans will stop trying to jam through their health care bill–even though it’s deeply unpopular and has no Democratic support, even within Washington?
If passed, the American Health Care Act–either in its current House-approved version where the Republican right forced the party establishment to cave to all its demands, or in some slightly moderated version negotiated by GOP senators–will cause immense misery and untold numbers of needless deaths.
That sounds like “extremist” rhetoric. But it’s the truth. To state what we are fighting against in honest and uncompromising terms is absolutely necessary if we are to achieve more justice, not less.
The problem isn’t our speech–it’s their actions. We can’t concede an inch in our efforts to build a resistance to the Trump onslaught and the whole U.S. political system.