OPINION: Incivility In Politics

Most agree that the need for civility is paramount when discussing political differences. Conventional wisdom in the United States has always advised that in order to be constructive, or at least gain a better understanding of other opinions, respect for the people who hold them is essential. However, in today’s political climate, discussions appear to be anything but respectful. 

On June 14th, House Republican Steve Scalise and three others were shot in Alexandria, Virginia. The perpetrator was James Hodgkinson, a deranged Bernie Sanders’ supporter whose politics are well documented on social media. The left-wing activist was strongly anti-Trump and reportedly had a hit list of congressional Republicans when he opened fire on the charity baseball game practice. He was shot dead at the scene.

Hodgkinson’s Facebook posts, many of which praise liberal news programs, have some saying that rhetoric might have been a motivating factor in the shooting. Incendiary and hateful speech is nothing new. However, with the election of President Donald Trump, leftists, both in politics and the entertainment industry, seem to have increased their attacks. Below are just a few examples:

While discussing the Republican healthcare bill, Nebraska Democrat official Paul Montag was caught on tape attacking Representative Scalise. He is heard saying that he was “glad [Scalise] got shot.” He even wished Scalise had died from his injuries. Though he denies the voice on the tape is his, Montag has been removed from his post.

Before the shooting, one of the most notable instances of the left inciting violence involved comedian Kathy Griffin. In late May, she posed with a fake severed head of President Trump. The photo sparked outrage for which she apologized after losing several business relationships. 

More recently, Republican Karen Handel’s victory in the Georgia special election has some on the left bristling. Democratic strategist James Devine from New Jersey saw the election results as a time for “war.” In a Twitter post, he posted a hashtag encouraging people to “hunt Republicans.” He doubled down on his remark while appearing on Tucker Carlson Tonight. Devine maintains that it is conservatives who are responsible for inciting violence and that the time has come for the left to “fight back.”

On Thursday, MSNBC political analyst Elise Jordan compared supporting Donald Trump to “hugging a suicide bomber.” This was during a discussion about former FBI Director James Comey and alleged tapes between him and the president. Disturbingly, host Craig Melvin laughed at the remark, though admitted Jordan’s language was “a little strong.”

While speaking at the Glastonbury Festival in England, actor Johnny Depp, in an apparent attempt at humor, pondered, “When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?” This is presumably a reference to John Wilkes Booth killing President Abraham Lincoln after the Civil War. Depp’s fans cheered. He later apologized, saying he “intended no malice.”

It should be noted that rhetoric of this nature is not specific to the left. The Alexandria shooting is reminiscent of the attack on Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords in 2011. After the shooting, there was also discussion of whether certain rhetoric in politics was getting out of control. Many argued that Sarah Palin releasing a map in 2010 depicting crosshairs on certain districts (including Giffords) was a call for violence against Democratic politicians. 

Back in 2007, singer Ted Nugent was heavily criticized for his remarks on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. In an onstage rant, he said that then candidate Obama should “suck on [his] machine gun.” Though he insisted that he did not threaten anyone, Nugent admitted to having a change of heart due to the recent shooting. 

“I cannot and will not and I encourage even my friends, slash, enemies on the left, in the Democrat and liberal world, that we have got to be civil to each other.”

In the wake of the politically-motivated shooting in Alexandria, Virginia, talk of the need for civility in politics has increased. Nevertheless, inflammatory rhetoric seems to be worse than ever. Is hateful language to blame for Hodgkinson’s crime and other acts of violence? Regardless, there is no denying that speech, while it remains free, is still not free of consequences.