The Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight continues to have personal and political reverberations. Outraged left-wing activists, spurred on by the rape accusations against Kavanaugh, adopted Alinsky-like tactics of confronting senators at restaurants and raucously banging on the doors of the Supreme Court.
These actions have the potential to spiral out of control, both literally (stoking actual violence) and politically (producing conservative backlash against the “mob” that boosts Republican energy in the midterm elections).
With that in mind, one might suppose that some adult—some prudent leader with moral authority in the Democratic Party—would step forward to calm the base and remind them how to behave. Instead of being summoned to their better angels, Democratic leaders are urging their base to fight harder—to be even more like President Trump, the man whose behavior they supposedly loathe.
Consider the case of former attorney general Eric Holder, who recently said, “When they go low, we kick them.”
His statement was, of course, a perversion of Michelle Obama’s aspirational “when they go low, we go high” line from her speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. I use this line to teach my kids how to treat others. It is also a sentiment that Democrats are wholly rejecting.
To his credit, I don’t think Holder really wants Democrats to kick people; but what happens if they do? It is worth noting that a liberal man in Canada recently kicked a female pro-life activist. (I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of these radicals north of the border!)
My criticism of this behavior extends beyond the Democratic Party. I think it was unwise for Trump to retweet a video showing himself (at a WWE event) body-slamming someone with the CNN logo over the person’s face. Violent rhetoric and imagery can desensitize us to the breaking of norms, create permission structures for future demagogues to exploit, and (sometimes) even spark real violence.
The odds are slim that someone will kick a Republican because of Holder’s divisive statement. However, vulnerable people are susceptible, and—I suspect—our collective rhetoric isn’t helping matters.
It was only a year ago that a Bernie Sanders supporter shot a Republican congressman at a baseball park that is so close to where I’m writing this that I could probably throw a baseball onto the field. I fully acknowledge that the media covered the Steve Scalise shooting at the time. However, since then, people have essentially forgotten that it happened. And they shouldn’t forget.
And let’s not forget that far-right activists have also engaged in violence (see Charlottesville). I don’t want to blame the political climate when individuals are responsible for their actions, but as President Obama said, “Don’t tell me words don’t matter.”
Holder isn’t the only Democratic “statesman” who thinks the Democrats need to take off their gloves and quit playing nice (for what it’s worth, I have always seen Democrats as tough, bare-knuckle brawlers). Consider Hillary Clinton’s latest comments.
During an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Clinton said, “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about.”
“That’s why,” she continued, “I believe if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and/or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again.”
So Democrats should engage in uncivil behavior—because their noble ends justify the means. And once they regain power, we should trust that they will then decide to be civil?
Keep in mind that we are talking about the former Attorney General and the former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee—not a couple of performance artist yahoos. (Did I mention that Michael Avenatti challenged Don Jr. to an MMA fight?)
What is happening on the left today mirrors what happened on the right a few years ago. Conservatives, believing the game was rigged against them, fetishized macho toughness over other attributes like character, political philosophy, and experience. The “But he fights!” trope (describing Trump) originated from this hysteria. I was vehemently opposed to that mindset then, and I still oppose it now.
Truth be told, many Republicans felt that Trump’s penchant for fighting was his most important, or possibly even his only, qualification. You could argue that it worked—that the liberal media and left-wing activists would have destroyed any other “nice guy” GOP nominee (see Mitt Romney). You could argue that, even if a different Republican had won the presidency, only Trump would have been tough enough to stick with someone like Brett Kavanaugh amid all the swirling controversy and allegations.
This is all debatable, but it’s interesting that the left seems to have bought into this argument just as much as the “alt-right”. Liberals want their own version of Trump. And I think the odds are good that they will find one in 2020.
Get ready for a wild and bumpy ride. The 2020 race could be the least civilized presidential campaign any of us have ever seen—a breakneck race to the bottom. No matter who emerges as victor, we all lose.