Liberals regularly gripe that conservatives are the ones degrading our public discourse and civility. “[W]e don’t live in healthy democracy because one of our major parties, in addition to embracing demagoguery as its modus operandi, has declared war on public debate,” is typical (this from John Stoehr, contributing editor at US News and World Report). CNN reporter Jim Acosta encountered mild heckling at a Trump rally (“Tell the truth, Jim!” and “CNN sucks!”), and tweeted about a larger issue he saw of dangerous conservative incivility. Just a sample of the sad scene we faced at the Trump rally in Tampa. I’m very worried that the hostility whipped up by Trump and some in conservative media will result in somebody getting hurt. We should not treat our fellow Americans this way. The press is not the enemy.
If liberals and conservatives share anything these days, it is a lack of civility toward each other. But when it comes to a “war on public debate,” it is the left that has moved beyond incivility and into physical intimidation and attacks. It is the left that is in full-throated “Resistance” mode, complete with Cultural Revolution-style mob action.
Which is why we see liberal students and agitators at colleges across the nation regularly riot and shout down conservative speakers (a form of protest now known as “no platforming”). At Middlebury College, students roughed up Professor Allison Stanger as she accompanied libertarian Charles Murray. (While conservatives do try to stop liberals from speaking occasionally, it is much less frequent and, from what I can see, done without the violence and destruction. The Foundation for Individuals Rights in Education (FIRE) keeps a database on attempts to shut down speech, and efforts to shut down speech “from the Left” far outnumber efforts “from the Right.”)
It is why we see liberal mobs hunting down and harassing conservatives spotted in public. Watch Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative organization Turning Point USA, and Candace Owens, its communications director, being harassed and attacked at a diner. The video contains the surreal sight of leftist white people shouting “F*** White Supremacy!” at Candace Owens, a black woman.
The mainstream press, it has to be said, joins the fray on behalf of the left, blaming liberal mob violence on conservatives, and too often characterizing advocates of “conservative” issues like free speech as “hate groups.”
And these attacks, far from being spontaneous outbursts of anger, are encouraged and coordinated by liberal leadership. ThinkProgress editor Ian Millhiser tweeted “Tell me again why we shouldn’t confront Republicans where they eat, where they sleep, and where they work until they stop being complicit in the destruction of our democracy.” California Congresswoman Maxine Waters called on people to form mobs and harass Trump administrators whenever they appear in public. Moveon.org offers a website about how to “Birddog”: the “fun tactic” of forming groups to find and harass Republican politicians in public, particularly when they are home from Washington. “The key is to be relentless and highly visible.”
The excuse offered for the violence and incivility emanating from the left is Donald Trump. “This is not normal,” runs the refrain, so we are released from the usual rules of decent behavior. Don’t be fooled. This attack/mob mentality may have increased during Trump, but it predates him. My theory is that the left snapped when George W. Bush won the 2000 election. The late Charles Krauthammer was first to identify and describe the malady: BUSH DERANGEMENT SYNDROME: The acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency – nay – the very existence of George W. Bush. Krauthammer found Bush Derangement Syndrome to be “epidemic in New York’s Upper West Side and the tonier parts of Los Angeles, where the very sight of the president – say, smiling while holding a tray of Thanksgiving turkey in a Baghdad mess hall – caused dozens of cases of apoplexy in otherwise healthy adults.”
Trump has certainly added fuel to the fire of liberal anger, but the flames had already jumped the firewall.
Conservatives, again, are not blameless. Trump’s tweets and comments, for one thing, are often intemperate and irresponsible. But where are the conservative groups harassing liberals when they eat in restaurants? Where are the conservative mobs showing up at Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren rallies to shut down the event and beat up their supporters? Where are the conservative groups “bird dogging” liberal politicians home from Washington?
And to make the larger point, this indulgence in mob intimidation reflects something very dangerous. In a democracy, if either side chooses to “Resist” rather than accept the results of elections, the nation will soon lose the capacity for self-government. Our nation can survive Trump; it cannot survive that.