Violence is not refusing to serve a White House press secretary dinner at a farm-to-table restaurant. It is not yelling at people in restaurants. It is not making mean jokes at a charity event. It is not peacefully occupying a government building to protest.
One would think the distinction between violent acts and nonviolent acts should be easy for adults to grasp. And yet we are told “both sides” contribute to violence.
Incitement is defined as “an act of urging on or spurring on or rousing to action.”
Trump and his defenders claim the mainstream media incites anger. There is no denying that his followers get angry when they read news accounts that do not adopt their conspiracy theories or when journalists debunk Trump’s falsehoods or when wrongdoing in his administration is revealed. However, incitement to hate and attempts to stir anger along gender, racial and ethnic lines do not come from the press; they come from the president.
Trump calls the press the “enemy of the people” and describes journalists as “very bad people,” “truly bad people,” “the worst,” “among the most dishonest groups of people I have had to deal with,” “corrupt,” “a great danger to our country,” and “troublemakers.” He encourages his crowds to turn around to harangue members of the media covering his events, and at times has directed his attention — and the crowd’s abuse — at a single journalist. When demonizing a specific outlet, he most frequently picks CNN.
It should be obvious that such language is designed to increase anger and resentment in his base, to delegitimize the free press and to suggest it is undeserving of its constitutional protections. (He actually threatened to “pull the license” on NBC for its unfavorable reporting.) Such language from a president is unprecedented in modern American history. His followers get the message; they chant and insult the traveling press, and social media is full of abusive, threatening and/or hateful messages directed to or about the press.
One would think the distinction between critical coverage (even unfair coverage!) or persuasive commentary, on one hand, and, on the other, vituperative, dehumanizing speech designed to provoke an emotional, irrational response should be obvious. And yet Trump and his ilk blame the media for a toxic political environment that has cast a pallor over our politics since his election.
Bigotry is defined as “obstinate or intolerant devotion to one’s own opinions and prejudices.”
Trump’s apologists say “both sides” contribute to an atmosphere of hate, bigotry, divisiveness and meanness. Unlike Trump, however, Democratic leaders do not refer to illegal immigrants as “animals” or call them “some of the worst criminals on Earth” or say immigrants “infest” our country. Unlike Trump, Democratic leaders do not describe predominately nonwhite countries as “shithole countries.” Unlike Trump, Democratic leaders did not invent a crime wave and blame immigrants for it. Unlike Trump, Democratic officials are not out mocking a disabled reporter or a sexual assault victim. Unlike Trump, Democratic politicians have not falsely accused a Jewish billionaire (a frequent target of anti-Semites) of paying women to protest and impersonate sexual assault victims. Unlike Trump, Democratic officials do not lead chants to lock up Republican opponents based on, well, nothing at all. Unlike Trump, Democratic officials these days are not demeaning the judiciary by referring to “so-called courts” or inventing conspiracy theories to defame the FBI.
Trump’s notion that any criticism of him (no matter how provable) is equivalent to his baseless insults, expressions of bigotry and praise for violence is the sort of moral equivalence that conservatives used to deplore. If Trump’s supporters love him so much and believe he’s such a gem they should embrace his unique rhetoric. “Whataboutism” isn’t a defense, and what’s more, it isn’t even true.