The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The GOP’s ‘angry mob’ rhetoric is a dangerous assault against democratic norms

Activists protest at the Supreme Court on Oct. 6 after the Senate voted to confirm Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“YOU DON’T hand matches to an arsonist, and you don’t give power to an angry left-wing mob,” President Trump tweeted this month. “Democrats have become too EXTREME and TOO DANGEROUS to govern.”

Republicans have found themselves unable to gain traction on the issues. Neither their budget-busting tax cut nor their efforts to blow up Obamacare have proved as popular as they expected. So they have seized on a new and despicable tactic three weeks from Election Day: arguing that Democrats are an angry horde bent on destroying people. This is more or less direct a quotation from the president, the Senate majority leader and a host of other Republicans.

“The Democrats are willing to do anything, to hurt anyone, to get the power they so desperately crave,” Mr. Trump said last week. “They want to destroy,” he added.

Republicans conjure images of activists screaming at lawmakers during the Brett M. Kavanaugh confirmation proceedings, rude behavior they inflate into a mortal threat to the republic and only a small taste of what Democrats want to do. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week that “only one side was happy to play host to this toxic fringe behavior.” He continued: “They haven’t seen enough. They want more. And I’m afraid this is only Phase One of the meltdown.”

The conservative media has nodded along approvingly, even invoking the 2017 shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and warning that Democrat-fueled lawbreaking is on the way.

It is one thing to oppose, as we have opposed, the hounding of public servants as they go about their lives with their families. It is a mistake, in our view, both ethically and as a political matter, for Democrats to vow to match Mr. Trump in his rudeness. But neither the small number of people who heckled Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in a restaurant nor former attorney general Eric H. Holder’s recent misguided recommendation to fight dirty come anywhere close to justifying Republicans’ decision to demonize and delegitimize an entire political party. Inciting Republicans to vote out of fear of the opposition would be a chilling way to win an election.

It is, of course, more than a bit rich for Republicans to be criticizing Democrats for their tone. It is not even a decade since they were happy to benefit from boiling tea party rage at President Barack Obama. During the 2016 election, Mr. Trump at times encouraged violence. He continues to lead his crowds in chants of “lock her up.” Last week, Scott Wagner, the GOP nominee for governor of Pennsylvania, said to his opponent : “Governor Wolf, let me tell you, between now and November 6 you’d better put a catcher’s mask on your face, because I’m going to stomp all over your face with golf spikes.”

But the main point here is not the hypocrisy. Democracy can work if citizens can view the opposition as patriots such as themselves who happen to disagree, perhaps fervently, about the issues of the day. It cannot work if citizens view one another as enemies. Mr. Trump’s desperate efforts to salvage an election by turning the opposition into enemies — and the pathetic willingness of his party to follow along — is another dangerous escalation in his assault on essential democratic norms.

Read more:

Karen Tumulty: Republicans used to love the sound of an angry mob. What happened?

Greg Sargent: Lawless, raging president fears the ‘angry mob.’ Good — he should.

Greg Sargent: Trump’s latest rally rant is much more alarming and dangerous than usual

Ed Rogers: Democrats look, shout and storm like a mob

Marc A. Thiessen: The Kavanaugh saga shows we have not yet plumbed the depths of Democratic ruthlessness