As a matter of basic fact, Trump *will* be blamed by many Americans if, God forbid, some degenerate takes a shot at a journalist. Especially if that journalist works at CNN: They’re POTUS’s favorite whipping boy and he’s occasionally strayed beyond “fake news” invective towards them, once tweeting a cartoonish wrestling GIF of him physically attacking the network. I have vivid memories of Sarah Palin being scapegoated by the left and their media cronies for supposedly inspiring the Gabby Giffords shooting, an act she had nothing to do with but for which which she’s still occasionally smeared by “serious” newspapers like the New York Times. If you thought she was treated harshly for that, try to process the backlash waiting for Trump if and when a lunatic finally takes his outrage at “fake news” on CNN too far. It’s not inconceivable. On the contrary.
But if we’re going to blame politicians for the behavior of whackjobs, we need one consistent standard, not two as we have now. If not for some spur-of-the-moment heroism by Capitol Police last summer, a deranged Bernie-worshipping progressive would have mass-murdered a group of Republican congressmen during a baseball practice in Virginia. If not for some brilliant treatment by local doctors and a quick response by EMS, he would have succeeded in murdering Steve Scalise. And yet, compared to what Palin got for the Giffords incident, the heat on Bernie Sanders over that wasn’t enough to melt butter. He did the right thing by denouncing the shooting in a speech that afternoon but no amount of denunciation by Trump after the fact would absolve him of responsibility if some crazed right-winger attacked a reporter. And although Sanders isn’t as crude as Trump is when he rhetorically attacks his political enemies, it’s a staple of progressive messaging that Republicans are both racist and heartless to the point of indifference to human life in their political program. It’s become a running joke on right-wing social media that every new policy passed by the GOP will generate a round of “PEOPLE WILL DIE!” hand-wringing by liberals. ObamaCare repeal, tax cuts, even net neutrality: To hear Democrats talk, you’d think the Republican Party is designed for nothing less than amassing a body count of Americans.
If you were mentally ill, struggling with violent impulses, and prone to channeling your frustrations into political activism, which message would be more likely to send you over the edge? Trump tweeting a vintage WWE clip of him “clotheslining” CNN or people like Bernie Sanders insisting that Republicans are hellbent on remaking the health insurance industry so that more poor people will die, by design? The answer is obvious but the media is inured to the progressive message because, well, they agree with it. That Republicans are racist and malevolent in their intentions isn’t “incendiary,” it’s just the truth. But the president demagoging his critics as “fake news”? Now that’s alarming.
So if something terrible happens, Trump will plead “double standard” and many a righty will ride to his defense. I will too, reluctantly, mostly because I feel now as I felt during the Palin/Giffords fiasco: Even if it had been true that Jared Loughner was inspired by Palin’s “crosshairs map” (which he wasn’t), you can’t draw the parameters of political discourse to suit society’s nuttiest members. Trump’s never asked anyone to pick up a gun or knife. If that dirtbag in Michigan who threatened CNN saw “murder” in his goofy tweet, that’s his problem, not Trump’s. But please understand: That argument isn’t likely to prevail with most of the public, mainly because of how singular the presidency is. Trump is the most famous man in the world with the most powerful office in the world. He’s surrounded by an intense cult of personality populated by his most devoted supporters. His critics will claim in the aftermath of an attack on a reporter, not unpersuasively, that he has unique influence in the things he says and therefore has a unique responsibility to avoid rhetoric that might even *accidentally* convince someone who’s unbalanced that violence against his enemies is justified. That criticism won’t be easy to answer. Hope he’s prepared for it the next time he gets the itch to post a wrestling GIF.
.@DonLemon: There’s “nothing random” about the arrest of a Michigan man who threatened to kill CNN employees. “This is what happens when the President of the United States repeatedly attacks members of the press simply for reporting facts he does not like” https://t.co/b7oXT900iO
— CNN Tonight (@CNNTonight) January 24, 2018