The recent attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband has injected new urgency into the quintessential modern debate: what is the connection between American politics, partisan rhetoric and violence? Here’s how experts make sense of the question after the most recent incident:
Pelosi’s attack illustrates the partisan problem of political violence
At its core, the assault is “inextricable from a broader concern about political violence in the United States,” Philip Bump argued for The Washington Post. According to media reviews and anecdotal evidence, attack suspect David DePape, 42, was involved in online political conspiracies and hateful rhetoric prior to the break-in; an acquaintance called him “out of touch with reality”. DePape also indicated that he was actually after the speaker, a common and long-time target of political hostility, and wanted to break his kneecaps to show “other members of Congress that there are consequences to the shares,” according to an affidavit on Monday. “While DePape is shown to have suffered from a mental illness that contributed to his actions, clearly the political rhetoric about Pelosi was a key factor in bringing him home,” Bump continued.
But sadly, that’s not where discussion of the incident led – instead, the narrative became shrouded in dubious theories and baseless allegations (Bump is pointing to Republicans here, in particular), all of which obscure the real, and very scary, takeaway: That “an 82-year-old man was beaten with a hammer just because his wife is a prominent Democrat.” The conspiracies that have taken hold, largely in right-wing circles, defy “gullibility from the perspective that DePape has spent weeks sharing right-wing and conspiratorial content on the web, something that fits much more perfectly in real history than contrived one.” As the violence made clear, “there is an ecosystem interested in scoring against the left, however morally repugnant it may be.”
This is a concern for all parties
In more ways than one, DePape “fits the profile” of what we might expect of the alleged perpetrator of such a crime — someone who “clings to internet obsessions, some of which turn out to be policies”, reflected The Wall Street Journal Editorial Committee. But the “United States is full of such people, and their political targets are left and right, Democrats and Republicans.” In other words, the pervasive issue of political violence is not just about one camp or one politician. Remember when a gunman, upset over the reversal of the leaked draft notice Roe vs. Wade, was arrested near the home of Judge Brett Kavanaugh in May? Or when, during a campaign stop, New York gubernatorial candidate Rep. Lee Zeldin (right) was forced to dodge a man who rushed onto the stage brandishing a sharp object ?
“Ultimately, the political and media classes can help by avoiding hate speech against their opponents,” suggested the Log. “The risk of violence will increase as elections approach and passions heat up, and more and more people come to mistakenly believe that any election will determine the fate of the country. Democratic tolerance in small d is rare these days, but it is up to everyone in public life to practice it.”
Los Angeles Times columnist Mark Barabak agreed with the Log: “Animosity — if not outrageous caricature — goes both ways. Repeated polls have shown Democrats questioning the goodwill and patriotism, not to mention judgment, of Republicans,” Barabak said. “It is no longer just the fringe that acts.”
All political violence is a problem – but there are numbers at play
The attack on Paul Pelosi should “shock the conscience of the nation”, said Jill Filipovic in The Guardian. But instead, many conservatives have “worked overtime to deny that the right has any responsibility here, blaming it on a random act of violence and arguing that sometimes leftists are just as violent.” Of course, that is undoubtedly true, said Filipovic, citing the same examples as the Log’drafting committee. But there are important differences between right-wing and left-wing political violence, “notably the fact that right-wing political violence is much more common… [and] far more likely to be deadly than left-wing violence.” Any political violence is, of course, a problem – but when you look at the numbers, one type is more prevalent and significant than the other.
For example, when Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) was shot and nearly killed in 2017, there were no “prominent liberals with national platforms and ties to Democratic administrations” who suggested dressing up as an injured Scalise for Halloween, Donald style. Trump Jr. after the Pelosi incident. There’s “a pattern here that you just don’t see on the left,” Filipovic continued, and the right and the Republican Party need to stop treating the attack on the speaker’s family “as a sideshow instead. of the true warning that he is.”
Blaming only Republicans is wrong and transparent
The focus on Republicans in the aftermath of the attack makes it clear that media discussion of the incident has less to do with ‘weakening political rhetoric’ and more about ‘demonizing their political opposition’ , said Zachary Faria. The Washington Examinerciting an interview in which CBS News’ Margaret Brennan suggested that Republican National Congressional Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) pull some of the Republican attack ads that mention Pelosi by name, or even delete a tweet in which he wrote “#FirePelosi” while holding a gun. (Emmer condemned the attack on the speaker’s husband, but defended the original message of his tweet, which he said was not an advertisement and was simply about “exercising our Second Amendment rights.” and “have fun”.)
By blaming conservatives for criticizing Pelosi, the media is proving only interested in political violence because it can blame Republicans — ahead of the midterm elections, at that. “That’s what the establishment media decided to do here before we even knew anything about the culprit,” Faria said. “This is nothing more than a transparent attempt to get Republicans to stop campaigning or, more likely, to further demonize Republicans for daring to campaign after the attack.”
While she didn’t find the Republican guilt allegations entirely tied to electoral ambitions, columnist Ingrid Jacques also took issue with the media’s framing. write for USA today, Jacques condemned the immediate politicization of the attack — “it seems offensive and sad to me that we can’t take a moment to just feel compassion for another human being” — and argued that the GOP’s immediate tally is “much to assume” given what we still do and don’t know about the DePape. “The incivility and tribalism that surrounds us comes from both sides,” she continued. Additionally, Jacques said she did not recall “any national accounts of the design debates” or incisive statements by President Biden following the Kavanaugh incident, and that there were no no similar “media press” after the assault on Scalise either. The truth here, Jacques concluded, “is likely to be eclipsed by political expediency”.