Yes, Both Sides are to Blame

Yes, Both Sides are to Blame October 31, 2018

In light of the madness of last week there has been more talk about the toxic comments of our president. President Trump deserves every bit of criticism that he is receiving. Previous presidents have made disparaging and unwarranted remarks about their political opponents but Trump does so in a way that I have never seen before.

But in the eagerness to condemn Trump, we cannot lose sight that he is not the only source of the incivility that troubles us and threatens to drown us in violence. In the past I have talked about the troubling tendencies of those on both sides of the political aisle to dehumanize their political opponents (see here and here for a couple of examples). When I do, I get a pushback from progressives on the evils of bothsidism. How dare I equate some of the incidences on the left with the madness that is Trump and right-wing media? Well, I am not going to run away from that argument. I am going to embrace it. Yes, both sides are to blame, and we will not be able to deal with the toxic environment we have created until we acknowledge that fact.

Now I am not arguing against someone who is saying that Trump and the Republicans are slightly more to blame than the Democrats. I see it as a 50-50 split in responsibility but if someone argues that Republicans are 55 percent responsible while Democrats are 45 percent responsible, then they are admitting that progressives have significant responsibility for our toxic environment. That is all I am asking. The ones I am dealing with are those who deny any responsibility from the left or say that there is very minimal responsibility. That is a receipt for continuing the incivility in our society at these nearly warlike levels.

Finally, before you write me off as a Trump, or right-wing, apologist, I have addressed the tendency of Christians to defend Trump no matter what. My statement here should be taken in context of my entire body of work. That work emphasized the need to address the problems from our in-group at least as much as those in our out-group. Furthermore, I really do not run into the argument that Trump is not being uncivil from the right. They usually concede that he is uncivil but then try to justify continued support of him. So when I tackle Trump supporters I endeavor to show them that such vile from our president is not warranted. As I deal with progressive arguments, I have to deal with the reality of how damaging incivility on the left has become because I find that many progressives want to deny the reality of that incivility.

Let me first outline why I see the responsibility as about 50-50. The biggest voice of incivility is Trump, in large part because he has the biggest platform. No one can reach more individuals than the President of the United States. Thus when he praises congressman Gianforte who body slammed a journalist and winks at that violence, that has a very powerful effect on the body politic. Trump poisons just about everything he touches and that includes our political discourse.

But as I survey the political landscape, I find that there are far more voices of incivility on the left, although none of them have the power of Trump. The worst sins of those on the right appear to be the echoing of the nonsense that comes from our president. But I find that on the left many individuals are creating new sources of incivility and that toxicity has to be dealt with if we are going to do something about our political discourse.

We were rightly concerned about the bombs sent to several progressive politicians and leaders. We are grateful that either by design or incompetence, none of the bombs went off. The Trump paraphernalia on Sayoc’s van indicates that he likely conceived of his target list due to the president’s rhetoric. So what are we to make of the ricin threats sent to Trump’s family? Should we not consider how rhetoric on the left led this unhinged man to send such messages?

While we are on the topic of violence to politicians, we have to look at the shooting of Congressman Scalise. Had James Hodgkinson been successful, he could have taken out about 10 percent of the Republican leadership that day. Can we ask what sort of toxic rhetoric led him to take such an action? Or is that question only allowed to be asked if Democrat politicians are threatened? And before you say that Hodgkinson was a Bernie Sanders supporter and Sanders does not traffic in that sort of incivility, let’s not forget that he likely heard a lot of ugliness from other progressive sources. This is not about Sanders. This is about a level of unruly commentary from several progressive sources.

Once again since we are talking about actual, and not merely threatened, violence let’s not forget the assaults on a Republican candidate for a state house seat and Republican state representative in Minnesota. We also should not forget the physical attack on a Republican campaign manager in Nevada. Now it is possible that there are some physical attacks on Democrats as well. But, I have plenty of liberal and progressive facebook friends who post all sorts of complaints about Republicans. None of them have posted of any physical violence against Democratic government officials. Perhaps some of you know of such attacks in the last couple of years, and if you bring it to my attention, then I will clarify this argument. But until then, it does seem that while Democratic politicians can be threatened, that it is Republican politicians who actually suffer physical harm due to our political hostility.

But even short of physical altercations there are problems with the rhetoric of many Democrat politicians. Do I have to bring up those such as Waters, and Hirono which call for verbal abuse of Republicans? Or do I have to talk about Clinton and Holder and their rejection of civility? Do you want me to keep going on because I can? You know that it is not hard to find progressive leaders who are implicitly endorsing this nonsense. There is plenty of toxic progressive rhetoric. Just blasting Trump will not make that rhetoric go away.

And what are we to make of Antifa? Are we supposed to ignore these intimidation tactics? And before you say there is violence from groups on the right, I am not denying that. What I am addressing is this myth that the overwhelming amount of violence is on the right. One can only imagine the level of condemnation a right-wing group would receive if they engaged in the level of violence we are seeing on a regular basis from Antifa.

And if we are talking about out dysfunctional society and inability to be civil to each other, we cannot forget student protests. I do not need FIRE’s database to tell me that most of the efforts to shut people up on college campuses come from the left. Just think about Berkeley, Evergreen, and Middlebury. I can add others, but do we have any contemporary situation when conservative students shut down speakers or rioted over ideas they did not want to hear?

Should I go on with more examples of progressive incivility or do we have enough? Should I talk about the shooting of Republican headquarters or statements promising violence if Democrats lose? No, I think we already have enough evidence to put lie to the argument that this is a one-sided problems. So to reiterate, yes both sides need to calm down. Trying to claim that your side is doves and the other side are wolves stretches all boundaries of believability.

If we are going to regain some level of civility in our society and reduce our toxic rhetoric, then we have to deal with those we have the most influence with and that is not the other party. Republicans should be calling out Trump for his gross comments. But if all progressives do is ask Republicans to call out other Republicans, then they are being dishonest about the problems within their own ranks. They have much more influence calling out progressive incivility. Indeed they should be calling out progressive incivility just as hard as they want Republicans to call out Trump and right-wing media.

Let’s be honest. Trump is not going to listen to progressive voices. Why should he? Those voices clearly do not have his best interest at heart. But he can bend to pressure from conservative politicians and leaders. Likewise, politicians such as Waters and Holder will not be stopped by conservatives. They are not the responsibility of conservatives. They are the responsibility of progressive voices. Those voices cannot merely fail to support the awful rhetoric of certain progressive leaders, but they must condemn those sentiments. That is the only way we can lower the temperature of our heated conversations today.

There is a way out of the mess we are currently suffering from in the United States. We can overcome the incivility of this day. But to do that Republicans are going to have to confront Republicans and Democrats are going to have to confront Democrats. Neither side is going to willingly disarm themselves in our verbal wars. So if either side refuses to see the nasty nature of what has developed and fails to hold the members of their party to account, then our cycle of dysfunctional communication, which may also be followed by violence, will continue to lead us away from a healthy society.

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