Why? By David Montgomery

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Are the Left’s persistent and vituperative attacks on Donald Trump and his supporters based on misunderstanding, emotion, or strategy? I have been convinced at various times that one or another of the three motivations was behind some particular attack, and my responses have been intended to deal with the specific motivation I inferred.

Now that the Left’s violent and unrestrained rhetoric has achieved its predictable outcome of homicidal attacks on Republican Members of Congress, it is even more important to find an effective way to neutralize that rhetoric. And the first step, for me, is to reflect longer on what motivates the Left in this campaign.

Leading up to the shooting of Representative Scalise and his colleagues, the incitement of violence from the Left became more and more explicit. As soon as Inauguration Day, we had Madonna saying “I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House.”

Then we have the constant dehumanizing of President Trump and his family by the talk-show hosts and comedians showcased by the media opposed to him. It is impossible to watch the most popular late night talk show without seeing and hearing caricatures of the President and tasteless jokes about every aspect of his appearance, family and character.

This shades over into the substitution of speculation about Trump’s motives and prejudices for substantive debates about the merits of his actions and policy proposals. Thus his eminently sensible efforts to screen out potential terrorists from entry into the USA are evaluated by the media and activist judges based on campaign statements and attributions of religious bias rather than on their merits. His efforts to reform ObamaCare are described as willingness to let people die without healthcare rather than debated as approaches to saving an obviously failed system. His well-reasoned efforts to extricate us from an overly-burdensome agreement on climate change illegally ratified by his predecessor are attacked by claiming that the President does not believe in climate change, as if it were the secular version of the Immaculate Conception, rather than debating the legality of bypassing Senatorial ratification of treaties. He is accused of obstruction of justice by the same Democrats who demanded the FBI Director be fired for the very reasons given by President Trump.

Democrats in Congress, failed candidates whose message on public policy has narrowed down to a single word “Resist,” and an activist Attorney General contribute to the demeaning of the President and his advisors with accusations of personal malfeasance based on sheer speculation and frivolous lawsuits.

The personal attacks escalated recently with Kathy Griffin’s foul display of the severed and bloody head of the President, and even worse with the performance of Julius Caesar portraying the Roman Emperor as Donald Trump and celebrating his assassination. Though some sponsors acted properly to drop the offenders, they were endorsed by fellow-celebrities for their courageous efforts to influence public perceptions. I didn’t realize it took courage to attack Donald Trump in Manhattan and Hollywood.

The rhetoric spilled over into overt physical violence against anyone who would defend the President or express conservative views in public. Demonstrators from “Resist” and other Leftist organizations rioted to prevent their appearance at Berkeley and other universities that once defended free speech, and assaulted students who indicated their support for the speakers or the President.

And then this verbal and sometimes physical violence culminated in the attempted assassination of Republican members of Congress by a gunman radicalized by the Left.

How can this be dealt with? If the hostility toward all things Republican were based simply on misunderstanding of the actual content and consequences of our policy proposals, the response would be easy. Many of us are decent writers and have the requisite expertise in climate and environmental science, environmental economics, regulatory economics, tax policy, financial regulation, labor issues, healthcare, international relations, national security and other disciplines to explain the problems that our policies address and their likely consequences. To the extent that we think the slogans and arguments of the Left are based on misrepresentations and falsehoods, the challenge of correcting those errors should be our first priority. Then, we could hope, with better understanding the fear and anger could abate.

But the way in which blatant and easily refuted misrepresentations are continually resurrected and repeated, and the unwillingness of those shouting them to listen to contrary points of view, suggest that correctable ignorance is not the primary reason for attacks on the President and his policies. The nation seems to be too committed to choosing sides on policies based on the perceived character, appearance, mental state or biases of political players ever to pay attention to the real good or bad consequences of policy proposals.

That suggests that emotion or strategy or both, not simple misunderstanding of his policies, are the drivers of current agitation against the President.

It is easy to make the case that emotion is the driver. Generations younger than mine have been taught from childhood that their feelings are all that matters. When your parents, teachers and college professors encourage you to believe that how you feel is more important than what is true or right, that everyone is entitled to his or her own facts, and that there is no such thing as objective truth or moral absolutes, then nothing does matter except the emotions that a politician or policy evokes. When you are as stupid, self-centered, and publicity-seeking as most entertainers and celebrities, the notion that some people actually think about things probably never entered your atrophied brain. And President Trump can present himself in a manner that is repulsive even to those who, like me, are convinced that by and large his policies are the right ones for our country.

If some or all of these reasons for unrestrained emotional responses were the primary drivers of the current malaise, we would be right to reiterate the need for civility in politics as our primary response. We could hope that the shooting of Representative Scalise and his slow and painful recovery would be a corrective shock bringing a majority back to their right minds.

So that leaves us with the likelihood that there is a strategy behind the incitement of hatred and violence that we have seen. According to Rusty Reno, editor of the journal First Things, there is such a strategy, designed and directed by the wealthy, largely white elite that runs the Democratic Party. Disconnected from the middle and working class voters necessary for the party to win, those elites can only hold onto voters by inventing new forms of discrimination for them to fear. Until the election of Donald Trump, they generated that fear by pushing an agenda so radical that it was guaranteed to generate resistance, and then labeling anyone who objected to that agenda as a bigot, a homophobe, a misogynist or a white supremacist.

How else, Reno asks, can we explain a President facing ISIS, Russian aggression, North Korean nuclear weapons, an expansionist China and the slowest recovery from recession on record making transgender bathrooms his highest priority? Most of us probably thought that election of the first black President would be the end of race-baiting, yet during his term we experienced repeated assassinations of police officers in the name of “Black Lives Matter” and banners proclaiming that “Republican Hate Kills.”

According to Reno, the Democratic Party came back from its defeats as the party of segregation during the civil rights era by promising to “promote and protect those who feel ‘excluded’ or ‘marginalized.’” But those promises to African-Americans, women and other minorities have been fulfilled. We have made immense progress over the past 50 years in eliminating discrimination based on race, sex, religion and other differences.

Once real discrimination ended, Democrat leaders and their sycophants in movies and the news media had to invent claims of discrimination to keep their coalition together. They found a new group they could label as marginalized in lesbian and gay activists. Then after winning on issues like gay marriage, they needed to invent discrimination against even more obscure sexual orientations. In the process, Democrats wrapped an activist agenda centered on LGBTQ privileges that have no direct appeal to most voters in a narrative of discrimination that they expect African-American and Hispanic voters – not to mention wealthy whites — to accept automatically.

To make that narrative work politically, there has to be a villain. To create a villain, the demands have to be so extreme that they will provoke opposition. Since political correctness has by now intimidated most of those outraged by this social agenda into silence, it becomes easy to claim that all those willing to take a public stand are bigots. Transgender bathrooms were a perfect ploy. The demand is so contrary to any sensible view of human nature that it generates widespread outrage, and all those who express that view can be labeled “haters.” Then the mostly rich, white liberals who run the party can sustain their power by promising even more protections from these symbols of oppression.

Now there is someone else to hate – Donald Trump. Someone the same elites can label racist and sexist based on his own statements. The vehemence of the blogosphere and the unanimity of sicko comedians makes it clear that many of them can’t imagine any reason to stop, not even boredom at repeating themselves and certainly not escalating violence. That their strategy and that of the liberal elites is to create a new symbol of oppression in order to maintain their hold on power is a very compelling explanation.

It is also a strategy to continue the intimidation of voters who voted for Trump in order to express how fed up they are with the radical program and condescending attitudes of the liberal elites. What better way to demonize the deplorable racists, sexists and homophobes who voted for Trump than by harping continuously on his gaffes and impetuous actions? We Trump voters might eventually get fed up with being accused of being white supremacists or worse and vote out those who condemn us unjustly, but we can be put down over and over again by making our choice for President out to be a boob or a monster.

I don’t disagree that Donald Trump has shown a talent for turning victory into defeat nearly as great as his talent for turning defeat into victory in the election. Just as he shows his chops as a negotiator by getting health care reform through the House of Representatives, he surrounds himself with a firestorm of criticism for firing the FBI Director. It would be a great help to take away his tablet and restrain his willingness to validate every criticism by responding to it. But if it were not for Trump, the strategy behind the rising storm of hatred would be diverted to creating some other symbols of oppression against which the elites running the Democratic Party can pretend to stand.

In response, those of us who are appalled by these developments must continue trying to explain clearly and objectively the basis for the policies we favor. We must also practice and encourage civility rather than emotional rants about policies and politicians (though I think celebrities, entertainers and opponents of free speech are still fair game).

That will not be enough. Continued engagement in electoral politics to keep the coalition of hard-working, faithful, family-oriented, financially stressed and totally ignored voters who elected President Trump together is the only antidote to the strategy of demonization pursued by the elites who think they own the Democratic Party.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

Letters to Editor

  1. Rem SIMPSON says:

    Certainly a well written expression of one man’s opinion and I certainly wholeheartedly agree with it. However, as I have stated in this forum before, many of us feel like this is our own little small town paper that should be about hometown matters and the ugly politics of today left to the big time elitist media who think they are smarter than anybody else but aren’t.

  2. Willard T Engelskirchen says:

    Evidently the author had his head in the sand or maybe somewhere else during the last presidential election. For example, in a Chicago rally a friend of my daughters – an imposing person I must admit – stood between some threatening Trump supporters and 3 Indian American students who were in the Auditorium of their University. The wonderful Trump supporters were threatening these kids – all college students all born here.
    One of my daughters was, at one point, told to “go back where you came from!” She was born here, as were both of her parents. She has a graduate degree from the University of Michigan.
    The presidient you are talking about is the same one who encouraged violence at his rallies and offered to pay the legal expenses of anyone charged as a result of violence against protesters.
    SAD

  3. Kathleen Linehan says:

    Most people enjoy even handed commentary. I kept hoping that halfway through your emotional anti-left dialogue you would switch and adroitly similiarly castigate the radical right and conclude that the nation succeeds down the center. Our country needs moderation and centrist thinking, with Republicans and Democrats working together, rather than extremist rhetoric on either side.

  4. David Montgomery says:

    The first comment is above my pay grade. The second two prove my point – hatred of Trump and Republicans has become so intense that it produces unapologetic excuses for the Lefts escalating and successful calls for violence. Show me the equivalent among conservatives of a mainstream comedienne (though she always disgusted me) and a publicly funded play celebrating assassination of the President or a politically motivated assassination attempt on Democratic congressmen.

  5. William Burton says:

    Bravo, an honest exposition dealing with the elite’s ridiculous demonization of a hard working President trying to deal with real world issues.

  6. Richard Marks says:

    Response to Mr. Montgomery’s piece:

    Yes, without civility at the highest levels of our government and allowance for free speech, we fail to set good examples for our children and continue down a path of division. Too bad Mr. Montgomery feels the need to carve out some groups as fair game just as he seems to ignore those on the right who have been less than civil. How easily he disregards and forgets the vitriol President Obama faced. How convenient for him to ignore the rhetoric of President Trump at his rallies. Thankfully, Mark Sanford gave a balanced opinion last week. If we are ever to achieve a return to civility and raising the bar it must begin with everyone acknowledging their roles in lowering the bar. Mr. Montgomery writes well and I respect his views and convictions, but spending time finger pointing is not productive, nor effective.

    Happy Fathers Day.

    • david montgomery says:

      What I am seeing in responses not only to my column but more broadly in news commentary is disheartening. If my readers are simply advising that I should advocate being nicer to each other, I think I did that. If it is just individual lack of impulse control that prompts hate speech and violence, then I believe I said that the shock of seeing what that can do and that practicing civility in politics might work. Whether the current escalation changes or continues will test my theory that there are more sinister forces at work than just the fashionable belief that everyone should express whatever feeling hits them.

      But I dont see coming together in the center as the answer, as Ms Linehan appeared to suggest — civility does not mean that elections dont matter. Nor am I going to take on the kindergarten teacher mentality that everyone is to blame. I believe I did refer to Trump’s offensive rhetoric, but it falls far short of what I cited from the Left. If Milo is who you have in mind on the Right, remember that he did not have a position with CBS or a position in the Republican Party, and his verbal abuse falls far short of endorsing violence. No, it is only on the Left that we see mainstream figures engaging in incitement to violence and demonization of their opponents. Unfortunately, just today Scott Pelley called the attack on Rep Scalise self-inflicted and Joy-Ann Reid’s immediate response was to attack his political positions. I see little repentance on the Left. There is a qualitative difference here, and the overwhelming evidence I see is that the left is taking the initiative in undermining democracy in the USA. Getting a response in kind is no doubt part of the Left’s strategy, and unfortunately President Trump gets pulled into that every time.

      Finally, as a second thought on Mr. Simpson’s sentiment about this newspaper that I also feel, maybe it is not above any of our pay grades. Edmund Burke’s observation that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” occurred to me and changed my mind. We can’t hope to escape all this because we live peacefully here (and the disruption of Andy Harris’s town meetings show we are not immune anyway).

      • Richard Marks says:

        Mr. Montgomery,

        Thanks for the Edmund Burke quote. I agree with you and do appreciate The Spy providing us a forum for discourse. So, in that regard, and with all due respect, President Trump’s offensive rhetoric, briefly noted by you, and his very dangerous attacks on the press, are not given adequate coverage in your piece, and may be doing more harm to undermine our democracy than any of the incidences you cited. All are without question, unfortunate and incendiary, of course.

        No doubt you are familiar with this quote from Thomas Jefferson:

        “The people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, & to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.”

  7. Thomas Alspach says:

    During a rally in North Carolina last year, speaking about Hillary Clinton, Trump proclaimed: “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks — although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is …. .” The crowd laughed and whistled. David likely never heard about this, or hundreds of other examples of Trump fomenting hatred or violence. When you get all your news from Fox, Rush and the Washington Examiner, or sometimes WSJ if you’re feeling a little liberal, you remain happily unaware and, with a straight face, can make arguments such as David’s here. If Trump wants an answer to David’s “Why?” all he has to do is look in a mirror.

    • Deirdre LaMotte says:

      Check out the responses to this obtuse opinion piece in The Chestertown Spy. This man is delusional, to say the least.

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