Resisting the urge to incite

Resisting the urge to incite

Political left also guilty of inflammatory rhetoric

Gabe Kahn is the editor of The New Jersey Jewish News.

A photo taken on November 7, 1995, that depicts then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin dressed in a Nazi uniform. STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images
A photo taken on November 7, 1995, that depicts then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin dressed in a Nazi uniform. STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

One can think about the June 14 shooting of Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and three others at a congressional practice for their game against a team of Democrats in several different ways: a warning to government figures that they are a target; a miracle that all four victims survived; another example of the dangers of firearms in the wrong hands. 

Mostly, we should consider it a wake-up call for Democrats and members of the Left. They may not control the Oval Office or either chamber of Congress, and their like-minded judges are outnumbered in the Supreme Court, but they need to realize that their words are still powerful. 

Shortly after the initial reports, we learned that the shooter, James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, Ill., had been a volunteer for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (D-Vt.) presidential campaign. Contrary to the narrative popular among liberals, Hodgkinson, 66, who was shot and killed on the scene by law enforcement, was not a Southern, gun-toting, Confederate flag-waving member of the so-called alt right. He was a Bernie “Booster,” who called for universal health care and higher taxes for the wealthy, and advocated for strengthening environmental protections. He was a member of a Facebook group called “The Road to Hell Is Paved With Republicans.”

For much of the Obama presidency, many Democrats referred to the Republicans as “The Party of No,” unwilling to push their own legislative agenda, concerned only with making sure that their colleagues across the aisle, and Obama, failed. Indeed, in 2010, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” The gridlock in Washington was not a result of partisan squabbling; it was by design. 

However, in the first five months of the Trump presidency, the Democrats have started to demonstrate some of the same characteristics they’ve railed against ever since the 2010 midterms when the Republicans retook the House and the Senate. Got a Supreme Court nominee? Not if we can help it. Want to pass health care? That’s going to raise premiums and wreck the economy. 

And then, of course, there’s: He’s not a legitimate president.

Are these comparisons really analogous? No, not really. McConnell refused to hold confirmation hearings for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee even though it meant there was no majority for more than a year. If the Senate passes the Republican American Health Care Act (AHCA), 22 million people will lose their insurance by 2026, according to the latest estimates by the Congressional Budget Office. 

But it’s time to retire the #NotMyPresident hashtag. He is our president, so put away the stump speech about Russian meddling and the popular vote. And most importantly, stop referring to “The Resistance.” 

Yes, Trump has alienated much of the country — women, immigrants, the poor, environmentalists, fact checkers — and his associations with Russia, including his refusal to acknowledge its interference in the election, are truly troubling. But The Resistance is a first cousin of The Rebellion, and it implies not just insubordination, but insurrection. Just insert “armed” before “resistance” and you get James Hodgkinson.

Jews ought to know better. We watched as radical right wingers in Israel held a mock-up of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin dressed in a Nazi uniform, calling him a traitor and a rodeph — the Hebrew term for a person you’re allowed to kill, according to Torah law, because he is trying to kill you. Some said it was only rhetoric, making a point, but we all know how that turned out.

The toxic environment in the U.S. today reminds us of that dark time in Israeli history. Maybe only a few crazies are publicly calling for Trump’s life or the lives of Republican members of Congress, but many of us have had conversations with people who joke about such things. Celebrities like Madonna, Kathy Griffin, and now Johnny Depp have come under fire for doing just that. The comments may not be intended to be taken seriously, but when these words are acceptable in private discourse, it’s only a matter of time until they become a rallying cry in public forums, and that’s how people like Hodgkinson and Yigal Amir become infamous. 

What makes America great, to borrow a phrase, is that we all have a voice. Unlike those living under authoritarian rule for whom a coup might be their only option, we can organize, we can lobby, we can vote. If you don’t support the Republican agenda, call or write your representatives or senators, and let them know that if they won’t comply with the wishes of their constituents, you’ll abandon them when they run for re-election. 

Don’t think that’s realistic? Just ask the Republican Congress that sustained heavy losses in the 1998 midterms after ignoring the voters who urged their public servants to drop the Clinton impeachment proceedings.

If you want change, work the system, don’t resist it.

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