“Both parties suffer partisan bloodshed. One glorifies it.”
There’s nothing partisan about political violence in America. It has struck Republicans such as Steve Scalise, who was shot along with four others and nearly killed, as he played baseball in suburban Virginia. The gunman was a Bernie Sanders supporter who had traveled from Illinois with a legally purchased weapon and a target list of Republican members of Congress. It has threatenedconservatives such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, stalked by a would-be assassin angry about the overturning of Roe v. Wade. And it has struck citizens of very different persuasions as they took part in street protests—as when Kyle Rittenhouse, acting as an armed vigilante, gunned down two demonstrators in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020, and when Michael Forest Reinoehl, a self-described anti-fascist, hunted and killed a political enemy in Portland in September.
But if both Republicans and Democrats, left and right, suffer political violence, the same cannot be said of those who celebrate political violence. That’s not a “both sides” affair in 2020s America.
You don’t see Democratic House members wielding weapons in videos and threatening to shoot candidates who want to cut capital-gains taxes or slow the growth of Medicare. Democratic candidates for Senate do not post video fantasies of hunting and executing political rivals, or of using a firearm to discipline their children’s romantic partners. It’s not because of Democratic members that Speaker Nancy Pelosi installed metal detectors to bar firearms from the floor of the House. No Democratic equivalent exists of Donald Trump, who regularly praises and encourages violence as a normal tool of politics, most recently against his own party’s Senate leader, Mitch McConnell. As the formerly Trump-leaning Wall Street Journal editorializedon October 2: “It’s all too easy to imagine some fanatic taking Mr. Trump seriously and literally, and attempting to kill Mr. McConnell. Many supporters took Mr. Trump’s rhetoric about former Vice President Mike Penceall too seriously on Jan. 6.”
The January 6 insurrection is the overhanging fact above all this rhetoric of political violence. That was the day when Trump’s ally Rudy Giuliani urged, “Let’s have trial by combat”—and thousands heeded and complied. That terrible day, incited by President Trump and organized by Trump supporters, should have chastened American politics for a generation. It did not. Armed and masked vigilantes are intimidating voters right now in Arizona and other states, inspired by Trump’s continued election lies, as amplified by his supporters to this very day. Paul Pelosi is the latest to pay a blood price for the cult of violence. Thankfully, he is expected to make a full recovery, but he won’t be the last victim of the cult. It won’t stop, but it must stop. As Abraham Lincoln wrote to a friend in 1863: “Among free men, there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and … they who take such appeal are sure to lose their case, and pay the cost.”