As I write this on Saturday afternoon, Donald Trump has not yet said, tweeted, social truthed, blogged or, of course, just picked up the phone to say a single word publicly about the shocking assault on Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul.
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Just remember that the 2 a.m. attack was apparently intended for the House Speaker herself and that she is, according to the Constitution, second in line to the presidency. Was it a plot to kill her, to kidnap her? We don’t know. What we know is that in this intense time of political division, political violence is always possible.
Now, ask yourself how it could be possible that Trump would say nothing.
I’d think that any normal human in Trump’s position — and please note that I am not suggesting Trump is in any way normal — would have at least said something anodyne about wishing Paul well while, only briefly, decrying political violence directed at any party.
If, as many are saying, you can find the roots of this attack in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, we now picture Trump watching the Pelosi news on TV, as he did during the insurrection, and again doing absolutely nothing.
During the Jan. 6 assault, we heard rioters calling out, “Where are you Nancy?” before they actually entered her office. We now know that Pelosi was in a secure location trying desperately to get help for the overwhelmed Capitol police.
This time, as soon as the attacker broke into the Pelosis’ San Francisco home, he called out, “Where’s Nancy?” Fortunately, she was back in Washington.
Was Trump afraid that by saying something he and his sometimes rabid base would be linked somehow to the attacker’s motivation?
Did he just see Pelosi as an enemy — the one who threatened to punch him in the nose, the one who has insulted him countless times — who was also the enemy of all Trumpists in good standing?
Or are he and his team — picture the Pillow Guy and John Eastman and Don Jr. and Steve Bannon huddled up with Trump at Mar-a-Lago — struggling to find a reaction, any kind of reaction, that could benefit him politically?
It wasn’t that he was otherwise occupied. During the day after the attack on Paul Pelosi, Trump wrote multiple posts on his Truth Social site complaining about his legal issues, praising Brazil’s authoritarian president, slamming a judge and lamenting the death of Jerry Lee Lewis. He praised Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter while decrying the “Radical Left Lunatics and Maniacs that truly hate our country.”
But he said nothing about Pelosi. This was an obvious snub, a tactical snub, as all the leaders of both parties — besides Trump — rushed to wish the Pelosi family well.
And, just guessing here, maybe Trump is wondering if he can replicate his very-fine-people-on-both-sides Charlottesville commentary. Maybe he could follow the bizarrely unsympathetic example Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who said in a campaign speech: “Speaker Pelosi’s husband had a break-in last night in their house, and he was assaulted. There’s no room for violence anywhere, but we’re gonna send her back to be with him in California. That’s what we’re going to go do.”
Does it surprise you that some see Youngkin as a potential Republican presidential candidate?
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Another question: Does it surprise you that according to a study by the Anti-Defamation League, 75% of political murders in the past decade have been committed by right-wing extremists?
The attacker’s social media posts — just a typical poster in the cesspool — showed him to be an election denier, an anti-Semite, a racist, a QAnon supporter and all that that support entails (Democrats as pedophiles, drinking baby’s blood, for example)’ and whatever other wild-eyed conspiracies you can find on social media.
I am not blaming Trump for the attack. I’m blaming those on the conspiratorial right who are a part of Trump’s base for much of the violent rhetoric. I am blaming Trump for encouraging those people — as he said in a presidential debate with Joe Biden: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by” — and also for doing next to nothing to call them out. You’ll remember that it was Trump’s long-delayed words that finally persuaded the Capitol rioters to go home. And in that address to the rioters, he called them special people and said he loved them.
What if Trump did speak out against political violence — threats against members of Congress have increased tenfold since 2016 — and did say that he didn’t want to be associated with people who would take a hammer to someone like Paul Pelosi? What if he said, as GOP Sen. Ben Sasse did, that it’s time to turn the temperature way down on violent rhetoric?
We know Pelosi has been a longtime target of the right. That tends to happen to strong, outspoken women. Last year, the Pelosi home was vandalized with graffiti, fake blood and a pig’s head. Of course, she wasn’t alone. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home was also vandalized. Extremists conspired to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. A man was arrested for threatening Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The list goes on, from armed threats to liberal leader Pramila Jayapal to many death threats to MAGA’s Marjorie Taylor Greene.
We know that election workers are being threatened, that some so-called self-appointed watchdogs have intimidated early voters. If social media is a major factor here — and it is — who takes comfort, besides Trump, in Elon Musk’s $44 billion purchase of Twitter?
If you watched Fox News, some commentators blamed Democrats for the attack, saying they had done too little to combat crime. One commentator blamed Pelosi for the fact that her house was not sufficiently secure. One even said the police may have overreacted. (By the way, Pelosi does have Secret Service protection, but the agents were with her in Washington.)
In a Los Angeles Times piece, Robert Pape, a University of Chicago professor who studies political extremism, said, “What’s new is we have violent sentiments in the mainstream of America.” In a recent survey, Pape saw that 5% of American adults said they favored the use of force to return Trump to the White House.
For you non-math majors, that 5% equals about 13 million.
And that’s just the number who admitted they believed in using violence. If you didn’t believe it before the Pelosi attack, it’s time to start believing just how great the threat really is to American democracy.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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