This just in: According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, 88% of Americans are “concerned” about the rise in politically motivated violence, including 63% who are “very concerned.”
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To get those kinds of near-unanimous numbers — usually reserved for topics no more controversial than our views on ice cream — you must have an issue that strikes a nerve with Democrats, Republicans, Unaffiliateds, Libertarians, Librarians, Greens, Reds, Blues. I’d guess most of the unworried are those who don’t see a problem if their local election denier takes an AR-15 with him or her (but mostly him) to, uh, monitor ballot drop boxes.
Let’s just say I’d be concerned, at this point in the life of our threatened democracy, if fewer than 88% of Americans expressed concern.
But if you’re feeling at all heartened by this, I apologize. I had to lead you on at least a little to make the point: The truth is, if you take a closer look at the poll, you’d discover that the 88% means next to nothing.
The poll was taken just after the attack on Paul Pelosi, husband to Nancy, by a man who told police he was intending to break Nancy Pelosi’s knees in order to set an example. He said by breaking the House Speaker’s knees, she’d have to take a wheelchair into the Capitol and then everyone would understand the consequences of spreading lies.
That would almost be funny, except for the part about the assault, if the recently voted-out Liar in Chief weren’t about to announce that he will, in fact, run for president again in 2024. He will begin as the heavy favorite to win the GOP nomination (if, it turns out, he’s not in prison at the time).
I’d like to have seen a poll asking how many of those among the 88% were disturbed by the hammer attack or by the jokes from GOP candidates and officials about the hammer attack or by Donald Trump’s decision to spread easily debunked conspiracy theories about the hammer attack.
And let’s not even get started on Elon Musk, who has already broken his promise not to make Twitter a “hellscape” by tweeting (and then un-tweeting) a link to a far-right-wing site spreading Pelosi-related nonsense. By the way, it’s the same site that once insisted Hillary Clinton had died during the 2016 campaign and that Democrats had replaced her with a body double. The one promise Musk has kept is his willingness to fire thousands of Twitter workers.
Here’s where the 88% number falls apart and near unanimity goes to die:
When asked which party was more to blame for the risk of violence, 31% blamed Republicans, 25% blamed Democrats and 32% blamed both parties equally. In other words, less than two years after the Jan. 6 insurrection, just days after a federal judge forced Trumpist vigilantes in Arizona to stop intimidating early voters, 57% of those polled said Democrats were at least as responsible as Republicans for political violence.
No wonder we look at the midterms and see election deniers running everywhere. At last count, the New York Times had it at 370 — most of whom are expected to win.
No wonder we look at the midterms and see clearly unqualified candidates like Herschel Walker and Dr. Oz holding the balance as to which party will control the Senate for the next two years.
No wonder we look at the midterms and read, while shaking our heads, the story about the outbreak of social media games in which the players score points for pointing out examples, legitimate or otherwise, of current voter fraud.
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No wonder that when Joe Biden made his recent campaign speech about the threats facing our democracy, even some Democrats were panning him, saying that Dems should be talking about the GOP threat to, say, Social Security and Medicare instead. Given where we are today, the critics might be onto something even though the threat to democracy is real.
It’s not clear that even Barack Obama, who is on the campaign trail making the same argument as Biden — if far more convincingly — in critical swing states, can make the case. But he’s trying. In Arizona the other night, Obama told a crowd that “If the Republican candidates here are successful, democracy as we know it may not survive in Arizona.”
Noting that Republicans had election deniers running for governor, senator, secretary of state and attorney general, Obama said the risk to democracy is “not an exaggeration. That’s a fact.”
Writing in The American Prospect, Eric Alterman pointed out that when Republican Rep. Steve Scalise was shot by a Bernie Sanders supporter, all major Democrats condemned the shooting. Meanwhile, when Paul Pelosi is assaulted with a hammer, we hear Republican candidates getting cheap laughs at his expense.
Alterman pointed out that it was left to former Republican pundits, the Never Trumpers, to make the case that this is not a both-sides issue. He named David Frum, “Only the GOP Celebrates Political Violence”; Max Boot, “Don’t Blame ‘Both Sides.’ The Right Is Driving Political Violence”; and Tom Nichols, “The Dark Heart of the Republican Party.”
I wish everyone would read those columns or others like them — if only because to read them, people would have to open their eyes.
Editor’s note: This column was updated at 10 a.m. on Nov. 7, 2022, to correct that it’s been less than two years since the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
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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