Something is wrong with the American Left. The recent spate of violent protests on college campuses has been well-documented, but the violence and intolerance championed by left-wing student activists is beginning to creep off campus and into mainstream public life.
The reason for this is straightforward enough: although progressives pride themselves on their putative tolerance and diversity, the imperatives of leftist politics are fundamentally illiberal. Justice imposed through power is the philosophical foundation of the political left, and when earnest progressives become convinced the only avenue to power is violence, their tolerance quickly falls by the wayside. Consider a few recent events, none of which involved college protesters but all of which were marked by threats of violence.
Ahead of a town hall meeting this week in Virginia’s fifth congressional district, Republican Rep. Tom Garrett received a series of disturbing threats—not just against him but also his wife and family, even his dog. One message said bluntly, “This is how we’re going to kill your wife.”
As a result, the town hall event was heavily guarded, with uniformed and plain-clothes security lining the walls and scattered throughout the 300-seat room.
Earlier this month, Jennifer Carnahan, the new chairwoman of the Minnesota Republican Party, received a torrent of racist hate mail and at least one threat of physical violence that forced her from her home for a weekend. Carnahan, who is Korean-American, was targeted after publically apologizing and calling for the resignation of those responsible for an offensive image posted to the 7th Congressional District Republicans Facebook page.
It didn’t matter that Carnahan didn’t post the image, or that she did everything right. The folks sending the hate mail called her racist, and threw a few racial epithets directly at her for good measure.
Last month, left-wing activists in Oregon caused the cancellation of the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade by threatening to drag “fascists” off the parade route—and by fascists, they meant the Republican Party of Multanomah County. In an email, the activists warned, “we will have two hundred or more people rush into the parade into the middle and drag and push those people out as we will not give one inch to groups who espouse hatred toward lgbt, immigrants, people of color or others.”
Leftist Intolerance Invites A Breakdown Of Civility
For a long time, the mainstream media has treated conservatives as intolerant, even bigoted, for their views on gay marriage, abortion, and a host of other hot-button cultural issues. But now, faced with the spectacle of rioting college leftists, even the mainstream media is coming around to the realization that liberals are not as tolerant as they think. In fact, recent psychological research suggests they are not any more tolerant than conservatives.
Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at New York University, told Politico in a recent article that, “Nowadays, as the right sees it, the left has won the culture war and controls the media, the universities, Hollywood and the education of everyone’s children. Many of them think that they are the victims, they are fighting back against powerful and oppressive forces, and their animosities are related to that worldview.”
Conservatives are also combatting a growing level of hostility in public life. Since Trump’s election, much of it has come from the Left. At another town hall this week, Rep. Tom MacArthur, a New Jersey Republican, tried to explain his thinking on the GOP health care bill to angry constituents. MacArthur, who authored the amendment allowing states to apply for a waiver to opt out of some health insurance requirement, knows something about preexisting conditions. His daughter died of health complications when she was 11. The cost of her care was more than $1 million. MacArthur was in the room when she was taken off life support.
When he tried to talk about this, the crowd shouted “Shame!” When he said, “I put my head to my daughter’s chest and listened to her die,” they erupted. One person yelled, “Other babies will die without care, too!” Another jeered, “Did you have money for her care?” Someone suggested MacArthur, “Write a book.”
It’s not just angry mobs at town halls. On Wednesday, an editor at the Huffington Post called on his fellow leftists to stalk Republicans: “They should be hounded by protesters everywhere, especially in public—in restaurants, in shopping centers, in their districts and yes, on the public property outside their homes and apartments, in Washington and back in their homes states.”
Last week, senior Newsweek writer Kurt Eichenwald—who, let’s be honest, seems a little off—said he wants every Republican who voted for the American Health Care Act to have a family member come down with a serious illness, lose their insurance, and die. For good measure, he added that he also wants them “to be tortured.”
The Way We Use Social Media Is Exacerbating the Problem
How has it come to this? No doubt, leftist ideology invites a kind of intolerance that leads to violence, as we’ve seen. But this tendency is exacerbated by a breakdown of civility fueled by social media. Would we see the kind of brutal, cutthroat behavior that’s marked the crowds at these town halls if those people had not inured themselves somewhat to it?
And where might they have done that? Where would they have practiced the kind of no-holds-barred political debate that impels them to throw off the pretense of decorum and shout down their congressman? Or threaten him?
They—and all of us, really—are learning to behave this way on social media. Just as the violence on campus gradually seeps out into the streets and town halls, so too does our violent and intolerant rhetoric online eventually manifest in the real world. That so much of it is now coming from the political left is not an accident.
With every Facebook post and Tweet, every demonstration and boycott, they have talked themselves into it. It’s going to be difficult, maybe even impossible, to talk them out of it.