Words have actual, distinct meanings. Somehow accepting this wisdom that is thousands of years old is something of a struggle in this, the 21st century. I’m not talking about the current confusion over what the words man and woman mean, or if “Western Civilization” describes an actual human phenomenon. Rather, I’m talking about the word “incitement,” and a dishonest campaign by Democrats to argue Republicans are guilty of it.
One thing common to the dictionary definitions of the word “incite” is intent. To incite is to encourage, it is to actively advocate for; it is not a speech or action that inadvertently or negligently causes violence. When Democrats claim, as many have this week, that Republicans are inciting violence towards Rep. Ilhan Omar in their reaction to her statements about 9/11, they are making a specific charge. That charge is “The GOP wants to encourage violence against Omar.”
I’ll be honest: I’m a bit nonplussed by Omar saying “Some people did something” in regard to 9/11. It’s not how I would put it, but I suspect I view the root causes of the attack differently than Omar does. Obviously Omar abhors the attack, but she likely sees its roots as having to do with colonialism in the Middle East. This, along with recently revealed comments in which she suggested a moral relevancy between al-Qaeda and the U.S. Army, suggest a certain type of worldview. And it’s not all that rare.
On college campuses all across America, there are professors who think the United States has been a harmful force — Central America, Vietnam, climate change, using a nuclear bomb, etc. They have their case. I think it’s foolish, but it’s not strange that Omar and other young Democrats in Congress don’t. It’s fairly standard leftist fare. It is also absolutely fair game for political attack.
The real danger in regard to Democrats accusing Republicans like Rep. Dan Crenshaw and Donald Trump, and outlets like the New York Post, of incitement to violence is that the charge is one of very few that can be used to erase First Amendment free speech protections. It’s no accident that this is the word being used. But it is an absurd accusation.
No Democrat will actually say that Crenshaw, Trump, or the New York Post editors desire harm to come to Omar, because obviously they don’t. And that takes incitement off the table. What they are saying, in classic progressive tones, is that Omar is a member of a vulnerable, marginalized minority, so attacks on her carry an extra threat of violence.
It is hard to know if this is true, but it might be. Omar has been the subject of death threats, including the arrest of one man. Perhaps Omar’s critics should take extra care in framing their attacks. But Omar is a public figure, a politician thrust into vast prominence and influence. She has to be fair game for direct criticism. And her identity cannot be allowed to transform a plain political attack into an incitement to violence.
Last year, many in the liberal press applauded the public abuse of Trump officials in restaurants. This was the people having their voice! Even Democratic members of Congress urged this kind of direct action. Can they really claim that public confrontation with politicians is less likely to lead to violence than criticism of a Muslim politician’s speech? If telling people to get in GOP officials’ faces isn’t incitement to violence — and it isn’t — then how can criticism of a congresswoman euphemizing the attacks of 9/11 possibly be?
My father has a piece of advice that he is perhaps overly fond of giving me. “Speak with particularity,” he says. It’s good advice. Frankly, my fear about Democrats’ misuse of “incite” is not that they do not know their error, but that they know it very well. My fear is that they intend to change what the word means, because there are no rules, and take away fundamental speech rights in the coming decades.
If Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez thinks Republicans are inciting violence by attacking Omar, can we doubt she would pursue hate speech laws that would police Americans’ speech in ways unimaginable two decades ago? The presidential candidates on the Democratic side are once again echoing her. It seems like they have gotten hooked on a progressive smack that is hard to beat. Well, hard for them to beat — maybe not for Trump.
Obviously Republicans can’t and won’t be cowed by these crazy claims that they are inciting violence. Let’s hope the Democrats come to understand how absurd it is as well.