Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Thursday accused Sen. Ted Cruz of almost having her murdered. Really.
She was responding to a two-word tweet from Cruz agreeing with her about the need for a congressional hearing about the recent stock market insanity. “Happy to work w/almost any other GOP that aren’t trying to get me killed,” she wrote, presumably with a straight face, before calling on Cruz to resign.
In fact, Cruz did not try to have AOC murdered. What he did do was formally object to the certification of the Electoral College vote in a more or less ceremonial joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, the same day an angry mob forced its way into the U.S. Capitol.
In AOC’s mind, Cruz is responsible for what happened, along with then-President Trump, Sen. Josh Hawley, and more than 120 other members of Congress. They incited the mob by questioning the election results, you see, and because some people in that mob were violent and unruly, Cruz and the others basically tried to have AOC murdered. Or so goes this thinking.
I am happy to work with Republicans on this issue where there’s common ground, but you almost had me murdered 3 weeks ago so you can sit this one out.
Happy to work w/ almost any other GOP that aren’t trying to get me killed.
In the meantime if you want to help, you can resign. https://t.co/4mVREbaqqm
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 28, 2021
It’s easy to laugh off AOC’s brittle hyperbole here, but these kinds of outlandish logical leaps have become commonplace in recent weeks, along with a tendency to pretend rote political catchphrases like “fight for your country” or “fight like hell”—a phrase Trump used in his Jan. 6 speech—should be taken literally, as an incitement to violence, which is ridiculous.
Nevertheless, rigid hyper-literalism is all the rage these days in Washington. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said, somewhat cryptically, “the enemy is within” the House, and later explained she was talking about “members of Congress who… have threatened violence on other members of Congress.”
If true, that’s a pretty big deal. But it’s not true. Pelosi was referencing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a newly elected Republican from Georgia who’s a known QAnon conspiracy theorist. As such, she’s said some pretty idiotic and downright crazy things in recent years.
But it’s one thing to post conspiratorial claptrap on Facebook—as Greene has done—and quite another to threaten actual violence against members of Congress.
Presumably, Pelosi got the idea from a CNN story earlier this week with the strained headline: “Marjorie Taylor Greene indicated support for executing prominent Democrats in 2018 and 2019 before running for Congress.” Again—whoa, if true. But if you read the story, it turns out Greene just wrote some stupid comments online about how Pelosi is a traitor and at one point liked a some Facebook comment about how “a bullet to the head would be quicker” to remove Pelosi from office.
The comment is certainly in poor taste even if it’s obviously a macabre joke, and it no doubt reflects poor judgment that Greene liked it. (Greene issued a statement explaining that over the years different teams of people have managed her social media accounts and have sometimes liked posts or comments that “did not represent my views.”)
But no one, including Pelosi, actually thinks this is the same as threatening members of Congress with violence—any more than AOC actually thinks Cruz almost had her murdered. Not even Rep. Steve Scalise thinks Sen. Bernie Sanders is responsible for the crazed Bernie supporter who shot him and really did try to murder a bunch of GOP lawmakers at a baseball practice in 2017.
Nevertheless, we’ve seen a constant stream of hysterical pronouncements along these lines for weeks. The riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 seems to have unmoored some people from reality, so that now ostensibly serious journalists and commentators talk about how the Capitol was “sacked” by “insurrectionists” who “brought democracy to its knees.” All of this was led—not just “incited” but led, we’re told—by Trump himself.
It doesn’t seem to matter that the Capitol wasn’t sacked, that there was no insurrection or even a realistic plan for one, and that Congress got back into the building and finished its business that same day.
The point of using such disingenuous language is obvious. If the Capitol really was “sacked” by “insurrectionists,” then we could justify almost anything to make sure it doesn’t happen again, right? We could have National Guard troops occupy Washington for weeks or months on end. Big Tech could justifiably de-platform Trump and his supporters—and demonetize their online businesses. Democrats could launch ethics investigations of any GOP lawmaker who ever raised a question about election fraud, maybe expel them from Congress. The legislative branch could even impeach a president who has already left office.
That’s why moving the linguistic goalposts the way AOC and Pelosi and others on the left routinely do is dangerous. This isn’t just some Twitter dunk-fest. Manipulating language to impute guilt or wrongdoing to people or groups merely because they’re your political opponents is a recipe for escalating civil strife.
It’s dangerous in the same way that it’s dangerous to convince half the country that speech is violence. If you really believe it, well who knows what you might have to do to silence those people.