Members Only | October 24, 2018 | Reading Time: 5 minutes

Never-Trump Republicans, Please Pick a Side

When the president marks people as the enemy, there is no center.

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The big news is that three pipe bombs were mailed to a trio of high-profile Democrats. An explosive was found Monday in the mailbox of George Soros, the philanthropist. One each was sent Wednesday to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. All were intercepted and later disposed of. In each case, the bomb parts were similar.

It’s not yet known who mailed the bombs, or why. That’s probably where this story will end. It shouldn’t. Whoever sent these bombs is almost certainly not a liberal or a Democrat or even a leftist. It’s probably not a run-of-the mill Republican. It’s not anyone with anything to lose by trying to commit the crime of domestic terrorism.

No, it’s someone with a screw loose, something who feels desperate, someone who believes that these high-profile Democrats, one of whom is Jewish, are part of a conspiracy, probably a Jewish conspiracy set in motion long ago, to destroy these United States. It’s not a coincidence that that’s precisely what the president has been lately hinting at, and what right-wing media has been saying outright for years.

The reaction among Republicans is probably going to be one of couple of things. First, no one cares about the Clintons or the Obamas, so this was obviously a stunt pulled by operatives to gin up sympathy before the midterms. Second, this was the act of a lone wolf, not an act of terrorism, with nothing to say about the Republican Party.

A third explanation might be that this isn’t so bad. No one got hurt. Anyway, the Democrats are just as likely to mail pipe bombs. Look at those “mobs” accosting Senators at dinner and telling Brett Kavanaugh that he’s evil. (As I’m writing this, the New York offices of CNN are being evacuated due to a suspicious package.)

That’s not only nonsense. It’s dangerous nonsense.

None of us lives in a vacuum. We inhabit a context. That context is not one in which Democrats, or those identifying with that party, have demonstrated willingness to act violently. (Antifa, for the record, is not associated with the Democrats no matter how strenuously some people urge to the contrary.) Yes, liberals are getting more assertive, more confrontational. But protest, even aggressive protest (I have defended mildly people banging on doors in protest of Nancy Pelosi) is not the same thing as sending bombs to people whom the president himself has marked as the enemy.

The worst response, however, will come from so-called Never Trump Republicans who have not come to accept that the party of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush no longer exists. They will not only distance themselves from attempted acts of domestic terrorism. They will preserve what’s left of conservative ideology by blurring the line between political violence and legitimate public protest in order to make it appear as if “the left” is just as bad as the right, and that everyone’s to blame for everything.

No. Not everyone is to blame.

One party is to blame.

But even that might not be so bad if so-called Never Trump Republicans were not themselves busy spreading, condoning, rationalizing and otherwise laundering right-wing propaganda, conspiracy theory and other anti-liberal talking points.

Just yesterday, for instance, David Frum, the much ballyhooed anti-Trump conservative at The Atlantic, said this: “If liberals insist that enforcing borders is a job only fascists will do, then voters will hire fascists to do the job liberals won’t.”

If Frum is to be believed, you must pretend that the last 10 years never happened. You must pretend that Barack Obama did not deport more immigrants than all other presidents combined. You must pretend that Congressional Democrats did not join Congressional Republicans in pouring tens of millions into border security to levels even greater than just after Sept. 11. You must pretend that the Democrats really do want “open borders,” though no party leader has ever called for such a thing.

In other words, you have pretend.

But pretending doesn’t feel like pretending when you are part of an alternative universe of right-wing media, a fourth dimension of sorts that warps political reality. The so-called caravan of immigrants Frum is talking about? It’s thousands of miles away, at the border of Guatemala and Mexico. The Honduran flag was waving when the migrants were marching through Honduras. Next month’s congressional elections will probably come and go before these people get here by foot. Yet the president and his media allies have whipped up collective hysteria, and Frum has played his part.

It especially doesn’t feel like pretending when Never Trump Republicans make of show of shunning the lunacy of the right-wing echo chamber even as they keep giving it credence. Frum claimed falsely that liberals don’t want to enforce the border. He didn’t base that on history or fact. He based it on a make-believe cartoon version of the Democrats’ border position that’s unquestioned in the right-wing media universe.

Fact is, lots of Republicans will not believe that right-wing domestic terrorism is a threat to democracy, because they don’t believe anyone associated with the GOP would do that. Republicans are good people. Good people don’t mail pipe bombs. Democrats are bad people, however. Democrats don’t have to mail pipe bombs to arouse suspicion. All that’s needed to arouse suspicion is acting rudely in public. All that’s needed to reinforce that suspicion is an alternative media universe.

(Meghan McCain, John McCain’s daughter, just this morning on ABC’s “The View” compared public protest to bomb threats: Mitch McConnell “is getting harassed and heckled when he goes out in public to have dinner with his wife,” she said.)

Frum and others are right in saying propaganda destabilizes democracy. They are wrong in saying they have nothing to do with with crazies who believe the Democrats should get whatever’s coming to them. If the Democrats are as bad as reputable people like Frum say they are, the thinking goes, maybe political violence is justified.

I can’t see anything getting better as long as people like Frum, who enjoys enormous clout in Washington, keeps ignoring observable reality and playing make-believe. Little will change until “centrists” accept responsibility, or are held to account.

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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