“Americans say the nation’s political debate has grown more toxic and ‘heated’ rhetoric could lead to violence.”
So the headlines of a recent Pew Research poll scream in large, boldprint font. Some specifics are in order:
- Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents overwhelmingly (84%) say Trump has changed political discourse for the worse. About half of Republicans and Republican leaners (49%) say he has changed it for the better, while 23% say he has changed it for the worse and 27% say he hasn’t changed it much either way.
- Eight-in-ten or more Democrats say Trump’s comments often or sometimes make them feel concerned, confused, embarrassed, exhausted, angry, insulted and frightened. While Republicans are considerably less likely than Democrats to report these negative reactions to Trump’s rhetoric, about six-in-ten (59%) say they are at least sometimes concerned by his comments, while about half say they are at least sometimes confused (47%) or embarrassed (53%). About seven-in-ten or more Republicans say his comments often or sometimes make them feel entertained, informed, hopeful, excited, happy, proud, respected and inspired.
- Among Republicans, just 25% say it is never acceptable to accuse an opponent of being anti-American, while 53% of Democrats say this is out of bounds. Notably, those in both parties are more likely to say this rhetoric is acceptable when an elected official of their party is accusing an opponent of the other party. But the partisan gap remains: Just 30% of Republicans say it is off-limits for a Republican to call a Democratic opponent anti-American, while 45% of Democrats say it is off-limits for a Democrat to say this about a Republican opponent.
- Nearly two-thirds of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (64%) think that “Democrats in this country are very comfortable to freely and openly express their political views,” but only about a quarter (26%) think Republicans around the nation experience that same level of comfort. The sense of an unequal environment for political expression is most pronounced among conservative Republicans and Republican leaners: 69% think Democrats are very comfortable to freely express their views, while just 23% think Republicans are very comfortable, a 46 percentage point gap.
My conclusions, what it all means: President Trump is the first Republican president in my memory who seems to savor being attacked, vilified, criticized, even slandered by the Perfectionist Progressive establishment: Democrats, “legacy” media (NY Times, Wa. Post, LA Times, etc.), 2nd tier cable (CNN, MSNBC), race and grievance hustlers, most college profs, and other assorted leftists, even establishment Republicans. Ronald Reagan was a master of using humor to deflect and embarrass critics, but he didn’t seem to enjoy it as Trump does. His combativeness has been a shock to the PP establishment, who got used to soft targets like the Bushes and most Republicans. The “unequal environment for political expression” was a given for Democrats since the 1960’s, and even President Reagan was willing to compromise a lot, and was predictable, but no longer. Trump relishes calling his opponents “anti-American”, and such a charge sticks like superglue to “the squad”, but doesn’t stick to Republicans in general, and certainly not to Trump. Look at the results in the second bullet point. I say it’s about time the Democrats had an opponent to fear, who can’t be intimidated, who loves the mud as much as they do. Too damn bad.
As far as the headline goes, are you incited to violence by political rhetoric? I’m not. Who is? How about Antifa? How about the anti-I.C.E. protests? How about Islamic radicals? None of those violent, lawless groups need political rhetoric to incite them. They like violence for its thrill. It makes them feel powerful and important. Rhetoric gives them cover for their actions, rather than inciting them.