It’s essentially become universally accepted that the political arena as of late has been steadily undergoing a transformation from a place of discussion and debate to one of battle. Throughout the duration of the past election season, the media never hesitated to remind viewers of just how divided the nation had become regarding the selection of the country’s new president.
Inevitably, commentary of this sort would be accompanied by clips of each candidates’ inflammatory rhetoric, whether it was Donald Trump railing against illegal immigrants or Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders crusading against the evil corporations. And though there was occasional discussion about actual incidences of violence, much of the conversation would come to center less on actual actions and more on words and rhetoric.
Eventually, a theme began to emerge: Words matter. Now taken at face value, there really is nothing wrong in pointing out the importance of language and how it may affect people. However, the mantra also hints at what has become a far more troubling political trend than divisiveness. And that is the increasingly prevalent attitude, particularly on the Left, that words and attitudes matter more than actions.
The Left’s foray into this new style-over-substance ideology really began with the election of Barack Obama. To say Obama was a godsend to the American Left would be putting it lightly. Here was a fairly young, articulate, African-American senator, who preached ending United States involvement in military conflicts overseas and instituting an administration of unheard transparency.
He was perfect and, with his election and subsequent reelection, there could be no doubt that Barack Obama would go on to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, President(s) of the United States.
For many, their faith in that prophecy never faltered.
When Obama used the all-too-familiar justification of a “humanitarian crisis” for military intervention in Libya, while also drastically increasing troop levels in Afghanistan, they swooned over his declaration that if he “had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin.”
When the number of federal raids on medicinal marijuana dispensaries in Obama’s first 4 years surpassed the number of raids conducted in 8 years under George W. Bush, they were too busy laughing about how funny he was on Jay Leno to notice.
And when he ultimately refused to pardon whistleblower Edward Snowden and failed to deliver on his promise of closing Guantanamo Bay, they cheered his calm, even-tempered demeanor and despaired that his time in office was coming to an end.
The period of executive branch transition called for a shift in the way the Left fetishized rhetoric. Previously the fixation had been implemented as a blinder for when actions ran contrary to words, however, during the hectic election season it would instead serve as a method to demonize.
Donald Trump certainly seemed the perfect target for this tactic. He was a wealthy, white businessman, whose disregard for decorum was only exceeded by his hatred of political correctness.
And Trump was certainly all too happy to fan the flames. His early comments on Mexican illegal immigrants and consideration of creating a Muslim registry were more than enough to raise eyebrows across the political spectrum. However, in the minds of many, talk about increasing border security became chants to ban all immigration, and discussion of increased surveillance evolved into the creation of concentration camps for all those not under the straight-white-male umbrella.
They banded together under Hillary Clinton’s motto of “Stronger Together” and proclaimed “I’m with her” while anyone daring to support Donald Trump was clearly a racist bigot intent on ensuring the death of minorities. All the while seemingly oblivious to the fact that Clinton’s hawkish history had been pivotal in killing hundreds of thousands of the same religious group they hoped to save.
Violent protests at Trump rallies and assaults on Trump supporters were quickly tossed from view. The violence of the protester’s actions was nothing compared to the violence of Trump’s words.
The hatred and demonization of all things Trump would continue all the way up to and past Election Day. Though they did make time to mourn the passing of notorious Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, a man guilty of creating the exact homosexual concentration camps they accused Trump of seeking to instate. Of course, that didn’t matter, they remembered Castro’s praise for universal healthcare and rants against the evil capitalist system.
Similarly, many cheered Obama’s pardoning of Puerto Rican national Oscar López Rivera, who was convicted in 1981 of a litany of charges, most notable among them being a leader and bomb maker for the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN). An organization known for having conducted over 120 bomb attacks in the cities of New York, Chicago, and Washington D.C. The most deadly of those attacks occurred at New York City’s Fraunces Tavern on January 24, 1975, leaving 4 people dead and over 50 injured.
At the time of his trial, Oscar López Rivera admitted to not only his involvement with the FALN but also of all the charges of which he was accused. Though he also declared himself a political prisoner and so refused to participate in the trial.
None of this was enough to discourage Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the musical Hamilton, from crying tears of joy at the news of Rivera’s pardon. Strange that someone so concerned with the safety and rights of others would approve of the release of a man with no qualms about hurting or killing innocent people.
Once again it’s not what you do, but what you say. Words matter.
That mindset reared its head again at the Presidential Inauguration of Donald Trump. This time as a means of justification for the destruction and violence of protesters. The most prominent example of this being the assault on alt-righter Richard Spencer.
Spencer was in the middle of being interviewed, when a masked member of Antifa, an anarcho-communist group whose notable achievements include destroying property and scuffling with equally irrelevant political groups, delivered a punch to the side of Spencer’s head before fleeing.
The assault was instantly cheered across the internet with many excitedly showing their support for “punching Nazis.”
Richard Spencer is a white-nationalist and, though there may be a significant difference between his ideology and neo-nazism, I’m more than happy to identify him as a pariah and scumbag. However, to my knowledge, he has never committed violence against anyone, and the evidence of his supposed support of genocide is tepid at best.
More recently, Milo Yiannopoulos, infamous right-wing activist and Trump supporter, was forced to cancel a speaking engagement at UC Berkeley due to the violence of protesters. Thousands gathered outside the venue, where Yiannopoulos was set to speak, waving the slogans “Hate speech isn’t free speech” and “This is war.”
The latter of which soon proved to be prophetic, as protesters attacked the building with bricks, fireworks, and even metal police barricades, before turning their anger on Yiannopoulos supporters, several of whom were injured. They then smashed the windows of several surrounding buildings before being dispersed by police.
Similar to Richard Spencer, Milo Yiannopoulos is undeniably a controversial and inflammatory figure. Unlike Spencer, though, the label of racist is one that is entirely unfitting and incorrect for Yiannopoulos. Nonetheless, both cases show just how far the barrier between language and violence has slipped away.
And so it seems the slogan of “Words matter” is quickly evolving into a policy of “Talk shit, get hit.” Of course what exactly constitutes “shit” will remain entirely subjective, though be sure that the objectively violent “hit” will find no lack of support from those left of center.