In the aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the city of Dallas gained the label of “the City of Hate.” Ironies abound from that label, as the city was the site of horrid right-wing fear and loathing, but JFK was murdered by a left-wing radical who previously tried to kill Gen. Edwin Walker and had similar plans for other politicians, such as the then-former Vice President Richard Nixon.
One need not recount the other assassinations of the 1960s to demonstrate that in that era of the Vietnam War and racial violence, there was hatred and animosity throughout the country.
One of the major differences between the 1960s and the decades of the 1980s and 1990s was that in the latter period there were significant political principals on the right and the left who would never have countenanced such violence in America. Just to name a few: Democratic senators like Paul Wellstone and George Mitchell, and Republican senators like Howard Baker and Bob Dole.
In other words, there existed a significant consensus by responsible political leaders and leaders of a less fragmented media — such as Peter Jennings, Mike Wallace and Barbara Walters — who would have castigated the threat as well as the reality of solving political differences through force, regardless of its source.
Fast forward to today, wherein there are few politicians who courageously oppose, and there are many who suborn or tolerate, most violence and force against those with whom they disagree.
The nauseating sight of CNN’s Jim Acosta, whose reporting I do not much respect, being accosted at the president’s recent Tampa rally by a threatening crowd with middle fingers thrust and chanting “CNN sucks” — along with chants at many of Mr. Trump’s rallies of “Lock her up” for Hillary Clinton and the memory of Mr. Trump’s verbal support of the beating of a protester — are terrifyingly dreadful.
Where is conservative outrage?
On the other side, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was told to leave The Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Va., because of her connection to the president, and, due to threats, she has Secret Service protection.
What was the reaction of Democratic leaders? Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, characteristically told a crowd “If you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd… [and] you push back on them. Tell them they’re not welcome any more, anywhere!”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, not even mentioning Ms. Waters’ name, at least said, insufficiently, such rhetoric was “not American,” while Rep. Nancy Pelosi tepidly excused Ms. Waters, saying her remarks were “understandable but unacceptable.”
Angry left-wingers harassed Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as she simply had a meal at a Mexican restaurant in Washington, D. C., and she was more ominously the victim of protesters’ chanting “no justice; no sleep” at her Virginia Townhouse.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, “provocatively” attending a documentary on the universally beloved Mr. Rogers, had to leave the theater pursuant to screaming, out-of-control protesters.
There appears to be no “Profile in Courage” leadership anymore, the leadership President Kennedy spoke of that risks political support to do what principle demands and which stands up to its own constituents.
Cowardly leadership provides a blueprint for violence of which we are at the precipice.
Who will speak up forthrightly against violence and force, whether it is from the left or right?
Richard E. Vatz is professor of political rhetoric at Towson University and is author of “The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion: the Agenda-Spin Model” (McGraw-Hill, 2017) and the co-editor of “Thomas S. Szasz: the Man and His Ideas” (Transaction Publishers, 2017). His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.