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Op-ed

Michelle Goldberg: What if every moment since Jan. 6 was just the calm before the storm? | GUEST COMMENTARY

Richard Ringer, a 69-year-old Democratic state House candidate in Pennsylvania, was awoken on a recent Monday before 5 a.m. when he heard someone at his garage door. He looked out the window and saw a man with a flashlight.

Just a couple of weeks earlier, Ringer says he found a message spray-painted on his garage door; although the rain partly rinsed it off, the words “Your Race” and “Dead” were visible. Then, on a Thursday night, he says he came home to a brick thrown through his window.

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So when Ringer saw the intruder that Monday, he ran outside and tackled him. But the man was quickly able to pin Ringer down and beat him unconscious. Ringer doesn’t know for certain that the violence was political — police are investigating — but given the graffiti, he suspects it was.

Ringer’s assault made the local news but hasn’t been much of a story nationally. Perhaps that’s because it’s just a small detail in a growing tapestry of menace. All over this febrile country, intimations of mayhem are gathering. Vigilantes in Arizona, some armed and wearing tactical gear, have harassed and intimidated voters at the sites of ballot drop boxes, cheered on by Mark Finchem, the Republican candidate for secretary of state. In Nevada, where a millionaire far-right Republican official named Robert Beadles has systemically targeted election workers, Reuters reported that the top election officials in 10 of the state's 17 counties have resigned, retired or declined to run again.

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And, most notably, a MAGA fanatic named David DePape is accused of breaking into Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home and assaulting her 82-year-old husband with a hammer, leaving him unconscious in a pool of his own blood. More shocking than the attack itself has been the response to it from the Trumpist wing of the Republican Party. Some officials spread lurid lies that Paul Pelosi was attacked by a gay lover. Others jeered about it. “Nancy Pelosi, well, she’s got protection when she’s in D.C. — apparently her house doesn’t have a lot of protection,” Kari Lake, Arizona’s Republican candidate for governor, said to laughter at a campaign event. Donald Trump Jr. retweeted a photo of underwear and a hammer with the caption, “Got my Paul Pelosi Halloween costume ready.”

It’s hard to feel sanguine about a society whose political class cannot muster the solidarity to universally condemn the terroristic bludgeoning of an old man.

Political violence is not exclusively perpetrated by conservatives. The recent beating in Florida of a Marco Rubio canvasser — a man who turned out to have ties to white supremacists — appears to have been motivated by anti-Republican animus. But the right is far more violent than the left, and Republicans wink at assaults committed by extremists in a way that Democrats do not.

The message of all the chuckling about Paul Pelosi is clear: The right believes its enemies have no rights, and no longer sees the need to pretend otherwise. Trump taught the Republican Party that it needn’t bother with hypocritical displays of decency, that it can revel in cruelty, transgression and the thrill of violence. Now it’s taking that lesson into the first post-Jan. 6, 2021, election. The tense calm of the past 20 months has often felt like being in the eye of a hurricane. Now the terrible weather is coming back.

It is simply a fact that only one party tried to overturn the 2020 election, and only one party is trying to insulate itself from the will of voters in future elections.

As Democratic strategist Michael Podhorzer put it, “When it comes to the post-election crisis, 2020 was like the beginning of ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,’ and 2022 will be more like the part where the walking mops multiply out of control.” We should be ready for what could soon be unleashed.

Michelle Goldberg (Twitter: @michelleinbklyn) is a columnist for The New York Times, where this piece originally appeared.


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