It is fairly commonplace today to see political partisans extrapolating policy positions in order to accuse adversaries of abetting all sorts of heinous crimes. Instances of the tactic seem to vary from the exagerrated but plausible to the blatantly absurd. To me it seems like a dishonest if not dangerous practice.
Here’s the latest Trump campaign ad calling Democrats “complicit” in every murder committed by any illegal alien. The message is sure to resonate with the Sheriff Joe Arpaio and MAGA wings of the Republican Party. It is also sure to generate loads of real and simulated outrage from the left.
The ad touts Trump’s pledge to build a border wall and to strengthen border security.
“Democrats who stand in our way will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants,” the ad said.
Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders called the spot “really unbelievable and so sad for our country,” in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Republicans – and even a White House official – tried to distance themselves from the spot.
“It’s done from a political organization,” White House legislative affairs director Marc Short told NBC’s Meet the Press. “It’s not done from people working inside the White House.”
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan told CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday that “I don’t know if that’s necessarily productive.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was grilled on the ad yesterday and she defended its primary claim while dodging the issue of whether President Trump had any input or involvement with making the ad. (It does end with the requisite “I’m Donald Trump and I approved this message,” for whatever that’s worth.)
Pressed on whether Pres. Trump approves of campaign ad's message calling Democrats complicit in murders by undocumented immigrants, Press Sec. says if they are "unwilling" to change immigration system, then that would "certainly allow for future incidents to take place." pic.twitter.com/K17K8XNIOR
— ABC News (@ABC) January 22, 2018
The reasons I see this sort of hyperbolic rhetoric as playing with fire are twofold.
First, it makes a direct connection between policy positions and consequences that are entirely out of people’s hands. Yes, I agree that enforcing border security is a good idea for a thousand reasons, one of which is curbing violent crime, of course.
But painting legislators as directly responsible for the actions of others is hypocritical. It’s not much different than when the left calls the NRA “complicit” in mass shootings, or when they say fighting terrorists leads to more terrorism.
This is deliberately emotional rhetoric designed to make people feel fear instead of thinking rationally. It’s wrong no matter which side does it, but it is hypocritical for people on the right who claim to be the logical ones, the adults in the room, to engage in after so many years and so many miles of ink dedicated to decrying this behavior in others.
That was the first thing.
For the second, President Trump and others on the right are playing with fire here, to some extent. It’s fairly easy to get away with this right now because the media is largely polarized into two camps, neither of which cares too much about applying the same standards to every politician.
For anyone who cares about consistency or truth though, how can you reconcile claims that Democrats are in effect guilty of murder for being wrong on illegal immigration and something like the story this week about the nut who wanted to go on a shooting spree at “Fake News” CNN? Had he been successful would the constant and virulent anti-media sentiments from Trump and his followers made them complicit in the crime? What’s worse, you’re opening the door all the way to that criticism.
I’m still someone who thinks criminals are responsible for their own decisions and actions, but hyperbolic accusations by prominent voices certainly provide material with which their defective brains can work. Whether it’s a someone attempting to murder employees at the Family Research Council because someone made wild claims about them being an anti-homosexual hate group, or someone attempting to murder reporters at CNN because the current administration and its allies have called them an enemy of the American people, the rhetoric does help the crazies justify their actions to themselves.
People say a lot of reprehensible things but I’m not prepared to equate that with being complicit in murder, at least not when those making the accusation aren’t guilty of similar behavior themselves.