McConnell, extreme insults and a climate violence

In a world in which the SEC charges Kim Kardashian with promoting a crypto brand on Instagram without disclosing she was paid $250,000, we are constantly confronted with instances of celebrities behaving badly.

In a world in which politicians use crude attacks to build their brand – Marjorie Taylor Greene has already filed impeachment resolutions against President Biden and uses them to raise money – we’ve become inured to a culture of demonization.

The media have for years helped foster this climate, where only increasingly extreme denunciations break through the static. It was hardly invented by Donald Trump.

But Trump seized the moment with his mastery of the news cycle, using rallies and Twitter (and now Truth Social) to bash and belittle his political foes, often counterpunching against denunciations by them or the fourth estate. Any Republicans who fought him were labeled RINOs and many were knocked off in primaries, leaving a party in which the former president remains the dominant figure.

WHEN A MAJOR HURRICANE COLLIDES WITH OTHER NEWS, THE STORM PREVAILS

Former President Trump gives a thumbs up after speaking at an event.

Former President Trump gives a thumbs up after speaking at an event.
(Getty Images)

So dominant, in fact, that a majority of Republicans tell pollsters they believe Trump’s continued claims that the 2020 election was stolen, which much of the rest of the country and the vast majority of the media dismiss as a big lie. The Justice Department’s investigation of the ex-president for taking and withholding classified documents only convinces his supporters that the establishment is out to get him.

Trump has been attacking Mitch McConnell ever since the senator broke with him in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot. He has called the Republican leader some version of an “Old Crow” so many times that nobody blinks anymore.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters after a Republican strategy meeting at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, March 8, 2022. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters after a Republican strategy meeting at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, March 8, 2022. 
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

So the man who privately called his own supporters “f—— crazy,” according to Maggie Haberman’s book, escalated even more.

He started out accusing McConnell of approving trillions in Democrat-sponsored bills because “he hates Donald J. Trump” or wants to “take the Country down with him.” (Perhaps McConnell thought infrastructure, computer chips and helping ailing veterans was a good idea?) 

“He has a DEATH WISH. Must immediately seek help and advise [sic] from his China loving wife, Coco Chow!”

Now I was more offended by the obvious racist reference to Mitch’s wife Elaine Chao, who was Trump’s own Transportation secretary. Her crime was that she resigned immediately after Jan. 6. Still: Chow? 

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House.
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

I didn’t see the death wish part as an attempt to stir up violence, but many people disagree. I viewed it more as Trump trolling one of his favorite targets, and am not sure whether the media should take the bait. Does every over-the-top insult need to be covered?

The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page, which supported many of his presidential initiatives but has been tough on his post-White House conduct, disagrees:

“The ‘death wish’ rhetoric is ugly even by Mr. Trump’s standards and deserves to be condemned. Mr. Trump’s apologists claim he merely meant Mr. McConnell has a political death wish, but that isn’t what he wrote. It’s all too easy to imagine some fanatic taking Mr. Trump seriously and literally, and attempting to kill Mr. McConnell. Many supporters took Mr. Trump’s rhetoric about former Vice President Mike Pence all too seriously on Jan. 6.”

Fair point; there are plenty of crazy people out there.

The editorial doesn’t stop there: “Five weeks from Election Day, Mr. Trump could be working and spending money to elect a GOP Congress or to help his home state of Florida recover from Hurricane Ian. Instead he’s attacking Mr. McConnell and his wife as part of a personal political vendetta, and putting every Republican candidate on the spot to respond to questions about the Trump rant. Mr. Trump always puts himself first, and with this rhetoric he may put others at genuine risk of harm.”

Even if he meant political death wish, it’s ambiguous enough that it could be interpreted that way. (McConnell makes a general practice of not commenting on Trump.) 

MEDIA DISMISS TRUMP-BACKED NOMINEES AS LOSERS, BUT MANY REMAIN COMPETITIVE

The New York Times ties the Trump era to a tenfold increase in threats against members of Congress: 

“In Bangor, Maine, an unknown visitor smashed a storm window at Senator Susan Collins’s home.

Former President Donald Trump pauses as he speaks at a rally Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, in Florence, Ariz.

Former President Donald Trump pauses as he speaks at a rally Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, in Florence, Ariz.
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

“In Seattle, a man who had sent an angry email to Representative Pramila Jayapal repeatedly showed up outside the lawmaker’s house, armed with a semiautomatic handgun and shouting threats and profanities.” 

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Collins told the paper that “I wouldn’t be surprised if a senator or House member were killed.”

The media were far less concerned when an armed man threatening to kill Brett Kavanaugh traveled to within a block of his Maryland home (before providing the tip that prompted police to arrest him). The Biden administration never explicitly denounced this.

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And we only have to go back to 2017 to recall the unhinged liberal who shot up a Republican baseball practice in Virginia, seriously wounding GOP Whip Steve Scalise.

So things are ugly out there. Whatever Trump had in mind with McConnell and Chao, it wasn’t exactly a high-minded appeal to our better angels.

Footnote: Despite granting New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman three lengthy interviews for her book and referring to her as his “psychiatrist,” Trump has escalated his rhetoric since “Confidence Man” came out.

First he called her a “self-appointed head case” and a “creep.” Now she’s “Maggot Haberman” and “a bad writer with very bad sources!” Haberman, who engaged in extensive fact-checking with Trump, said in the book she’s accustomed to his alternating cycles of positivity and name-calling.

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