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Descent of decency: Time to stop the over-the-top rhetoric

There is a lot more that unites us than divides us, but you would not see it in today’s political world. Partisans on both sides of the aisle have poisoned the well and caused our discourse to descend into extremes and over-the-top rhetoric.

This morning’s targeted shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, two Capitol police officers, a congressional aide and a lobbyist, is an event that should give us all pause. It is time that we reflect on the fact that our words have power and the potential to impact others who might be influenced by them.

It is fair to point to the words of President Trump, who on the campaign trail signaled that he condoned violence. In fact, Trump even offered to pay the legal bills of a supporter who punched a protester. It was wrong. So too was Eric Trump when last week, he said that Democrats are “not even people.” That too was wrong.

Democrats pray for the victims of the Alexandria shooting.

Republicans have said countless stupid, hateful and hurtful things. Take the 2008 presidential campaign, former Senator Fred Thompson said during his run, “Twelve million illegal immigrants later, we are now living in a nation that is beset by people who are suicidal maniacs and want to kill countless innocent men, women, and children around the world.” Or just look at the awful and extreme musings of Representatives Steve Kind and Louie Gohmert who each say something extreme on a routine basis.

These types of statements feed the narrative that Democrats are bad. (Fact check: they are not.)

Yet, Democrats are guilty of saying things that make Republicans appear to be bad as well. They perpetuate the false myth of a “war on women” (which is immediately debunked by the fact that we Republicans have been unable to pass any major legislation in 2017 so far), while claiming that the GOP wants to hurt the poor and minorities. It is patently false.

Slate’s Michelle Goldberg has a long history of calling Republicans and their policies evil. In late May, she told MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki that the GOP agenda was “sinister” and “destructive.”

Goldberg is not alone. In March, Salon’s Chauncey DeVega accused the GOP of having a “war on the poor” when he said that the Republican Party wants to “punish the poor and kill the ‘useless eaters’ in order to fatten the already bloated wallets of the rich and the powerful.” In the same piece, DeVega compared the GOP’s plans to those of the Nazis and Adolf Hitler.

So too has the liberal blog Daily Kos has written articles that have said the GOP wants to kill the poor. Joan McCarter wrote, “That’s fundamentally what all this is about. Killing the poor to give to the rich. As usual.”

Of course, there was Joy Behar who opined that the GOP somehow caused the now retired Democratic Senator Tim Johnson’s stroke. “Is there such a thing as a man-made stroke? In other words, did someone do this to? I know what this [Republican] party is capable of.” Sure, it might be a joke, but it is part of a constant refrain that Republicans are evil (fact check: we are not).

Then, there is now former Democratic Representative Alan Grayson, who said that Republicans want the sick to die. “If you get sick, America, the Republican health care plan is this: Die quickly.” It triggered rightful outrage, as it painted the GOP as wanting to kill the sick.

These kinds of statements get a lot more attention and produce a lot more action than ones that are not as intense. The more outrageous the utterance, the more attention it receives.

And it is permeating to both the far left and the far right. In July, I went to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia to provide commentary. During my visit, I encountered several Bernie Sanders supporters who yelled at me that I was part of the problem because I was white — yes, they themselves were white too — and that a “reckoning” was coming. They said they could not wait until my greed was “punished” by me being thrown out of my home, my property seized and then I would be imprisoned or executed. The twenty or so Sanders supporters with them cheered.

Former Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia said in 2013 referred to the Republican Party as “this extremist element, this Taliban.” James Hodgkinson, the gunman in this morning’s congressional shooting, posted on social media in February that “Republicans are the Taliban of the USA.” It is clear that this narrative took hold in him. Hodgkinson’s social media history shows a man with a history of making extreme and over-the-top declarations.

Democrats are not responsible for the horrific act committed by James Hodgkinson, but they should tone down their bombast and outrage. So too should Republicans. It is only furthering the divide in our nation.

Both the far right and the far left are buying into the claims that the opposing party is inherently evil and against them. Yet, the reality is that both Republicans and Democrats share the common goals of keeping America safe, ensuring prosperity, as well as helping to provide opportunity for every American. Where we differ is on how we should achieve them.

So let us all, Democrats and Republicans, take a step back and tone down the severity and harshness of our words about one another. Not only will the tone and tenor of our political world improve, but perhaps we will even see an increase in results.

There is a lot more that unites us than divides us. It is time that we all show that.

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