KEVIN LEININGER: Selective outrage only makes American unity more elusive, even in opposition to ‘hate’

AP photo
Kevin Leininger

The well-meaning but hopelessly naive folks who implored City Council to support a campaign to change Indiana’s status as one of just five states without a hate-crimes law were oblivious to the futility of their own cause: Just a few days earlier, Pennsylvania’s hate-crime statute law had somehow failed to stop the slaughter of 11 Jews as they worshiped at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

Such a crime made alleged shooter Robert Bowers eligible for the death penalty regardless of his espoused anti-Semitism; what possible good could targeting his “hate” do?

That’s a rhetorical question, of course. The backlash to the Pittsburgh shooting and the arrest of an apparent Trump supporter in connection with pipe bombs mailed to several prominent Democrats made it clear that, with less than a week to go before the crucial mid-term election, not even grief, legitimate anger and the righteous condemnation of irresponsible rhetoric and outright bigotry are immune to partisanship.

A few weeks ago, conservatives were warning of what could happen in response to calls for incivility against opponents by Maxine Waters, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats. “If there’s some collateral damage for some others who don’t share our view, well, so be it,” said Pelosi, who hopes to reprise her role as Speaker if the Democrats regain control of the house.

Now, however, it’s the political left that is eager to link toxic rhetoric with violence. On CNN, which is one of President Trump’s favorite targets long before it received a pipe bomb allegedly sent by Cesar Sayoc, anchor Brian Stelter urged commentators at Fox news to “think about their role” in inciting violence. The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah suggested Trump’s criticism of “fake news” inspired the attack on CNN, and said “America’s ‘orange turtle’ has decided that it has nothing to do with him.” And the Center for Inquiry, which bills itself as a nonprofit educational, advocacy and research organization, responded to the Pittsburgh shooting by saying that “while the Trump administration promotes nationalist rage, xenophobic paranoia, outrageous conspiracies, and overt Christian supremacy, it is apparently unable or unwilling to recognize its own role in creating the conditions that have led to this moment.” The center seemed not to care that Bowers had said he didn’t vote for Trump because the president was too soft on Jews.

But the criticism of Trump’s often-unfortunate rhetoric has not been confined to the left. Former George W. Bush White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer noted on Fox News how Trump has suggested he’d pay the legal bills of people “who took people out” and “praised a congressman who body slammed a reporter.” And as I wrote earlier this month, “No political party has a monopoly on bad behavior . . . (Trump) is hardly in a position to condemn incivility because he so often practices it himself.”

Anger over the kind of despicable acts attributed to Bowers and Sayoc is justified, and so are reminders of how reckless rhetoric can incite certain kinds of people to violence. Selective outrage, on the other hand, represents opportunism of the most cynical sort — the kind that can only divide people who might otherwise be united in a common revulsion to despicable crimes.

CNN, for example, surrendered any claim to moral high ground in the wake of Sayoc’s mail-bomb attack when Don Lemon, who has previously defended the public harassment of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, insisted “I don’t see Democrats killing people.” The statement drew an immediate response from Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who wasn’t killed because his politics only because he and five others survived the attack on a Republican congressional baseball practice in 2017 by a Bernie Sanders supporter who was yelling “This is for health care!”

Scalise, to his credit, didn’t respond to Lemon with still more words. He simply posted an image of shocked eyeballs, and the simple eloquence spoke volumes.

American history, including the assassinations of presidents, has been marked with political violence from left and right. But to condemn “hate” only when it comes from the other side is its own form of hate, just as demanding laws that punish certain thoughts because everyone else is doing it represents its own form of mob justice.

America is supposed to be better than this, and when President Trump speaks in Fort Wayne Monday, a day before the election, perhaps he can summon the wisdom, courage and strength to temper his legitimate partisanship with just a little humility and introspection over what he has done to destroy civil discourse, and what he might do to rebuild it. Who knows? Maybe it would even catch on — until the next election, at least.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at or call him at 461-8355.