April 25, 2019 | 52° F

SURIANO: Political criticism is not an incitement to violence


Opinion Column: A RINO's View


Another day another controversy around the new batch of radical Leftist freshman members of Congress. This time a video reemerged in which Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) described 9/11 “as some people who did something.” Omar is no stranger to controversy, as she had repeatedly made comments labeled as anti-Semitic. This controversy grew when Omar’s comments were criticized by freshman Congressman Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), The New York Post’s front page criticized her and President Donald J. Trump tweeted a video of her speech spliced over images of the 9/11 attack. 

If we give Omar the benefit of the doubt (which she has not earned), her words are at the very least disrespectful. She could have apologized and moved on, but she did not. So, frankly this should be a normal controversy. A politician makes an ill-considered remark about a tragedy and the opposition makes hay. What this column is concerned with is the Democrat’s response to this. Democrats have uniformly referred to Trump, the Post and Crenshaw as inciting violence against Omar. This is a dangerous precedent to set for political debate. 

Quoting someone verbatim is in no way an incitement to violence. The Democrats are using this attack to silence the opposition. There is legitimate criticism to be made against Trump or The New York Post on this issue. One could argue it is in poor taste to use these images from 9/11 for petty politics. Democrats cannot because they want to use tragedy themselves for political game. 

For example, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) defended Omar by making a reverence to the Holocaust and posting a picture from the Holocaust museum in DC. If the Democrats wanted to make an argument that the original criticism is in poor taste, then they would have to admit this post is as well. The goal of the calls of incitement are to prevent people from calling out politicians for acting badly. 

Free political debate is essential for any free country. Bullying others into silence is never the answer — especially when it is in defense of a bad actor such as Omar. Silencing speech does not start as Orwellian dictatorships, it starts with the smallest chipping away of free debate.

The problem for the Democrats is it also causes them to avoid dealing with the problem in their caucus. Omar is a political problem for the Democrats. They need to win moderates to their cause but the members getting the most press are radicals who hurt their chances in swing districts. The Democrats should be talking about their moderate members in swing districts such as Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.). Instead they are rallying behind the most radical members of their base. 

This will only help Trump’s re-election because he can now run as someone with experience and policies while the Democrats will have to defend anti-Semetic remarks and radical policies. Democrats should do so if they care about tolerance and protecting vulnerable groups. They do not want to go the way of the Labour Party in the U.K.

Democrats do not want to go down this road of calling for incitement. If they did, we would have to admit that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) rhetoric caused the shooter who tried to assassinate Republican members of Congress while at baseball practice or the woman who tried to run a Republican congressman off the road. This is an example of a person listening to rhetoric and putting it in to action. But these claims of incitement only go one way — we do not have national discussions about rhetoric after these events. That is because the media agrees with the Democrats. They think heated rhetoric is fine for me, but not for thee. 

So where do we go from here? One, we must accept the obvious fact that speech does not equal violence. People can have debate, even heated debate, without it being a threat to one’s personal well-being. We must all call out threats of violence against politicians of every political persuasion. Part of that is not minimizing actual threats of violence by saying political debate is the same thing. We should, as a country, be trying to facilitate debate and allow politicians to be criticized. 

When a politician says something wrong we should be able to call them out on it without being accused of inciting violence. Would I have printed that front page or tweeted Trump’s tweet? No. But to tell a newspaper they cannot print a headline is certainly wrong. Imagine the reaction if Trump tweeted that The New York Times could not print a certain headline because it would incite people against him. The media would explode that he was threatening the First Amendment, so do the same with Democrats.

Robert Suriano is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring  in history. His column, "A RINO's View," runs on alternate Mondays.

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Robert Suriano

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