If we can agree that human culture is defined by fluxuating sets of shared societal values and actions by people in power, meet the newest drag on our common decorum: Greg Gianforte.
According to eyewitness and victim testimony, Montana GOP candidate Greg Gianforte (R.-Montana) physically assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs after being asked about the newest iteration of Trumpcare. (More on that in a minute.) Specifically, about how the CBO score painted a bleak picture about how 23 million people would be kicked off their health insurance.
(Writer’s note: as an customer in the quite volatile health-insurance market, I’m most definitely at risk for either seeing my premiums spike or getting kicked off entirely because Anthem Blue Cross was in a bad mood. So yes, I have a dog in this fight—pun intended. Remember, the Affordable Care Act was designed specifically to lessen volatility; the GOP wants to undo Obama’s signature accomplishment, at all costs.)
Back to Gianforte: How can this assault happen in a free society? How can a would-be congressman become so enraged by a simple question that he allegedly commits a violent attack? How can a journalist feel safe to report in a country where that very freedom is written into the constitution?
This Gianforte guy took the, "I'm going to take on the media" thing, waaaay to far. Assault is a hell of a bad way to close a campaign. https://t.co/f9CZQVc10r
— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) May 25, 2017
Let’s look at the reasons why this was 100% predictable and unsurprising. Spoiler alert: Trump’s overt hostility toward the press has “primed the pump” for this to occur.
Donald Trump is the leader of the GOP. Trump has had a spiteful, acrimonious and oftentimes creepy relationship with the press—especially the New York City press. Coverage in the Big Apple is either glowing or scathing, depending on which daily you read. (He once posed as his own publicist to garner favorable coverage; he wants to control the reporting narrative at any cost.) As the leader of the republican party, Trump is the trend-setter, the figurehead, the example by which other leaders in his party follow.
U.S. media has over-corrected to Trump’s vitriol. Fearful of losing access to Trump and alienating his followers, American news outlets—many of them for-profit outfits with shareholders and a pointed addiction to ratings—have FAR overcompensated by adding right-wing on-air analysts. These are not thinkers in the vein of Jennifer Rubin or Ross Douthat; they are partisan-authoritarian nimrods who only spout whatever pleases Orangina Thinskin. See: Jeffrey Lord on CNN; Hugh Hewitt on MSNBC; and anybody with a heartbeat at Fox News.
RELATED: ‘IF HE TOOK A DUMP ON HIS DESK YOU’D DEFEND HIM’ (CNN)
Mocking a disabled reporter had no consequence. This was a seminal moment of the 2016 campaign. Even though Trump’s flock has feverishly tried to disprove this obvious fact on YouTube and elsewhere, Trump made light of reporter Serge Kovaleski‘s disability during a stump speech. Even though Trump claimed ignorance, Kovaleski has been covering him for years, with in-person interviews, so Trump’s claim is patently untrue. When something like this happens and there are no consequences, it seeps in to our collective consciousness and lowers our shock threshold even further.
Labeling journalists as ‘enemies of the state.’ If you label something as a “danger” to society, your logical next step is to try to eradicate that threat. “These people want to surrender the Constitution,” he told a rally crowd in South Carolina last December. “They are scum,” he said on another occasion. Trump has waxed unpoetic on numerous occasions, casting the press as adversaries in a war. Which brings us to our current climate: Gianforte snapped when Jacobs pressed him to answer a simple question about TrumpCare. After 18 months of painting reporters as the “opposition party,” Gianforte acted according to that principle.
‘I’m sorry I was wrong’ vs. ‘Fake News; I win!’ Trump is famous for his authoritarian, “no regrets” public persona. He doesn’t apologize nor does he retract things he claims—remember the “Mexicans are rapists” line at his announcement ceremony? There have been myriad other examples of Donald making wild, unsubstantiated claims that he never apologizes for. And that, again, sets a cultural standard within the insular GOP conservative media complex and its members that being an asshole is totally fine, even encouraged. When you consider this fact, is Gianforte’s body slamming Jacobs really a surprise?
RELATED: ‘THUGGERY VS. DEMOCRACY’—WHICH ARE WE NOW? (STEVE MARMEL)
I know what you’re thinking: “Gosh, Donnie—if you and your GOP cretins hadn’t passed a shitty health insurance bill through the House, Gianforte wouldn’t have become enraged having to defend the Congressional Budget Office’s review.” That is, of course, right on the money. But logic and decorum only apply when all people involved hew to the same logic baseline and cultural mores as the rest of us.
TrumpCare will kick 23 million people off of health insurance. That fact alone is a callous legislative decision that will inflict deep, systemic pain on vulnerable segments of our society. GQ called it a “breathtakingly cruel proposal that is bad for America.” When you talk about setting the tone, TrumpCare is the perfect reflection of the party, its members and the man. 🔵
Rob O’Connor contributed to this reporting.
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