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EDITORIAL: Incendiary political rhetoric is a bipartisan problem

The brutal attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband last week has triggered the usual partisan recriminations. Perhaps both sides need to check the mirror.

Paul Pelosi, 82, remains hospitalized from injuries he suffered after he fought with an intruder who broke into the couple’s San Francisco home. Police arrested 42-year-old David DePape and charged him with a number of crimes, including attempted homicide. The suspect appears to be mentally ill and had apparently been attracted to right-wing conspiracy theories after previously being “more affiliated with left-leaning causes,” the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

In response, many Democrats blamed Republicans for the attack, arguing their dangerous discourse encourages violence. Some went so far as to blame Donald Trump for promoting “MAGA extremism.”

But to imply that political violence is the exclusive domain of GOP fanaticism is to willfully ignore the facts. The names Rand Paul and Steve Scalise and the city of Portland, Oregon, come to mind.

The United States — founded on revolution and preserved by civil war — has a long history of political violence, including the assassination of four presidents. But extremism has noticeably increased in recent decades. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Center for Strategic and International Studies “found that 2020 and 2021 had the most attacks since it began tracking incidents in 1994.” Data from the center data show that 2021 brought “a historically high level of both far-right and far-left terrorist attacks.”

One may be tempted to blame the rise of social media and the internet, with their endless conspiracy rabbit holes, grievance confirmations and echo chambers. No doubt this exacerbates the problem. Yet our elected leaders aren’t helping when they continue to lower the bar for acceptable political discourse, portraying those with different opinions as an imminent threat to the republic — or worse.

Mr. Trump is certainly an expert practitioner of this troubling trend, but it predates his rapid political ascent and obliterates partisan lines.

When Democrats urge the harassment of GOP officials as they dine privately with their families, when the leader of the Senate tells Supreme Court justices that they have “released the whirlwind” and “will pay the price,” when the president sits idly by as his supporters rush the Capitol building, when those who know better make broad and unsubstantiated claims about election fraud, when green activists accuse their opponents of wanting to destroy the world … well, is it any wonder that some people on the fringe might be moved to violence by this incendiary rhetoric?

The first step toward recovery requires our political class to rediscover a level of mutual respect and decorum as an example to those they represent. Politician, heal thyself.

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