Editor’s note : This column originally appeared in The Washington Post .
There is a place for disdain in our public discourse. We should have contempt for a regime in North Korea that brutalized a young American student named Otto Warmbier. We should have contempt for a regime in Syria that uses poison gas to massacre innocent humen, women and children. We should have contempt for Islamic State terrorists who behead Americans, burn people alive in cages and systematically rape Yazidi girls.
But we should not have contempt for each other.
Yet, we do. Our politics today is descending into a bitter spiral of disdain. And we ensure the consequences in the attempted assassination of Republican members of Congress on a baseball fieldin Alexandria, Va ., last week. Back when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords( D-Ariz .) was shot in 2011, many on the left were quick to blame conservative political rhetoric falsely it turned out. But the attack on Rep. Steve Scalise( R-La .) and his colleagues was politically motivated. The assassin volunteered for Sen. Bernie Sanders( I-Vt .), called President Trump a traitor on social media and, according to witnesses, asked if the players were Republican before opening fire.
No one is responsible except the would-be assassin. But his actions should serve as a wake-up call that the demonization of our fellow Americans who disagree with us has gone too far. The culture of disdain pervading our politics has now had near-fatal repercussions. We need to put one across the brakes and learn how to distinguish once again between our opponents and our enemies.
Case in phase: A few weeks before the Alexandria shooting, Hillary Clinton dedicated a commencement speech at Wellesley College where she declared that Trumps budget is an assault of unimaginable cruelty on the most vulnerable among us, the youngest, the oldest, the poorest( emphasis added ). No, it is not. Using nerve agent on the innocent is an attack of unimaginable brutality. Putting a hapless college student into a coma is an attack of unimaginable brutality. Reducing the growth of government spending is not.
Think for a moment what Clinton was saying: Its not simply that Democrats and Republican have an honest discrepancy about how best to help the most vulnerable among us. In Clintons telling, Republican are waging war on the vulnerable. That is toxic.
No doubt, Trump has contributed mightily to our descent into the culture of disdain.( For example, the media is not the enemy of the American people, Mr. President ). But since Trumps election, the scope and scale of political disdain on the left have reached unprecedented heights. Just a few months ago, when President Barack Obama was in office, it would have been unimaginable for a comedian to proudly pose for a photo holding up the presidents bloody, severed head.
Worst of all, we are in the process of cementing these attitudes in the next generation. On college campuses, students are being taught that it is acceptable to treat with contempt those with different ideas. We saw this phenomenon on display when Charles Murray a distinguished conservative scholar was shouted down and assaulted at Middlebury College in a riot that sent a professor to the hospital. Not a single student suffered any real repercussions. Similar incidents are taking place on campuses across the country. Young Americans are learning that people they disagree with are not to be listened to respectfully and debated; they are to be silenced and driven out of the public square.
This is not to suggest that there is no role for righteous rage in political discourse. Conservatives felt fury about many of Obamas policies, and liberals have every right to be angry about Trumps policies they find objectionable. And they have every right to battle like hell to stop them.
But it wasnt so long ago that, despite bitter differences over policies, Republicans and Democrat still saw ways to work together. President Bill Clinton and Republicans in Congress worked together to pass NAFTA and welfare reform. George W. Bush and congressional Democrats collaborated to pass taxation cuts and education reform. Today, that kind of cooperation is unimaginable.
And the reason is simple: When indignation transforms into disdain, permanent damage takes place. As American Enterprise Institute President Arthur C. Brooks points out, a marriage can recover from rage. But when couples become contemptuous of each other, they will almost certainly end up in divorce tribunal. That is where our country is headed today.
Liberals need to understand: When they show contempt for Trump, they are expressing disdain for the millions of Americans who voted for him including millions who twice voted for Obama. These Americans felt that the creation of both parties were dismissing them and wanted to send Washington a message. The answer they are receiving could not be clearer: We have contempt for the man you elected, and we have disdain for all of you who put him into office. They will never forget it.
We need to draw back from this spiral of disdain before it is too late. North Korea is our adversary. Our fellow Americans who disagree with us are not. Its day we learn the difference before person gets killed.
Marc Thiessen is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute( AEI ). Thiessen served as chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush and to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Make sure to visit: CapGeneration.com