MINOT, N.D. — In January, when a violent mob of Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol, many, including your humble correspondent, held the disgraced former president responsible.
That mob marched directly from his speech, where he was shouting many inflammatory and incorrect things about election fraud, to the Capitol where they proceeded to kick in the doors and create the sort of spectacle one might expect in some shabby backwater dictatorship and not the birthplace of modern representative democracy.
We were right to hold Trump responsible for that tragic moment in our nation's history.
Just as we should hold Rep. Maxine Waters responsible for inciting extremism in Minnesota.
"We've got to get more confrontational," Waters said according to Fox News, responding to a question about what should happen if former police officer Derek Chauvin is found guilty for the death of George Floyd. "We've got to make sure that they know that we mean business."
Let's consider the context for a moment.
Floyd's death has prompted much legitimate activism but also a whole lot of criminal violence. Businesses have been looted and vandalized. Buildings have been burned. More important than any of that, people have been hurt. Protests inspired by the tragic death of one man have led to more pointless deaths.
For some involved in the Black Lives Matter movement (though certainly not all), this violence is tactical and justified.
That's the context in which Waters is telling activists to "get more confrontational."
Those words are irresponsible. Every bit as irresponsible as Trump's incitements back in January.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., wants some accountability for Waters (this isn't her first rodeo, in 2018, she was encouraging harassment for Trump administration officials). While we might be tempted to brand such a call as the typical sort of tag-you're-it recrimination we see from the Washington crowd, he's right.
Maxine Waters is inciting violence in Minneapolis — just as she has incited it in the past. If Speaker Pelosi doesn’t act against this dangerous rhetoric, I will bring action this week.— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) April 19, 2021
As a practical matter of politics, though, McCarthy's initiative will accomplish little. These calls from the right will likely only encourage Democrats to close ranks around Waters, rationalizing and ultimately excusing her incitements in the same way the MAGA crowd circled the wagons around Trump.
Given how reflexively most Republicans defend Trump, they have little in the way of high ground from which to assail Waters.
It's Democrats who most hold Waters responsible for her comments.
If we want this arms race of vicious and irresponsible rhetoric to end, we have to want it not just when the people we disagree with are guilty of it but also when our side does it.
What's more likely to happen is that each side will demand accountability from the other side for things they're unwilling to be accountable for themselves. And voters, embroiled in partisan loyalties, will go along with it.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.