HISTORY: How A Dishonest Press Stokes America’s Simmering Political Violence
Taking a break from the numbers this morning, with the bombing suspect in custody (though little about his past really known, especially his social media presence before it was scrubbed) and the shooting in Pittsburgh, you may be asking if we have entered a new era of politics.
This is certainly a recurring theme of the left, that it is the “Trump era” (meaning, “Because Trump doesn’t let us beat on him without responding, he is ‘causing’ these acts of violence.”) In fact, America has gone through many similar periods.
In the 15 years before the Civil War, “mobbing” was a reality in larger cities. (It almost certainly was in smaller towns too, except the news rarely reported it.) One historian of “American Mobbing” tied almost all of the lynchings (both North and South) and violent incidents to slavery—either for or against. But in the North it was common for mobs of unemployed workers to beat up free blacks on the premise they were taking white jobs. In the South, of course any violation of the racial code could trigger a mob and a lynching.
But there were other “senseless acts of violence.”
*In 1838, in Missouri, Mormons and their non-Mormon neighbors fought the “Mormon War” in which 22 people were killed and the Mormons driven out of Missouri.
*In 1844, a mob broke into a Carthage jail and assassinated Mormon leader Joseph Smith.
*In May 1856, a mob sacked Lawrence, Kansas and destroyed the office of BigLeaguePolitics . . . wait, I’m sorry, it was the anti-slave newspaper The Kansas Free State. (I get my media lynch mobs confused).
*Shortly thereafter, a group of “Free Soilers” killed five (supposedly pro-slave) settlers on Pottawatomie Creek.
*That same month, a Congressman, Preston Brooks (D-SC), came into the U.S. Senate chamber and nearly beat to death Senator Charles Sumner (R-MA) with a cane. Southerners celebrated the incident by manufacturing mini “Sumner canes.”
*In 1858, South Carolina representative Laurence Keitt started trouble with Pennsylvania’s Galusha Grow. It turned into a mass brawl between Southerners and Northerners in the House.
*Two years later, the same murderer responsible for the Pottawatomie Massacre, John Brown, staged a raid on Harper’s Ferry to acquire the ante-bellum version of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and arm slaves for a revolt.
And these acts don’t even include the attempted assassination of Andrew Jackson or the Civil War itself.
Clearly American politics has always been bloody—with the exception of some fairly peaceful years—but what stands out are two factors that seem to escalate the violence to superheated levels.
1) A dishonest press. In the years before the Civil War, especially after 1830, courtesy of Martin Van Buren and the Democrat Pary the “newspapers” of the day became nothing more than pure propaganda rags. By the estimate of one historian of the news media, more than 85% of the nation’s papers carried nothing but party messaging. It got so bad that once the war started, newspapers on both sides were forced by the public to begin reporting facts, not propaganda. Of course they still slanted the news as much as they could, but when battles were lost, there was no hiding the casualties.
America’s unfree press was worse, if that was possible, in the South. There no dissent whatsoever was tolerated when it came to slavery. Abolitionist papers were outright prohibited by Southern governments, lest someone decide slavery was, well, bad. (Does this sound familiar, Facebook and Twitter?) Thus those well-meaning Southerners who might have been persuaded to begin eliminating slavery were denied any substantive arguments for abolition.
The dishonest press existed in the north, but despite the “Lincoln-was-a-tyrant” claims, even in the middle of the war one could routinely find criticism from the left of the war effort, and “Copperhead” newspapers abounded. Such does not exist in the fake news media today, where no dissent on such issues as homosexuality or “global warming” is even remotely tolerated.
Then, as now, the dishonest press literally changed reality for people, again especially in the South, who came to view themselves as morally superior to northerners and to see their way of life as worthy of special protections from the free market. It contributed to the notion that Southerners were “fighting for their rights” without ever getting to the nub of what those rights were, namely the right to own slaves—which most Southerners did not.
Today’s unfree press is far, far more dangerous than the one that fueled the Civil War. The modern dominant media, combined with “polling” organizations that lie to people about what people really think, in 2016 created an utterly false view of the political landscape that left liberals completely unmoored.
Told repeatedly that Hillary Clinton absolutely could not lose, the meda-polling complex built an alternative reality that, when shattered, convinced tens of thousands of people (including most elites) that someone had “stolen” the election. “Muh Russia” was born, then disgustingly and scandalously fed by the same media that had just failed its readers and viewers. The number of leftists who actually believe “muh Russia” is likely a small fraction of the total liberal population, but the excuse worked perfectly to try (unsuccessfully) to de-legitimize President Donald Trump. Its effects have been worse than any opioid epidemic we have experienced. Millions of people have been drawn into whackadoodle narratives that would leave Ray Bradbury incredulous.
2) But the larger issue in contributing to violence today is the very same one that brought about the Civil War. While the war broke out in 1861, it had been simmering for years, unaddressed out of national cowardice. President after president, from Adams to Buchanan, refused to even address slavery, let alone attempt to end it. Congress, fearing the will of the majority, imposed a “gag rule” on any legislation in the House or Senate that might in any way touch slavery.
Of course, truth can never be stopped, and human freedom cannot be long restrained by any government. Property theft will not go unpunished for long. (And slavery was at root—as Lincoln pointed out—the theft of one’s property and the right to eat the bread from one’s own hands.)
That is where we are today on a host of unaddressed issues that have been brought to a boiling point, chief among them “nationalism” vs. “globalism” and its most obvious manifestation, illegal immigration. The threats now posed to our national existence and identity by illegal aliens and unassimilated immigrants is as dire as that of slavery in the 1850s. It cannot, and will not, be ignored any longer. The left knows this is coming, that a final stand-down of illegals is due and they will lose.
Part and parcel of the key role of illegal immigration is the general “lawlessness” in the nation embodied in cities and states thumbing their noses at the federal government with such things as “sanctuary cities.” The unwillingness or inability of Donald Trump’s administration so far to deal with this has contributed to the general climate of violence—not his “rhetoric.” Rather, there still seems a sense that lawbreakers at the highest level on down to the city council can get away with ignoring the law.
Lincoln spoke reverently about the law. In doing so, he was indirectly addressing the inherent violence of “mobbing” and the lynching of blacks in the South. Once you apply the law fairly and equally to all, miraculous things happen: a sense of civic duty appears. This is the force that has adults correct misbehaving teenagers in public; which has ordinary people pick up litter that they did not throw down; that has pedestrians and drivers alike obey traffic signs. It is the glue of society that has been steadily eroded by illegal immigration for 30 years and now by the stupendous failure of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to enforce the law seemingly at any level. He is capable of holding a back-patting press conference on a goofball incompetent bomber, but has yet to arrest a single member of the Deep State for attempting to overthrow and election, or to put one California public official in jail for flaunting immigration laws.
“The law” has a way of imposing itself, often when violence grows so common that, to quote “Cousin Eddie” in “Christmas Vacation,” the “Shitter’s full.” Unfortunately, if we reach that point, it will not be law enforcement officials who will finally enforce “the Law.”