As soon as authorities said they suspected the El Paso, Texas, mass shooter was the author of a hate-filled, white-supremacist online manifesto, Democrats began blaming President Trump. “He is a racist,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., “and we’ve seen the consequences of it.” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said on Twitter about the president, “Your language creates a climate which emboldens extremists.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., declared that Trump was “directly responsible” for the shooting.
That is shameful. Trump is not responsible for the actions of a madman. As Democratic presidential hopeful Julián Castro, a lonely voice of reason on the left, correctly put it, “there’s one person that’s directly responsible for the shooting in El Paso and that’s the shooter.”
But if Democrats want to play politics with mass murder, it works both ways. Because the man who carried out another mass shooting 13 hours later in Dayton, Ohio, seems to have been a left-wing radical whose social media posts echoed Democrats’ hate-filled attacks on the president and U.S. immigration officials. The Associated Press reported on Monday that a Twitter account that appeared to be his “showed tweets labeling himself a ‘leftist,’ bemoaning the election of President Donald Trump, supporting Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren and encouraging people to cut fences of immigrant detention centers.”
Should we blame Warren for the Dayton massacre carried out by one of her supporters? How about Sanders, whose anti-capitalist rhetoric may have inflamed this young socialist? Or maybe we should blame Ocasio-Cortez for disgracefully comparing U.S. immigration facilities to “concentration camps” – a phrase that appears to have caught the Dayton shooter’s attention? (He seems to be the second domestic terrorist to echo her rhetoric before carrying out an attack; the manifesto of the man who was shot to death by police after he allegedly firebombed an ICE facility in Tacoma last month also referred to “concentration camps.”)
The answer to these questions is of course not. While the rhetoric used by these prominent Democrats is horrifying, they are not to blame. But they also can’t have it both ways: If Trump is responsible for El Paso, then Democrats are responsible for Dayton.
After the El Paso shooting, Trump declared “in one voice our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated.” But his critics claimed his statement was not good enough because Trump did not take personal responsibility for how his rhetoric has contributed to the El Paso massacre. “Donald Trump says hate has no place in this country; Donald Trump has created plenty of space for hate,” Warren said.
Sorry, I missed the speech in which Warren, or any Democrat, has taken personal responsibility for how their inflammatory rhetoric contributed to the Dayton massacre. I also don’t remember Democrats taking personal responsibility for how their virulent anti-Trump rhetoric contributed to the attempted assassination of Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., and other Republican legislators in 2017 by a deranged former Sanders campaign volunteer – even though the shooter called Trump a “traitor” on social media, echoing now-disproved Democratic accusations that Trump colluded with Russia during the 2016 election.
Yes, Trump has coarsened political discourse. But Democrats were helping to coarsen it long before Trump came along. If you wonder why many Republicans don’t take Democratic charges that the president is a racist seriously, maybe it’s because they remember how in 2000, the NAACP spent millions on despicable ads linking George W. Bush to white supremacists who brutally lynched James Byrd Jr. in Texas in 1998. Or maybe it’s because they remember how in 2012, then-Vice President Joe Biden told black Americans that Mitt Romney’s “going to put y’all back in chains,” and then-Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz accused Romney of using “a dog whistle for voters who consider race when casting their ballot.” To the left, all Republicans are racists, not just Trump.
Democrats have also been blaming Republicans for inciting mass shootings long before Trump. They did it in 2011 after the shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., in which she was wounded and six others were killed. The Democrats making the accusation, including Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva and then-Sen. Frank Lautenberg turned out to be wrong; the shooting had nothing to do with politics.
So, Trump is far from alone in his responsibility for the hateful rhetoric that is permeating American politics – a fact that many Democrats have just underscored by politicizing the El Paso tragedy before the smoke had barely cleared.
Marc A. Thiessen is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter, @marcthiessen.