Kathleen Parker: When push comes to shove
WASHINGTON — The shocking thing about Greg Gianforte’s assault on a journalist isn’t that he body-slammed and punched a reporter but that it took so long for the inevitable to occur.
Such an attack was foreshadowed way back in March last year when tough-guy Corey Lewandowski grabbed a female reporter who, apparently, was too brash for the tender sensibilities of then-candidate Donald Trump’s inner circle.
A few months after his effrontery, Lewandowski left the campaign and joined CNN as a commentator. He now may be poised to rejoin Team Trump.
Gianforte, a Montana Republican, also was rewarded for his imitation of a distempered jackal. His campaign in a special congressional election reportedly reaped more than $100,000 in online donations just before the vote, most of it in the aftermath of the incident. The Bozeman businessman also managed to win the election, perhaps partly attributable to early voting before the attack.
As captured in an audio recording, The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs is heard saying, “You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses.” Then, according to Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, Gianforte climbed on top of Jacobs and began punching him, saying, something like, “I’m sick and tired of this.”
Aren’t we all.
The cause of his violent meltdown? Jacobs had asked Gianforte a few questions about his position on health care.
This isn’t exactly high-handed heckling over a sensitive issue. What if it had been? Would Gianforte have throttled him? Gianforte did apologize for his actions after the election results were in and following 24 hours of denial.
It would seem that Gianforte, who has been charged with misdemeanor assault, is unfamiliar with the media beast known as a scrum, an impromptu assemblage of reporters, usually following an event, during which reporters fire off questions and jostle each other for a better position — sort of the way Trump bulldozed past Montenegro Prime Minister Dusko Markovic this past Thursday.
In Brussels for a NATO summit, the president proved that no one can out-bully him. He chastised other nations for not paying enough of their fair share, and did not offer his endorsement of Article 5, which was interpreted as insinuating that they might not be able to rely on the U.S. should, say, Russia decide to pursue its dream of re-establishing the empire, as it did in Crimea.
Trump obviously had changed his tune since earlier declaring in Saudi Arabia that he had not come to lecture. He all but wagged his finger, which may explain why newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron walked directly toward Trump and then, at the last moment, swerved to hug German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, shaking several other hands before getting to Trump last.
But Trump’s coup de uncouth came when, apparently stricken by an urgent need to reach center stage for a group photo, the U.S. president literally pushed Markovic out of the way. Upon finding his preferred spot, Trump adjusted his tie and seemed oblivious to what the rest of the world observed as profoundly unseemly.
Markovic graciously has said he didn’t notice the shove, adding that the U.S. president should be in the front row. Perhaps so, but a light tap on the shoulder and at least a pretense of manners in the form of, “Excuse me,” wouldn’t have been such a strain.
While Trump’s reflexive rudeness was merely embarrassing, Gianforte’s attack was frightening. Both actions, however, flow from the same spout — our ever-coarsening culture and partisan hostility that erased all boundaries of civility during the 2016 election. It would be unfair to pin this evolution on Trump alone, but broadening acceptance of bullying tactics undoubtedly has been aided by the commander in chief’s own embrace, even celebration, of resolving differences by force, if necessary.
Recall candidate Trump encouraging his supporters to boo journalists at his rallies; his promising to pay legal expenses for a guy who punched a heckler; and his incessant demonizing of the mainstream media as “fake news,” meaning news he doesn’t like.
Gianforte may be a hero to some, but his violent antics should send a chill up the spines of Constitution-minded Americans. Trump’s rhetoric has normalized hatred of journalists and, by implication, encouraged the sort of behavior we’ve now witnessed. The perpetrator wasn’t some right-wing crazy from Bumduck; he was a respected businessman, now elected to Congress.
If this doesn’t worry you, we have bigger problems than Russia could ever dream.