This week, Republican congressional candidate Rudy Peters of California was nearly stabbed by a 35-year-old Castro Valley resident, Farzad Fazeli. According to media reports, Fazeli started shouting about President Donald Trump and then pulled out a switchblade. Thankfully, the switchblade malfunctioned, and Peters was able to fend off Fazeli, who was eventually arrested.
This is far from the only case of political violence we’ve seen in recent years. The most famous was, of course, the congressional baseball shooting by a crazed Bernie Sanders supporter. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., was nearly murdered during the carnage. Now Scalise says: “You’ve got some people on the left that just want this idea of resist … you’ve gotten to where there are death threats and literal attacks on lives … and frankly, what I want to see is the left stand up against this.”
Meanwhile, the right has seen its own violent crazies. Last month, Robert Chain, 68, of California was arrested after allegedly calling the Boston Globe newsroom and threatened to shoot employees. During that call, he called the newspaper the “enemy of the people,” echoing the language of President Trump.
So, is the left responsible for Peters? Is Trump responsible for Chain? Of course not. As always, in a free society, people are responsible for their own actions. Unless a political actor openly calls for violence and that call is heeded, that actor shouldn’t be blamed for the violence of acolytes.
With that said, something is deeply wrong.
What’s deeply wrong is that we now attribute all failings to the government and all successes to the government. Take, for example, the Washington Post, which suggested in an editorial this week that Trump is “complicit” about Hurricane Florence because he doesn’t support the Post’s preferred climate change policy. Now, whatever your feelings about Trump’s climate change policy or lack thereof, he’s not responsible for a hurricane any more than Barack Obama was responsible for Hurricane Sandy.
At best, Trump’s policy may be contributing to future global warming. But that’s not the Post’s suggestion. Instead, the Post editors suggest that Trump is himself a King Triton, stirring the seas into hurricane-friendly territory.
By contrast, those on the right suggest that Trump is solely responsible for our economic boom. They’re not wrong to attribute some of the economic growth to consumer confidence and business investment in the wake of Trump’s pro-capitalism policies. But Trump isn’t any more “in charge” of the economy than Obama was. The economy is far too complex and government is far too complicated for executive tinkering to be attributed to success or blamed for failure.
But we’re addicted to our belief in the primal power of our politicians. Once we believe that Trump is either the Great Satan or the Great God, it’s no wonder that fringe actors on either side are willing to take extreme measures to harm or “protect” him.
The only solution: We must realize that the president is merely a constitutional officer bound by the checks and balances of his role. And we must stop attributing to politics control over our lives that politics does not truly exert.