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Port: Our political leaders must lead, not incite

Rage and bombast are en vogue these days, and the impulse our elected leaders have is to lean into it. To use it in pursuit of their agendas.

Abortion rights protesters participate in nationwide demonstrations, in New York City
An abortion rights protester holds a placard in front of anti-abortion protesters during a nationwide demonstrations following the leaked Supreme Court opinion suggesting the possibility of overturning the Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision, in New York City, on May 14, 2022.
CAITLIN OCHS/REUTERS
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MINOT, N.D. — Let's pretend, for a moment, that the mountains of evidence showing that disgraced former President Donald Trump and his merry band of grifters and creeps weren't crafting plans, for months, aimed at overturning the 2020 election.

Let's pretend that the only thing Trump did was ripe up an angry mob with his election conspiracy horse pucky, and then aim said mob at the U.S. Capitol where senators, and his own vice president, were working on finalizing the election results.

That, on its own, is an egregious and dangerous lapse by an elected official.

But we shouldn't pretend as though Trump and MAGA-world have a monopoly on dangerous incitements.

"I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price," Sen. Chuck Schumer, then the minority leader for the Democratic caucus, said in 2020, in the context of a lawsuit over a Louisiana abortion law.

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"You won't know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions," he said.

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Schumer's hyperbole earned him a rebuke from Chief Justice John Roberts. "Justices know that criticism comes with the territory, but threatening statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous," Roberts said in a released statement directly responding to Schumer .

This back-and-forth has resurfaced alongside news of an armed man arrested near Justice Brett Kavanaugh's home . This man was allegedly threatening murder over the Supreme Court's draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade.

Rage and bombast are en vogue these days, and the impulse our elected leaders have is to lean into it. To use it in pursuit of their agendas. I don't think Schumer intended to inspire anyone to launch an actual attack on members of the Supreme Court, but I do think he was trying to ingratiate himself with the furious liberal base, and that's dangerous.

It seems a quaint notion in this era, addled as it is by the vulgarities of social media populism, but it is incumbent upon political leaders to lead, not follow, and part of that means setting the guideposts for acceptable behavior for a political movement.

Even just refusing to be critical is as bad as active incitement.

When the draft opinion of a possible decision overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked, President Joe Biden's administration didn't have anything to say about this unprecedented attempt to undermine the authority of the judicial branch. “I don’t think we have a particular view on that other than to say that we certainly note the unprecedented nature of it,"White Hou se Press Secretary Jen Psaki said when asked about it .

Psaki and the Biden administration didn't have much to say when angry left-wing mobs were targeting the homes of Supreme Court Justices either. "The president’s view is that there’s a lot of passion, a lot of fear, a lot of sadness from many, many people across this country about what they saw in that leaked document," she said . "We obviously want people’s privacy to be respected. We want people to protest peacefully if they want to protest. That is certainly what the president’s view would be. But I think we shouldn’t lose the point here."

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And by "lose the point," Psaki meant we should look away from angry left-wing activists harassing the nation's top judicial officials at their private residences over a draft opinion that hasn't even been issued yet.

How hard would it have been to have Biden say he understands how fired-up people are about the abortion issue, but that they shouldn't be bothering the justices and their families at home?

How hard would it be for Schumer to say simply that he disagrees with the court's opinions without alluding to consequences?

And why couldn't Trump just accept that he lost the 2020 election, acknowledging that it was a bitter defeat, without siccing a howling mob of extremists on Congress?

Again, our leaders should lead, not follow, and part of leading means expecting your supporters — whether they're election results or an abortion ban, police brutality or a pipeline — to adhere to certain basic standards of decency.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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