Commentary: J. Peder Zane originally published by RealClearPolitics.com
This is the era of poke-the-bear politics.
Progressives wield the stick, continually prodding America’s body politic by insisting on the self-evident truth of dubious claims: America is irredeemably racist! Masculinity is toxic! Men can have babies! When people, predictably, rise up in anger at the demand that they accept these notions, the left makes their response the story by casting legitimate criticism as violent threats to the Republic.
Poke, condemn, repeat.
The strategy may be disgraceful, but it’s also genius. It switches attention from their controversial claims to a false narrative about the allegedly dangerous response, focusing attention on their opponents while giving their often-false ideas time to become entrenched. For instance, when parents complained about far-left ideas regarding race and gender being taught to even the youngest children, the DOJ announced last October that federal officials would be monitoring their behavior for fears of nonexistent violence.
The latest poke occurred on Aug. 8, when armed federal agents raided Donald Trump’s Florida home to retrieve government records. The move was unprecedented – no former president had ever been subjected to such treatment. Even if we concede that Trump was unwise to take classified material, the operation was unnecessary. Trump was cooperating with the National Archives about returning documents, and some legal analysts say the Presidential Records Act is so ambiguous that he may have been entitled to keep them. And, unlike Hillary Clinton’s storage of classified material on a private server that could easily be hacked by foreign enemies, Trump kept the physical documents under lock and key.
Given Trump’s flash-point status in our deeply divided country, and the long history of bogus efforts to take him down, it was an intentionally incendiary move.
In response to the expected outrage, the Biden administration poked again, leaking unconfirmed reports to water-carrying reporters that Trump held unspecified “nuclear secrets” – let’s be honest, there are nuclear secrets and then there are nuclear secrets. It also unloosed the outrageous suggestion that he might be selling secrets to our enemies by noting that he could be charged under the Espionage Act. While broadcasting these mistruths, mainstream news outlets largely failed to engage Trump’s claim that he had exercised his rightful authority to declassify the material he took with him – which would have rendered moot any law enforcement justification for the raid. They also ignored their own previous complaints about the government’s infamous penchant for classifying often innocuous information to advance the idea that every document marked top secret is akin to the launch codes.
As they issued such bad-faith arguments, Democrats and their media allies demanded that the public see this police state action aimed at kneecapping their chief political rival as a high-minded exercise of the rule of law. They also tried to change the narrative by focusing on the anger their outrageous action had stoked. Just one day after the raid, the Washington Post reported that “The simmering threat of violence comes to fore with search of Trump property.” Two days later, FBI chief Christopher Wray gave away the game by channeling Hillary Clinton in warning that unnamed “deplorable and dangerous” figures on social media posed a threat to law enforcement. One apparent Trump supporter did, in fact, launch a failed attack on an FBI office in Cincinnati, and he was later killed by police for this criminal act. But there is no evidence of meaningful violence.
Poking the bear has been the hallmark of progressive politics since Trump emerged on the scene in 2015. For years they advanced the lie concocted by Hillary’s campaign that the president had conspired with Vladimir Putin to steal the 2016 election. Shortly after that smear was exposed, they tried to impeach him for simply asking the Ukrainian president to look into the Biden family’s sketchy dealings there – is it just a coincidence that the FBI raid came after prime-time hearings on the Jan. 6 riot failed to move the needle in the Democrats’ direction?
Such treatment enraged Trump, who lashed out at his tormentors on social media. According to plan, his inflammatory comments and tweets then became the story rather than the gross mistreatment he endured.
It also angered millions of Americans who had elected him because of their frustration with Washington. In response, powerful media outlets portrayed them – without any evidence – as violent racists. They turbo-charged this narrative following George Floyd’s murder and the rise of Black Lives Matter to delegitimize the right. As city blocks burned, violent crime soared, and looting became an everyday occurrence in cities where progressive prosecutors worked to decriminalize crime, progressives claimed the nation’s greatest threat was white supremacist terror. When, at last, a group of Trump supporters, perhaps convinced that violence was now an acceptable form of “peaceful protest,” took the bait on Jan. 6, Democrats finally had their evidence that a poked bear is a danger. What followed was an unending stream of warnings from the Biden administration and useful idiot intellectuals that tens of millions of Republicans were preparing to instigate “mass violence.”
The news reveals this to be palpable nonsense. It is, in fact, the Big Lie eating away at our Republic. Ask yourself: when Americans step onto the street, are they afraid that Trump supporters might rob or kill them? When we post edgy claims on Twitter, are we afraid that Trump supporters will seek to ruin us?
But it is an effective lie. As they pursue cultural and economic policies at odds with reality, progressives know that their best hope of maintaining is to delegitimize their opponent. You may not like us, but you can’t support those violent, theocratic racists.
They will keep poking the bear until the voters take away their stick.
J. Peder Zane is an editor for RealClearInvestigations and a columnist for RealClearPolitics.