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Our Opinion: Sticks and stones ... and words ... can hurt

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We’ve been told — Teddy Roosevelt didn’t say it, but someone did — that Republicans get mad when they’re lied to and Democrats get mad when they’re told the truth.

We’re counting on the calm appreciation for truth as we offer some harsh but necessary words.

Increasingly unhinged rhetoric, most of it coming from the right, has led to and will continue to lead to political violence, with disastrous results for everyone, unless it is stopped. Republicans — elected officials, activists, voters — need to turn down the heat before our country erupts. They need to reject the conspiracy theories and lies and sheer hatred that have taken up so much space among Republicans and reclaim some sanity.

President Biden was right on Friday night when he said, “There’s too much violence, political violence, too much hatred, too much vitriol, and what makes us think that one party can talk about stolen elections, COVID being a hoax — this is all a bunch of lies — and it not affect people who may not be so well balanced?”

Biden asked that “every person of good conscience ... stand up against the violence in our politics.”

And no, Biden didn’t say that all Republicans were violent. Just as he didn’t say that all Republicans were “semi-fascists.” But misrepresenting him has been an effective way of dismissing his actual message: that these elements are real, they’re growing and they need to be addressed before they destroy the nation.

We know that many of our Republican friends — elected officials, business people, public servants — are people of good conscience and good deed. We ask them to take the initiative to calm the waters rather than excuse violent acts or double-down on the rhetoric that leads to it — including former President Trump’s Big Lie.

This violence was brought to the forefront last week by the physical attack on 82-year-old Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — violence terrible enough to inflict injuries that require hospitalization and surgery. The perpetrator allegedly entered their house asking, “Where’s Nancy? Where’s Nancy?” — the same question that reverberated through the nation’s Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. The zip ties and duct tape he carried also seem inspired by the insurrectionists.

Reports confirm that the perpetrator maintained a Facebook account on which he spewed Trumpian conspiracies about election fraud, COVID and climate change.

This isn’t an isolated incident. Add it to the attempted kidnapping of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. Add to it the increase in reported violence against Asian Americans and American Jews. And, yes, add Trump to it, whose main contribution to our political landscape seems to be inspiring America’s sewer-dwellers to air their racist and sexist views with impunity.

Also add to it those who thought the attack on Pelosi made for good humor. While many Republican officials expressed their concern for Pelosi, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Donald Trump Jr. thought the attack was a laughing matter. New Twitter owner Elon Musk reacted to the attack by posting a conspiracy theory about Pelosi that he later deleted without comment.

This isn’t to claim that Democrats are angels. Some disturbed individuals have been inspired to violence by their rhetoric, like the gunman who attacked members of the Republican congressional baseball team as they were practicing in 2017.

But the difference is in frequency and severity.

According to a recent New York Times analysis, it’s mostly Trump supporters who have ratcheted up the vitriol, referring to political opponents as “America haters” and “traitors” and making absurd claims that Democrats want to flood communities with fentanyl, child traffickers and street gangs — oh, and illegal immigrants — as if they didn’t live in the same communities.

“Both sides do it” only excuses the growing Republican excess.

Show us the Democratic candidates who pose in election ads with weapons while they “hunt” their political rivals. Show us the liberal activists carrying firearms to monitor ballot drop-boxes. Show us the Democratic activists asking when they can start shooting Republicans.

We join the president in calling on all people of good conscience to reject not just the rhetoric, but its sources. In an age in which so much news is being produced — much of it excellent — there’s no excuse for getting one’s information from sensationalistic and unreliable bottom-feeders. With so much information at our fingertips, there’s no excuse for believing a conspiracy theory except I want to.

And there’s no excuse at all for violent attacks.

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