The ‘New York Times’ Should Know Better Than to Blame Steve Scalise’s Shooting on Bernie Sanders’ Rhetoric


The news cycle moves so fast these days that it’s nearly impossible for the media to keep up; while they’re reporting one incident, the giant baby in the White House has done some other terrible thing, and today’s headline is consigned to history. (We’ve written about this before here on Flavorwire.)

This also means that attempts to make sense of what’s going on are often compromised; writers and commentators are on short deadlines, under pressure to produce hot political takes before the public’s attention has been diverted elsewhere. This is the only thing I can think of that’d explain the piece that appeared in the paper of record two days ago about the shooting of Republican whip Steve Scalise at a baseball field in Alexandria, VA. The piece was published on the paper’s website a matter of hours after the shooting occurred — it was published in the print edition of the paper the next morning — and bears every hallmark of the sort of ill-considered, reductive writing that often passes for analysis these days.

Under the headline “Attack Tests Movement Sanders Founded,” writer Yamiche Alcindor — who’s usually excellent, for what it’s worth — essentially blames the shooter’s affection for Bernie Sanders for his decision to shoot Scalise and three others, suggesting that the shooting presents “an unexpected test for a movement born out of Mr. Sanders’s left-wing, populist politics, and a moment for liberals to figure out how to balance anger at Mr. Trump with inciting violence.”

This talk of “inciting violence” might leave a casual reader with the impression that Bernie Sanders had said something along the lines of “go out and shoot Republicans, o my followers!” Sanders, of course, has said nothing of the sort; the best examples Alcindor can present as to Sanders’ apparently violence-inciting rhetoric is that he “called President Trump a ‘demagogue’ and said recently that he was ‘perhaps the worst and most dangerous president in the history of our country’.” If these statements are incitement to violence, then so is the majority of what’s said on Capitol Hill on any given day. (There’s also the fact that both the statements are, y’know, true, but let’s leave that for now.)

But still, these cursory quotes lead Alcindor to where it’s been apparent the story is going since its opening lines: the “Bernie Bro” stereotype. She suggests that “some of Mr. Sanders’s supporters [have] earned a belligerent reputation for their criticism of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party and others who they believed disagreed with their ideas… Sanders fans, sometimes referred to derogatorily as ‘Bernie Bros’ or ‘Bernie Bots,’ [have] at times harassed reporters covering Mr. Sanders and flooded social media with angry posts directed at the ‘corporate media,’ a term often used by the senator.”

This idea — that Sanders’ support base, which stretches across all of America’s demographic groups and whose existence demonstrates an unprecedented embrace by the American electorate of socialist policy, can be dismissed as being composed of angry white Reddit bros who are worthy only of sneering contempt — is the sort of political stereotyping that’s as actively counterproductive as it is obnoxious. For a start, it’s precisely this sort of lack of understanding of Trump’s support base that gave use Trump in the first place; it was generally assumed that his supporters were all racist hicks and the white working poor, and it was only when someone actually bothered to interrogate this assumption, months after the fact, that America’s op-ed writers realized the stereotype was false. Dismissing those who disagree with you as caricatures isn’t only reductive; it’s an active embrace of ignorance, and it can have unpleasant consequences.

Still, since she’s already gone this far, Alcindor finishes the job: “The suspect in the shooting in Virginia put a new spotlight on the rage buried in some corners of the progressive left.” And you know what? Yes, there is rage buried in some corners of the progressive left. Not the sort of rage that would lead one to shoot a Congressman — that sort of rage is the preserve of men with a history of domestic violence and a childhood full of trauma, whatever their political persuasion. The rest of Sanders’ supporters seem to have managed to resist the pull of his ~*incendiary rhetoric*~ and refrained from shooting anyone thus far.

But yes, there is rage. There is rage that due to the incompetence of the institutions of the left, we are now living in a world where Donald Trump is president. There is rage that the Democratic Party managed to lose an election that it should have won in a canter. There is rage that six months into Trump’s presidency, the Democrats are still pissing about with appeasement of the most violently right-wing establishment in living memory, rather than doing their goddamn job as the opposition party. There is rage that the Democrats are doing this because they have no real political philosophy or ideas beyond waffly centrist free market capitalism. There is rage that there is, in fact, no viable leftist party in America, and that socialism remains a pariah philosophy in America because the party that should be embracing it instead remains beholden to the interests of the companies that would stand to lose most from any increase in workers’ rights. There is rage that this country still doesn’t have anything vaguely resembling a first-world healthcare system, and that what little progress the Obama administration made on that front is now being dismantled, a process of destruction to which the Democrats are putting up precisely no resistance. There is rage that women’s reproductive rights are constantly under attack, and that no attempt is being made to protect them. There is rage that the generation growing into adulthood today is being presented with an economic shit sandwich and then being told that they’re poor because they don’t work hard enough. There is rage that the gap between rich and poor is growing ever wider. There is rage that this doesn’t seem to bother the political establishment in Washington one little bit.

And there is rage that on top of all that, we continually hear the voice of the right telling us that we’re incoherently angry and dangerous. For her piece, Alcindor chose to interview one Harlan Hill, a right-wing political consultant, who suggested that “the senator’s description of the president as ‘dangerous’ illustrated the ‘apocalyptic terms’ and ‘melodrama’ that have created a combustible political atmosphere,” and that Sanders’ words are “a passive justification for the kind of violence we saw.” If anything has created a combustible political atmosphere, it’s the fucking President who calls immigrants “rapists,” spent years implying that his Presidential predecessor was a Kenyan Muslim, and so on, and so on, and so on. It takes some impressive mental gymnastics to decide that, in such an environment, it’s Bernie Sanders that’s the problem, but that’s the sort of nonsense we’ve come to expect from the GOP and its supporters. The goddamn New York Times should know better.