By DANA MILBANK
WASHINGTON — Now we’ve done it. We’ve hurt Ivanka Trump’s feelings.
“There’s a level of viciousness that I was not expecting,” the presidential daughter and senior White House official told Fox News last week, adding that she was “blindsided” by the “ferocity.”
The poor dear.
Here are a few sources the blindsided footwear magnate might consult to understand why things are so vicious:
— Her brother Eric. The previous week, he called the head of the Democratic Party a “total whack job” and declared that “morality is just gone” from Democrats. “To me, they’re not even people,” he said.
— Her brother Donald Jr. Last Wednesday, after the shooting at the Republican congressional baseball team practice, the president’s son retweeted with approval a claim tying the shooting to “NY elites glorifying the assassination of our President.”
— Newt Gingrich. On Thursday, the informal Trump adviser and surrogate tweeted a conspiracy claim that special counsel Robert Mueller is “now clearly the tip of the deep-state spear aimed at destroying or at a minimum undermining and crippling the Trump presidency.”
— Her dad. The president on Thursday went on yet another Twitter tirade. He declared himself the victim of the “single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history — led by some very bad and conflicted people!” And he renewed his attack on his vanquished opponent, saying, “Crooked H destroyed phones w/hammer.”
This is why Washington is so vicious right now. Plenty bad before Trump’s campaign and presidency, it has gotten markedly worse. This is what happens when the president and his surrogates portray opponents as immoral, subhuman and criminal, when they hack away at the courts, the press and other pillars of a free society — and when they promote conspiracy theories suggesting American justice is tainted.
It was sickening that a lunatic apparently converted his hatred of Trump last week into violence, shooting House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and others on a baseball diamond. The would-be assassin’s act — the ultimate assault on the rule of law — is the antithesis of the principled opposition to Trump.
Revolting in a different way is the speed with which a few on the right have tried to use the shooting to delegitimize the justifiable and widespread anger that Trump has generated. Rush Limbaugh called the gunman “a mainstream Democrat voter.” Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said of the shooting: “I do want to put some of this at the feet of Barack Obama.” Sean Hannity of Fox News, broadcasting from the scene of the shooting, alleged a “record level of vicious left-wing hate,” claiming this is the “biggest issue we need to address as a country.”
Some have gone in search of precedent to justify this attempt to smear Trump’s opposition by blaming it for a madman’s bullets. A writer for the conservative Washington Examiner falsely claimed last week that in 2011 I “blamed” Sarah Palin for the shooting that injured then-Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) and killed others. In fact, I wrote then that “there’s no evidence that either Palin or [Glenn] Beck inspired the Tucson suspect” but that they both deserved to be “held to account for recklessly playing with violent images.” Now, as then, nobody but the shooter is to blame for a depraved act, but we all should be careful with violent language and imagery that could be misconstrued by the unhinged.
Kathy Griffin’s severed Trump head was grotesque. Though I doubt those who watch Shakespeare performed by the Public Theater in New York are violence-prone, I wouldn’t have cast the assassinated Julius Caesar as Trump-like. As The Washington Post’s David Weigel noted last week, many of the alleged calls to violence by the left have been misrepresented. But when they happen, they should be roundly denounced.
The deep and broad anger with Trump, however, has nothing to do with this. Part of it comes naturally from being out of power: Liberals were more vitriolic late in the Bush years, conservatives were nastier during Obama’s presidency, and the pendulum is swinging again.
But now there’s a new variable: The president himself is stoking fear and fury. Seven months after the election, he is still attacking Hillary Clinton as a criminal. He is frightening allies, attacking the courts, discrediting the intelligence community and the “fake news media,” and suggesting there’s a major conspiracy against him in the justice system.
This recklessness causes enormous fear, which generates the “ferocity” Ivanka Trump perceives. President Trump could calm the anger — if he could calm himself.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group