Lee Heidhues 10.31.2022
It’s Halloween and it’s a genuinely Scary time in America.
The Reactionaries are totally unhinged and David LePape’s attempted assassination of Paul Pelosi, husband of Nancy Pelosi – second in line to the Presidency – is both a warning sign and a message of the shape of things to come.
Excerpted from The Nation 10.31.2022
Last week’s attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, at the couple’s San Francisco home represents another in a long series of stress tests for American democracy.
And as at past such inflection points—the January 6 insurrection, the mobilization of a vast corps of election-denying and conspiracy-mongering candidates in the GOP, the pillaging of social media platforms by feckless billionaires—the system is showing every sign of impending breakdown.
An assassination attempt targeting the person third in line for the presidency—Paul Pelosi’s hammer-wielding assailant, David LePape, reportedly shouted, “Where is Nancy?”: the same refrain raised by January 6 rioters vandalizing the speaker’s office—largely registered within key segments of the American right as a regrettable and over-ardent case of propaganda-by-deed , if not indeed another conspiracy targeted at their movement.
“Unquestionably, we can expect more incidents like this,” says Joe Lowndes, political science professor at the University of Oregon and author of From the New Deal to the New Right: Race and the Southern Origins of Modern Conservatism.
“We’re at a moment when Republican elected officials can use the language of violence openly and demonize opponents as enemies in a way that’s as harsh as it gets.”
At the same time, Lowndes notes, the recourse to violent intimidation has deeper roots among right-wing leaders and activists. He observes, for example, that Fox News’s rapid transposition of DePape’s ideologically motivated attack into another campaign-cycle crime story directly echoes George Wallace’s response to the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, which he attributed to generalized “lawlessness” and a “breakdown of law and order in this country.”
The migration of such responsibility-dodging rhetoric into the political mainstream is another symptom of the American right’s overt authoritarian makeover in the Trump era.
“The clichéd way to say it is that the needle has moved on the legitimacy of political violence on the right,” Lowndes says. “Not only is more of it allowed, but the very logic of it has shifted, as the GOP has become a far-right party of the European variety.”
While American politics has been steeped in violent confrontation going back to the origins of the republic, he adds, “what’s distinctive now is that one of the two major parties seems to be all in for political violence.
Before, the party system had served as this mediating institution between citizens and government to siphon off these tendencies. But now you have a party that sees itself as the outlet for them.”
Top photo – Insurrectionist occupies Speaker Pelosi’s Chair in the House of Representatives – January 6, 2021