Conservative CNN Pundit Says It’s a ‘Reach’ to Tie Trump’s Rhetoric to White Supremacist Violence

An answer to a question that no one was actually asking.

A conservative commentator told a CNN panel Monday afternoon that she thinks it is “a reach” to connect Donald Trump’s rhetoric to “violent acts by other individuals.”

Mary Katharine Ham was asked by Dana Bash to respond to weekend comments by Mick Mulvaney regarding the president’s reaction to the massacre in New Zealand. Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff in the White House, went on two separate Sunday talk shows to deny that Trump is anti-Muslim or a white supremacist.

Ham responded that while she thinks the president’s rhetoric is bad, she disagrees with people who try to tie it to acts of terrorism such as that committed in New Zealand.

She added, “I’m wary about doing that with any violent extremist’s actions, because I think it can endanger speech.” She then pivoted to Trump’s inability to “just say the right thing,” citing his attack on John McCain over the weekend.

Ham is dodging the actual question, and it is unfortunate that Bash lets Paul Begala jump in instead of pushing for a straight answer. Ham is something of a free-speech absolutist, to the point of writing a book claiming that free speech is being “squelched” on college campuses. The implication of her statement here is that criticizing Trump’s rhetoric for inspiring a white supremacist killer is the first step down a road that ends with restrictions on the president’s right to free speech. She would prefer that Trump just learn how to say the right thing already, rather than having some sort of artificial restraints placed on it.

But no one is suggesting that the free speech rights of the president of the United States need to be curtailed. (One’s mind wonders how that would even work in practice.) The question before us is a simple one: does Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric inspire in some way people like the New Zealand shooter?

It is not exactly a yes-or-no answer. As many people have been arguing, when you combine Trump’s rhetoric with that of his enablers in right-wing media, with actions such as the ban on Muslim immigrants into America or his scapegoating of migrants from Central America for crime in the U.S. what he helps to create is an environment in which people might become angry enough to take action. And those actions will be directed against the people the president has designated as Others, people who are harming what he believes is the natural American order, where whites are on top as they have been for the entire history of the nation.

The killer in New Zealand may have taken Trump’s views and applied them to what he saw as an invasion of other majority-white countries in the West by Muslim immigrants. He may have concluded that killing these Muslims was the rational course of action. And yes, he learned about Trump’s views from the president’s rhetoric. This is all so obvious that to deny it seems laughable

Donald Trump certainly did not specifically encourage a massacre like an orange-tinted Jeff Bridges in The Fisher King. But his words in conjunction with his actions create an atmosphere in which angry and radicalized people might see attacks like the one in New Zealand as a righteous reaction. Conservatives such as Mary Katharine Ham don’t seem to want to admit this, and they are going to go on misidentifying the problem so long as networks like CNN pays them to do so.

Watch the clip up top, via CNN.

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Gary Legum has written about politics and culture for Independent Journal Review, Salon, The Daily Beast, Wonkette, AlterNet and McSweeney's, among others. He currently lives in his native state of Virginia.

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