It was not, to put it mildly, elegantly stated. In a speech in California to the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR) not long ago, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Democrat, dismissed the 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City as merely “some people did something.”
“CAIR was founded after 9/11,” said Ms. Omar, the first Muslim woman elected to Congress, “because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”
Ms. Omar got it factually wrong. CAIR was founded several years before 9/11. In the wake of those attacks, the U.S. government went out of its way to ensure that Muslim Americans were not singled out. (That’s why everybody must put up with body searches at the airport.) Who can forget President George W. Bush, being generous, calling Islam “a religion of peace?”
But the worst was how she dismissed as trivial the killing of 3,000 innocent Americans. That naturally drew harsh criticism from a wide range of prominent media figures, politicians, and eventually President Trump. The president tweeted a video juxtaposing Ms. Omar’s flippant remarks with grisly footage from that awful day. The New York Post published a graphic front page chastising Rep. Omar.
Mr. Trump’s video was tough, visceral, and perhaps, to the pain of a few snowflakes, “unpresidential.” But it was perfectly within the bounds of political discourse. “Politics ain’t bean bag,” as Mr. Dooley (a Democrat) observed, and in a democratic system like our own, politicians revel in attacking one another. That’s the point of a democratic republic.
Nevertheless, the usual Greek chorus erupted to suggest that the president had endangered the freshman member of Congress. The message was simple, that rebuking Rep. Omar is out of bounds.
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who in a sane world would be an obscure backbench congresswoman but who has become the face of the Democratic Party, insists that criticism of Rep. Omar is “incitement of violence against a progressive woman of color.” Chris Hayes of MSNBC tweeted that the “president is actively and willfully endangering the life of a member of Congress.” Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator and a member of the legion of Democrats running for president, said “the president is inciting violence against a sitting Congresswoman.” Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman once the leading presidential Democrat wannabe until he was eclipsed by the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and now by Bernie Sanders, said criticism of Rep. Omar amounted to “an incitement to violence.” Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts chimed in that “President Trump understands the weight his words carry. His tweet about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar puts her life and her family’s lives at risk.”
This is pernicious nonsense. The American system of government is predicated on disagreement— tough, even uncivil disagreement at times. Casting legitimate criticism as an “incitement to violence” is a naked attack on freedom of speech, and the open American political system. This isn’t the first time that elites have sought to protect Rep. Omar from legitimate criticism. She has made several vicious remarks about Israel, including a tweet suggesting that Israel buys the loyalty of American politicians.
President Trump, in a recent speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas, drew attention to Rep. Omar’s remarks in a perfectly fair exercise of political speech. The Washington Post nevertheless cast it in a banner headline as something fraught with dark foreboding: “Trump says Rep. Omar ‘doesn’t like Israel’ one day after man was charged with threatening to kill her.” Because Rep. Omar, like many public figures, had recently been threatened, she could not be criticized. This chilling attitude would ensure the silencing of much political debate, given that in a country of more than 330 million people, politicians draw threats from wackos all the time.
President Trump himself is likened to Hitler approximately 1,000 times a day. Is this silly and overwrought criticism? Of course it is. But is it an “incitement to violence?” Of course it isn’t. Politics is a game any number can play, but nobody gets immunity from fair criticism, sharp or extra-sharp.