The explosive and toxic rhetoric that has characterized our political culture in recent years ramped up as vote-counting in the presidential election dragged on in Pennsylvania and other states.
Remember when we could disagree without threats and allegations? No, I don’t either.
Johnstown Republican Jim Vasilko, owner of a local construction company, raised eyebrows even in these contentious times with a comment made to reporter Dave Sutor, who asked the GOP delegate for his thoughts on the closeness of the election in Pennsylvania and across the country.
Vasilko – long an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump – said he was “flabbergasted” that the president was in a fight to keep the White House in his battle against Democrat Joe Biden.
Then Vasilko, who believes a Biden presidency would be bad for his company, went a bit further:
“That shows me a huge amount of ignorance in the electorate in this country. ... When I see a Biden sign, like I just want to like throw a rock through their window because the way I look at it is that person is trying to crush my business.”
A local Democrat emailed The Tribune-Democrat on Wednesday, saying he/she felt “threatened by this comment” from Vasilko and added that printing the “irresponsible” comment was inappropriate, akin to “promoting the violence that he is inciting.”
Let me be clear: In no way do I condone violence as a reaction to political differences.
However, readers need to know that such sentiments are out there – and not just among members of Trump’s inner circle.
We need to get back to something resembling civility – even when we strongly disagree.
Or when we feel threatened, as Trump did late Thursday night, when he said vote-counters were trying to “steal” the election from him through fraud and treachery.
Or when we see an unwelcome shift, as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham did Thursday – after winning his own reelection bid. Graham called claims of “wrongdoing” in Pennsylvania’s vote counting – which are not substantiated by facts or evidence – “earth shattering.”
Even as he said he would donate $500,000 to Trump’s “defense fund,” Graham said Philadelphia election workers are “crooked as a snake.”
U.S. Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson, a Centre County Republican whose 15th district includes much of Cambria County, accused Pennsylvania officials of casting “damaging doubt on the electoral process,” which he said “impacts the integrity of the election process and could really hurt the confidence in not just this election, but other elections going forward.”
I’m assuming that doesn’t include Thompson’s victory Tuesday over Democratic challenger Robert Williams.
However, other prominent Republicans showed some common sense, taking issue with Trump’s claims that the election process is dirty if he doesn’t win.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, speaking Thursday on ABC, said:
“We heard nothing today about any evidence” of wrongdoing in vote-counting.
Christie was a candidate for president in the 2016 Republican primaries, and has since counseled the president on matters of policy.
But Christie found no basis for Trump’s allegations that counting mail-in votes is improper – even if they benefit the other candidate.
“This kind of thing, all it does is inflame without informing,” Christie said. “And we cannot permit inflammation without information.”
He added: “If you’re going to say those things from behind the podium at the White House, it’s his right to do it, it’s his right to pursue legal action. But show us the evidence. I want to know what backs up what he said so that I can analyze it. And let me tell you, if he’s right, I’ll be outraged and I’m sure you would be, too.
“And if he’s wrong then the American people are going to be able to make the judgment about this election that the results have been fair.”
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, also a one-time Republican presidential contender, echoed those concerns late Thursday night on CNN.
“How can you say we need to count the votes in Arizona because ‘I can win this thing’ but say we have to stop the count in Philadelphia?”
On Trump’s claims that he is being “cheated” out of the election, Santorum said: “For the president to go out without any evidence and claim that is dangerous.”
Speaking of dangerous, Facebook banned a large group called “Stop the Steal” that was sharing inaccurate information about vote counting, with some members calling for violence.
On Thursday, Twitter blocked an account by Breitbart News official and Trump confidant Steve Bannon, who called for the beheading of Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading voice in the COVID-19 pandemic, and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
Bannon said on his podcast “War Room” (now there’s an appropriate moniker) that the heads of Fauci and Wray should be posted “on pikes ... at the two corners of the White House as a warning to federal bureaucrats, you either get with the program or you’re gone.”
Is this American politics or an episode of “Game of Thrones”?
We certainly need a less partisan approach to politics in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. But we’re a long way from that idealistic dream.
Let’s start with a reduction in volatility, fewer calls for violence and some basic human decency – and let’s push out these voices of chaos.
Calls for heads on pikes and rocks through windows have no place in our democratic process.