America has a bad case of selective outrage

Democratic silence and Republican deflection are both tools of selective outrage, and both must stop

“There needs to be unrest in the streets.”

“Who says protests have to be peaceful?”

“This is a movement, I’m telling you, they’re not going to stop, and everyone beware ... they’re not going to let up, and they should not, and we should not.”

“I just don’t know why there aren’t uprisings all over the country. Maybe there will be.”

In light of last week’s events at the U.S. Capitol and the media coverage surrounding it, you’d be forgiven for thinking the above words were President Donald Trump’s. But they actually belong to prominent figures on the left: Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, CNN’s Chris Cuomo, California Sen. Kamala Harris, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, respectively.

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All but the last quote (Pelosi’s comment on Trump’s immigration policies) referred to the various protests across the country during the summer — demonstrations and occupations that resulted in, at the very least, four shootings and several alleged sexual assaults in Seattle’s Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP), the hunting and killing of a Trump supporter in Portland, and untold destruction of public and private property, including small businesses that many depend on for their livelihoods.

Amid horrified reactions to the storming of the Capitol and the role Trump might’ve played in provoking it, conservatives have been raising a very fair question: Where was all this outrage then?

To be sure, most of those protesting racial injustice last summer weren’t committing acts of violence, just like most Trump supporters (even some who remained peaceful in D.C. last week) aren’t insurrectionist thugs. And Harris later clarified her support, saying she was referring to peaceful protests, and condemned rioting — but so did Trump this week. So where were the calls for her removal over imprecise language that might’ve egged on deadly violence? And why didn’t Seattle’s City Council remove Mayor Jenny Durkan for allowing CHOP to exist as long as it did?

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I previously wrote a column that argued Trump should be impeached for his failure to intervene during Wednesday’s violence, for his decision to sit idly by for hours while five people died and the lives of members of Congress and his own vice president were at stake. A week later, Democrats have rushed past due process to impeach the president for the wrong reason — legally shaky charges of inciting violence that some of their own members could be guilty of. They impeached him due to their own selective outrage.

Selective outrage is a serious problem on the left. But when conservatives refuse to acknowledge fault on the right and deflect to instances when liberals should’ve been outraged, then guess what?

They’re guilty of selective outrage, too.

Of course, the vast majority of Republicans and right-wing figures have condemned the violence at the Capitol, but most also stop short of demanding accountability for it — demanding consequences for the man who allowed it to last as long as it did. Instead, they demand to know why others weren’t held accountable, a textbook fallacy.

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Selective outrage is likely one reason why 90% of Republican voters don’t trust the mainstream media to provide full coverage. When an MSNBC journalist describes a protest as “not, generally speaking, unruly” while a building is literally engulfed in flames right behind him, the media loses credibility. But the reverse is true, too: When conservatives fail to recognize who’s responsible for sowing or at least prolonging the chaos right in front of us, they lose credibility as well.

Democrats often have the luxury of silence. Because much of the media skews their direction and won’t call them out on it, Democratic politicians can usually get away with their selective outrage by simply not addressing faults and failures on the left. Those on the right don’t have such an advantage — can you imagine a Republican trying to just ignore or play dumb about the Capitol riot? — so GOP politicians employ the strategy of deflection instead. But silence and deflection are both tools of selective outrage, and both must stop.

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If we’re to trust one another enough to get anything done in this country, conservatives and liberals alike must restore their credibility, which is extremely difficult to do when we decry one outrage but stay mum on or deflect another. Our nation needs an elevated discourse to heal from the tragedies we’ve seen since last year — and that means owning up to the truth, even if that truth implicates the president of a nation, the mayor of a single city, or anyone in between.