When push comes to shove

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - KATH­LEEN PARKER kath­leen­parker@wash­post.com

The shock­ing thing about Greg Gian­forte’s as­sault on a jour­nal­ist isn’t that he body-slammed and punched a re­porter but that it took so long for the in­evitable to oc­cur. Such an at­tack was fore­shad­owed way back in March last year when tough-guy Corey Le­wandowski grabbed a fe­male re­porter who, ap­par­ently, was too brash for the ten­der sen­si­bil­i­ties of then-can­di­date Don­ald Trump’s in­ner cir­cle.

A few months af­ter his ef­fron­tery, Le­wandowski left the cam­paign and joined CNN as a com­men­ta­tor. He now may be poised to re­join Team Trump.

Gian­forte, a Mon­tana Repub­li­can, also was re­warded for his im­i­ta­tion of a dis­tem­pered jackal. His cam­paign in a special con­gres­sional elec­tion re­port­edly reaped more than $100,000 in on­line do­na­tions just be­fore the vote, most of it in the af­ter­math of the in­ci­dent. The Boze­man busi­ness­man also man­aged to win the elec­tion, per­haps partly at­trib­ut­able to early vot­ing be­fore the at­tack.

As cap­tured in an au­dio record­ing, the Guardian’s Ben Ja­cobs is heard say­ing, “You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses.” Ac­cord­ing to Fox News re­porter Alicia Acuna, Gian­forte be­gan punch­ing Ja­cobs, say­ing, “I’m sick and tired of you guys.” Aren’t we all. The cause of his vi­o­lent melt­down? Ja­cobs had asked Gian­forte a few ques­tions about his po­si­tion on health care.

This isn’t ex­actly high-handed heck­ling over a sen­si­tive is­sue. What if it had been? Would Gian­forte have throt­tled him? Gian­forte did apol­o­gize for his ac­tions af­ter the elec­tion re­sults were in and fol­low­ing 24 hours of de­nial.

It would seem that Gian­forte, who has been charged with mis­de­meanor as­sault, is un­fa­mil­iar with the me­dia beast known as a scrum, an im­promptu as­sem­blage of re­porters, usu­ally fol­low­ing an event, dur­ing which re­porters fire off ques­tions and jos­tle one an­other for a bet­ter po­si­tion — sort of the way Pres­i­dent Trump bull­dozed past Mon­tene­grin Prime Min­is­ter Dusko Markovic on Thurs­day.

In Brus­sels for a NATO sum­mit, the pres­i­dent proved that no one can out­bully him. He chas­tised other na­tions for not pay­ing their fair share, and did not of­fer his en­dorse­ment of Ar­ti­cle 5, the col­lec­tive-se­cu­rity pro­vi­sion, which was in­ter­preted as in­sin­u­at­ing that they might not be able to rely on the United States should, say, Rus­sia de­cide to pur­sue its dream of reestab­lish­ing the em­pire, as it did in Crimea.

Trump ob­vi­ously had changed his tune since ear­lier declar­ing in Saudi Ara­bia that he had not come to lec­ture. He all but wagged his fin­ger, which may ex­plain why newly elected French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron walked di­rectly to­ward Trump and then, at the last mo­ment, swerved to greet Ger­man Prime Min­is­ter An­gela Merkel, shak­ing other hands be­fore get­ting to Trump last.

But Trump’s coup de un­couth came when, ap­par­ently stricken by an ur­gent need to reach cen­ter stage for a group photo, the U.S. pres­i­dent lit­er­ally pushed Markovic out of the way. Upon find­ing his pre­ferred spot, Trump ad­justed his tie and seemed obliv­i­ous to what the rest of the world ob­served as pro­foundly un­seemly.

Markovic gra­ciously has said he didn’t no­tice the shove, adding that the U.S. pres­i­dent should be in the front row. Per­haps so, but a light tap on the shoul­der and at least a pre­tense of man­ners in the form of “Ex­cuse me” wouldn’t have been such a strain.

While Trump’s re­flex­ive rude­ness was merely em­bar­rass­ing, Gian­forte’s at­tack was fright­en­ing. Both ac­tions, how­ever, flow from the same spout — our ev­er­coars­en­ing cul­ture and par­ti­san hos­til­ity that erased all bound­aries of ci­vil­ity dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion. It would be un­fair to pin this evo­lu­tion on Trump alone, but broad­en­ing ac­cep­tance of bul­ly­ing tac­tics un­doubt­edly has been aided by the com­man­der in chief’s own em­brace, even cel­e­bra­tion, of re­solv­ing dif­fer­ences by force, if nec­es­sary.

Re­call can­di­date Trump en­cour­ag­ing his sup­port­ers to boo jour­nal­ists at his ral­lies; his promis­ing to pay le­gal ex­penses for a guy who punched a heck­ler; and his inces­sant de­mo­niz­ing of the main­stream me­dia as “fake news,” mean­ing news he doesn’t like.

Gian­forte may be a hero to some, but his vi­o­lent an­tics should send a chill up the spines of Con­sti­tu­tion-minded Amer­i­cans. Trump’s rhetoric has nor­mal­ized ha­tred of jour­nal­ists and, by im­pli­ca­tion, en­cour­aged the sort of be­hav­ior we’ve now wit­nessed. The per­pe­tra­tor wasn’t some right-wing crazy from Bum­duck; he was a re­spected busi­ness­man, now elected to Congress.

If this doesn’t worry you, we have big­ger prob­lems than Rus­sia could ever dream.

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