Inciting Violence

Alan Zendell, May 27, 2020

Brutus said it to Julius Caesar, John Wilkes Booth screamed it at Abraham Lincoln when he shot him, and Virginia adopted it as its state motto after King George’s army surrendered at Yorktown. And on Memorial Day, when a small, angry heavily armed militia group violated the security of the governor’s mansion in Frankfort, Kentucky and hung Governor Andy Beshear in effigy, the dummy with the governor’s face on it bore the same Latin phrase: sic semper tyrannis. The effigy was placed on the front lawn where his nine- and ten-year-old children would have seen it had they been home. Why, you ask? Because they found the Governor’s attempts to save lives inconvenient.  

Beshear reacted to the despicable Memorial Day actions this way. The link is to his May 26 press briefing. It’s long, but the important part is a five-minute segment that begins ten minutes and thirty seconds (10:30) from the start. It’s worth taking the time to watch. 

Andy Beshear is a rising star in the Democratic Party, ironically because his leadership style is totally non-political. He and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have risen to national prominence since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic because they have eschewed political games and displayed the kind of leadership we expect from governors, especially in a life and death crisis.  

Both are sons of governors who were revered for their leadership and integrity, both are Democrats, and both are men of faith and humility. But while Cuomo is in his third term as Governor, Beshear is a newbie. In office less than six months he has risen to the challenge and united a state that voted for Donald Trump by a two-to-one margin in 2016 and whose two U. S. Senators have helped foster the divisiveness of Trumpism for their own political benefit. 

Like Cuomo, whose daily briefings have been must-see TV since the virus exploded in March, Beshear almost never mentions Trump’s name. Simply by being himself, by showing compassion and continuing to stress love over hate, he is rapidly emerging as the quintessential anti-Trump. He is calm and humble and projects strength and leadership without ever raising his voice or resorting to lies, hyperbole or insults. By demonstrating what leadership in a crisis should be, he shines a light on everything our president isn’t. 

It’s significant that Beshear’s approval rating is consistently over 80%, nearly twice that of the president who is his polar opposite, even though his state voted overwhelmingly for Trump. That doesn’t mean Kentucky is about to become the center of progressive politics. But it means that Beshear’s brand of compassionate, honest leadership trumps Trump’s brand when they’re viewed side by side.  

Kentucky is one of the poorest states in the country economically, which made it ripe for the kind of populism Trump runs on. If many Kentuckians were susceptible to Trump’s blame game and the decades-long right-wing media hate campaign against Hillary Clinton, their response to Beshear says they understand the difference between truth and lies, and they prefer compassion to hateful invective. The bipartisan condemnation of the Memorial Day event speaks a lot louder than the actions of the militia group. 

What a concept! Trump rails at perceived enemies and spews sick conspiracy theories, screaming to arouse his base at rallies with his lies and personal slurs, but this year, at least, it’s the calm, reasoned sympathetic leadership of men like Beshear and Cuomo that voters have responded to positively. Most people aren’t saying it out loud, but they can’t help but notice that events like the Memorial Day demonstration in Frankfort have a clear connection to Trump’s rallying cries. He has repeatedly encouraged gun advocates to use their weapons in protest and encouraged them to liberate their states from Democratic governors who he claims abrogate their rights as free citizens.  

Trump’s public statements and tweets would be considered incitement to riot and insurrection if anyone else made them, because that is exactly what they are. In reacting to them as he does, Andy Beshear seems to have modeled himself after leaders like Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King. I’m sure Beshear knows both of them were murdered by their enemies, yet he courageously told his constituents, yesterday, that he would be neither afraid nor intimidated by armed protesters.  

I’m confident that his security personnel will keep him safe. Bullies with big guns are still bullies, and most bullies are craven cowards. But they can still be dangerous. If one of them takes a shot at Beshear, we can thank four years of enabling by Donald Trump for encouraging crazies to vote by bullet instead of ballot. 

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