For a few fervent hours yesterday, Trump defenders thought they had found a fabulous cause celebre. But alas, the moment passed.
The website TMZ circulated a shock-art photo (you’ve probably seen it) of comedian Kathy Griffin posing with an effigy of Donald Trump’s bloodied severed head. Griffin even shared it on social media, mocking Trump’s words about Megyn Kelly: “There was blood coming out of his eyes, blood coming out of his…wherever.” Trump allies on the right quickly declared that the photo was general proof that all liberals are repulsive.
Mitt Romney even weighed in on Twitter: “Our politics have become too base, too low, & too vulgar, but Kathy Griffin’s post descends into an even more repugnant & vile territory.” Donald Trump Jr. defended his dad: “Disgusting but not surprising. This is the left today. They consider this acceptable.”
But Junior was wrong. In truth, “the left” did not find the photo acceptable.
Chelsea Clinton tweeted, “This is vile and wrong. It is never funny to joke about the president.” Liberal celebrity-activists piled on. Actress Debra Messing tweeted, “It wasn’t right when people hung (and) lynched Obama effigies, just as what Kathy Griffin did isn’t right now.” Actress Alyssa Milano tweeted at Griffin: “I’m sorry but that (photo) is totally inappropriate and so very offensive. And I have to believe you’re smart enough to know better.” Ex-Hillary Clinton adviser Peter Daou tweeted: “I’m all for artistic and comedic expression, but I just saw the violent Trump imagery…and I find it horrible.” And the so-called “liberal” media was no kinder; on CNN, Jake Tapper, who’s always tough on Trump, said on the air: “It’s pretty disgusting. I can’t imagine how anyone would think that’s appropriate.”
They’re right. I concur that the Griffin photo was disgusting and offensive. It also fed into the worst stereotypes about Hollywood decadence, and fed the right-wing narrative about unhinged Democrats. As a blogger on the conservative Daily Caller website claimed yesterday, “If you thought Dems were crazy before Nov. 8, 2016, now they’re completely around the bend. They’re not going to stop until they’ve alienated each and every undecided voter.”
But here’s what’s most important: The “Dems” denounced Griffin. They policed one of their own. They did it so fervently that by the end of the day, Griffin posted a video apology: “I crossed the line…I went too far. The image is too disturbing. I understand how it offends people. It wasn’t funny. I get it…I ask your forgiveness. I am going to ask the photographer to take down the image. And I beg your forgiveness. I went too far. I made a mistake and I was wrong.”
How often have people on the right apologized in that fashion? How often have they policed their own?
Oh, the hypocrisy: Mitt Romney thought the image was “repugnant & vile,” but four months ago he was supping with Trump, the most repugnant vulgarian in American politics, in the hopes of being named Secretary of State. What Kathy Griffin did was wrong, but a lot of the right-wingers who assailed the Griffin image continue to abide Trump’s repugnant & vile trampling of our civility norms. They were far more outraged yesterday about that photo than they were all last weekend about the white supremacist who killed two people on a Portland train; far more outraged than they were all last week when Trump vandalized the 70-year western NATO alliance.
But they don’t know any better.
It’s up to the Trump foes, people like Griffin, to know better. Better to just step back and watch the self-destruction. Trump, with his limbo legislative agenda and deepening Russia scandal, is doing just fine to crater his own presidency. Better to skip the shock art and let him politically sever himself.