This month marks the 46th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. We all remember that the assassin was a deranged, dysfunctional radical. But many — especially, of course, those of us born afterward — might not remember the hate and extremism that framed President Kennedy’s trip to Texas that November. Mark Warren, writing for Esquire, recalls it. And he worries about similarities to today:
“As I am from Texas, home over the years to some of the most wonderful and ridiculous members of congress, sometimes situated in the same person, I thought of my home delegation, and in my mind formed the image of the skinhead reprobate from Tyler, Louie Gohmert. Characterized chiefly by the blankness behind his eyes, Gohmert has the face of a hooligan and the politesse to match. Stinking of contempt, no greater reactionary is to be found in the Congress today. And certainly it is people like him who have abetted the toxic atmosphere that holds in our current politics. He has screamed that the president is a ‘socialist!’ perhaps louder and longer than anyone else in his caucus (which is quite a distinction), he is a birther who believes that Obama is an alien Muslim, and he has said that the president’s health care plan will ‘absolutely kill senior citizens. They’ll put them on lists and force them to die early.’
So as I thought about Congressman Gohmert, I decided that he is either a demagogue, a fool, or both. . . . [H]ere I suppose I am addressing the law of unintended consequences. If you with abandon promulgate such outlandish distortions of the truth, and feel it your duty to stoke the fires of our baser instincts to the point of hysteria over the utter destruction of the American system, do you bear responsibility when someone who ingests your bile responds violently?”
To be clear, Warren isn’t blaming President Kennedy’s murder that day on right-wing extremism. But he notes that such extremism was evident even in the reactions of some people to that horrible event. He also reproduces a letter from an East Texan to President Johnson two days later. The note is a poignant reminder that extremism is a dangerous infection bound by neither time nor place.
And that reminder becomes clearer when we recall that the Texas Republican Party feels it appropriate to have as its leader today someone who compares our nation’s current president to Adolf Hitler and viciously attacks the faith and motivations of anyone who doesn’t share her political views.