My question for the day:
What to make of a nation whose populace praise violence and elect representatives who physically beat reporters?
What, exactly, happened in Montana, and what are we to think of a state that elects a candidate who physically beat a reporter, then lied about it, and only admitted and apologized after he won the election. And what must we think of a nation whose president applauds this action and goes so far as to offer to pay the offender’s legal fees? You will note that I have many questions, but not many answers.
On Thursday, Montana held a special election to replace former representative Ryan Zinke, who is now Secretary of the Interior (more about that in another post). The two major candidates were republican Greg Gianforte, a technology executive, and democrat Rob Quist, a folk singer. The majority of Montanans vote republican and Trump won big there last year.
On the night before the election, Ben Jacobs, a reporter for the Guardian, asked Gianforte a question pertaining to the disastrous healthcare bill that passed in the House a few weeks ago. Rather than answer the question, Gianforte grabbed Mr. Jacobs by the throat, slammed him to the ground and began punching him. Mr. Jacobs’ glasses were broken and he was taken by ambulance to the hospital where he was treated for his injuries. Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault. End of Gianforte’s political aspirations, right? WRONG.
Thursday night, Gianforte won the election by six percentage points, proving once again that many in this nation have sold their consciences down river. As I watched the results start rolling in around 10:30 EDT on Thursday night, it brought back memories of another election just over six months ago. And just as on that fateful night of November 8th, I felt tears pooling in my eyes. Not so much, I think, for the fact that another republican beat out a democrat, but for the statement that win made, a statement that says: We the people of the United States of America no longer value kindness, compassion and freedom, but we value only money and power.
Gianforte has a history of antagonizing the press. In April, he pointed out a reporter and suggested that the crowd should all “gang up on him”. His estimated net worth ranges between $65 million and $515 million, which apparently gives him a sense of superiority and entitlement. And … surprise … he owns approximately $250,000 unsanctioned stock in a Russian company.
Gianforte initially denied his assault on Mr. Jacobs, despite the fact that there were four eye witnesses to the incident. Even a Fox reporter, Alicia Acuna, was horrified:
“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top of the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’”
Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin:
“Following multiple interviews and an investigation by the Gallatin county sheriff’s office it was determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault. Greg Gianforte received a citation on Wednesday night and is scheduled to appear in Gallatin county justice court between now and 7 June 2017.”
Only after being declared the winner of the election did Gianforte offer a tepid apology:
“When you make a mistake, you have to own up to it. That’s the Montana way. Last night I made a mistake and I took an action that I can’t take back. I’m not proud of what happened. I should not have responded in the way that I did and for that I am sorry. I should not have treated that reporter that way and for that I am sorry Mr. Ben Jacobs.”
Predictably, Donald Trump called the election results “a great win in Montana”.
How did this happen:
Quite possibly the assault on a reporter by the republican candidate might have cost Gianforte the election except for two things:
- Montana has early voting by mail, and 37% had already cast their ballots via mail before the assault took place. Some actually called and asked to get their ballots back, but of course at that point it was too late.
- The democratic candidate, Rob Quist, was not a strong candidate at all. He has no prior experience that would qualify him for the position, but then neither does Gianforte. He has a history of unpaid debts and property taxes, which the republicans made the most of during the campaign. Quist was able to raise only half as much money for his campaign as Gianforte. The national DNC is concentrating most of their efforts on the Georgia race and Jon Ossoff, and largely considered Montana a ‘waste of time’. Quist is being sued by a former band member and also by a contractor, both of whom say he did not pay them. All in all, Quist was not a viable candidate and the Montana Democratic Party did little, if anything, to help him, while Trump and Pence both traveled to Montana to speak at rallies on behalf of Gianforte.
The message it sends when a man with a short fuse who beats up a reporter for asking a legitimate question is the same message we heard on November 8th last year when a man who had encouraged violence at rallies, who had threatened and bullied those who opposed him was elected to the highest office in the land. The message it sends is that we are no longer a kind, caring and compassionate nation, but rather one with little regard for our fellow human beings. Is it likely that we will see more of these brash, violent bullies elected to Congress and governorships? Possibly. I hope not, but quite possibly others will look around and think that if a person like Trump, a person like Gianforte, can be elected, then almost anyone who says what people want to hear, can win an election. And perhaps what it says is that people like violence, that respect and kindness no longer matter. Perhaps it says that this nation has sunk to a new low, one from which it may never come back.