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May 25, 2017

Montana voters can save (or bodyslam) the country

If I were to run for elected office – which I never will, so this is all hypothetical – one thing that I wouldn’t do the night before the election is bodyslam a reporter who asked me a couple questions in the course of doing his or her job.

The second thing I wouldn’t do is have my obedient-lapdog flack put out a statement that places blame upon the “aggressive behavior” of a “liberal journalist,” even if my home state went deep red in last year’s presidential election.

Greg Richard Gianforte, a candidate for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat and 1979 graduate of Upper Merion Area High School, apparently abides by a different set of behavioral standards.

On Wednesday night, the 56-year-old failed gubernatorial candidate allegedly did both of those things even though audio recordings and eyewitness accounts of the incident support claims that he physically assaulted Ben Jacobs of the Guardian newspaper.

Before those of you who are inclined to instantly place every American story into tidy partisan boxes do your knee-jerk thing, you should know one inconvenient truth.

A team from Fox News – not exactly a bastion of liberalism – vouched for Jacobs’ recounting of events that sent him to the hospital for X-rays and, presumably soon, to a optometrist to repair his broken eyeglasses.

The campaign’s spin didn’t stave off misdemeanor assault charges, and it didn’t keep a trio of Montana newspapers from rescinding their obviously misguided endorsements.

Considering that many journalists – myself included – don’t report potentially damaging stories on Election Eve or Day, these are both shockingly unprecedented developments so close to the time voters go to the polls.

And they’re warranted. 

Voters should follow suit and reject Gianforte on principle alone. Imagine the detachment from morality it would take to want an unhinged maniac representing your interests on Capitol Hill?

This being America Vers. 2017, though, that’s no sure thing. 

After all, the nation’s climate is – in some ways – dictated by an angry failed casino owner who branded reporters as enemies of the state at rallies where protesters were sometimes attacked by his willing minions.

This is far from a partisan issue. What Gianforte did was bad. Really bad.

It was also bad – really bad – in 1994 when then-Mayor Ed Rendell “took his hand and kind of clamped it down on (Inquirer reporter Amy Rosenberg’s) neck (and) clenched it” when she asked uncomfortable questions about potential funding cuts for Sister Mary Scullion’s Project H.O.M.E.

Still, some people will happily buy into the Gianforte spin that the “liberal journalist” was to blame for an assault upon him. 

Others will angrily buy into a mindset that blames President Donald Trump for what happened in Bozeman, Montana on Wednesday night. 

This is the way we live now, I guess.

It shouldn't be.

Here’s the reality of the situation: blaming the victim is pathetic, but so is brushing off an angry climate that enabled Trump to hand out electoral-map souvenirs like Tootsie Rolls on Halloween.

He’s not entirely to blame for actions like these. The undulating, nihilistic wave that carried him to the White House is. (He sure as heck hasn't done anything to ward off incidents like these, though. Pathetic!)

It has to stop, and it will take people with a better disposition than me to make that happen.

Sure, I didn’t trespass by climbing down a dirt hill, wading into a pack of construction workers and challenge the meathead who hit me with a rock at a Race Street site to a brawl in March. 

Butconstruction sites and campaign offices, as well as 1-vs.-1 and 1-vs.-50 battles, are different settings. The situations are different when we're talking about some guy digging dirt off Race Street compared to someone who wants to work in D.C., as well. At least they're supposed to be. 

So, yeah, unlike Jacobs – who kept his cool – I don't think I'd have the self control that would stop me from standing up and swinging back (except in situations where I'm clearly out-matched).

If it continues on a path where journalists continue getting assaulted in the course of doing their jobs – or murdered in Putin's Russia – this country is no better than the banana republic some seem intent on having it become.

We're not just on a slippery slope; we're atop the world's tallest log flume, and the water's close to pushing us over the edge.

Today, Montana voters can take the first step in turning that troubling tide that, while not new, has gathered ferocious steam in recent months. (The Rendell/Rosenberg incident would've gotten astronomically more attention, and had wider, copycat-fueling impact, if Twitter existed in 1994.)

If they don’t, well, the bodyslam heard ‘round the political would could mark a tipping point from which this country won’t recover.