There is no evidence that has as yet surfaced to indicate Reality Winner, the 25-year old employee of defense contractor Pluribus International who allegedly stole and leaked classified material, was motivated by political activism. But that has not stopped some in the media from connecting her actions to posts on social media which align her with left-wing causes.
In her social media profiles, Winner, a Bernie Sanders supporter, had harsh words for Trump and expressed support for the #Resistance, the Women’s March and several other left-wing movements that are overtly against the president.
But these cannot be construed to assume that Winner’s motives in leaking information was a form of left-wing activism. It may very well turn out to be the case that hatred of Trump motivated Winner, but it is irresponsible, until evidence that directly ties left-wing politics to her actions, to make this assumption, even though it is well within the realm of rational possibilities.
Including Winner’s political affiliations and opinions serves no purpose other than to insinuate some sort of collusion by the anti-Trump left. It encourages a conspiratorial mindset which paints members of the left with a broad brush, assuming they are actively working to bring down the Trump administration in a coordinated attack from inside and outside government. Again, there are doubtless instances where this is the case, and Winner’s actions may turn out to be an overtly political act, but conservatives should know better than to use such tactics, which have all too often been used against the right.
The current hatred of the mainstream media which is widespread among so many on the right is the direct result of this kind of irresponsible behavior. Too many times in the recent past, conservatives were forced to listen to the media speculate about whether the culprit behind an act of violence was an unhinged Tea Partier. Politicians and television talking heads use talking points which make assumptions about the motives of Republicans, particularly the more conservative members of Congress, accusing them of being heartless and motivated by greed, caring only for the interests of white, wealthy men.
This has had an impact. Every conservative who has ever dreaded being outed in the office or in a classroom or amidst a group of friends knows this, for they fear the reflexive reaction of disdain which will result in censure from certain subsets of the left. Individuals who take conservative positions are often targeted simply for exercising their First Amendment rights by speaking in favor of certain positions, like Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-A, or by associating with certain political groups, like former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich who was fired for supporting a group that opposed California’s Proposition 8. Others who simply try and live out their principles, like the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, see their livelihoods destroyed by activists not content to let differences of opinion play themselves out.
All these are examples of conservative ideology being weaponized against its adherents. Distorted positions and motives are allowed to percolate in society to such a degree that simply identifying with the right becomes like the mark of a leper. Conservatives, as a movement grounded in individualism, welcomes different ways of thinking; disagreement is not the issue. The treatment of a partisan affiliation as a stain upon a person’s character and judgment is. It not stigmatizes society against certain types of thought, but directly discourages intellectual liberalism by perpetuating stereotypes.
Conservatives, who have borne the brunt of this unfortunate phenomenon throughout the Obama administration, must be careful to not engage in the same attitude towards liberals now. If there is mischief afoot among Trump’s detractors, the facts will bear out the truth. There is no need to make snide insinuations that assign nefarious motives to political positions. This demeans the intelligence of the base and undermines the rights protected under the First Amendment.