Threats of violence against prominent political figures aren’t new. After pipe bombs were discovered in packages sent to former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the news was jarring — but at the core, few were shocked that someone out there would feel motivated to attack two major Democratic leaders.
But when the number of packages discovered grew to 10, including packages sent to CNN and Robert de Niro, it became clear this issue is bigger than Obama or Clinton or the Democratic institution. It’s about sending the message that anyone who speaks against the president is a potential target.
Questions over whether the political climate has grown “too vitriolic,” as The New York Times asked, are futile. We’re well aware that it has. Efforts from political leaders to bring their constituencies to a place of understanding for the opposition are empty — no leader truly wants to dull the passion of their base.
In reality, people who are intensely passionate about their political beliefs don’t care if their passion is “dividing the country,” and people whose passion drives them to create bombs with intent to seriously harm those whose views they disagree with aren’t going to listen.
If Clinton gives a talk to a crowd of Democratic donors encouraging our country to mend its divides, that’s better than tweeting about how “Fake News” is responsible for the bombs, but it won’t do anything to fix the deep anger that caused this attack. The people who really need to hear that message aren’t going to Clinton speeches, and they won’t care to listen to a prominent figurehead repeat the same tired lines we’ve been hearing since Trump’s election.
The person who sent these bombs needs to hear from Trump himself that passion doesn’t equate violence.
Trump said at a rally in Wisconsin Wednesday that the media has a responsibility to “set a civil tone” in the aftermath of the attacks. The media is an easy target for the Trump administration to transfer blame to. But the media didn’t secure what seems to be an increasing number of pipe bombs, package them up and send them to known enemies of the president.
The media is not to blame for this, and the media cannot be blamed for interpreting this event in a way that holds Trump accountable for instigating violence against his opponents — especially when CNN specifically has been targeted by these attacks.
Trump’s constant rhetoric for attacking the press has become normalized among his voter base, and this is the culmination. It’s an easy brand to sell to people who are uninformed.
Trump and his base can find ways to disqualify these acts of terrorism, say they didn’t happen or chalk them up to something else — but the reality remains that Trump is the man who applauded Rep. Greg Gianforte’s body slam of a reporter, who told his rally members he would pay their legal fees if they were charged with violence.
Based on the consistency of the targets of these attacks, it’s not hard to assume that this was an act of terrorism, a use of violence in pursuit of a political ideology. Terrorism is just as serious when it’s committed by a U.S. citizen with one’s own political ideology as it is when it’s committed by an international organization.
It’s absurd that a domestic terrorist is targeting political figures, and the president’s response is that the media has brought this upon themselves. Pipe bombs are being sent to public officials and figures who have spoken out against the president. When we stop to take that in, it feels like something dystopian. So, why aren’t we surprised?