On Wednesday, suspected pipe bombs were addressed to the homes of former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, CNN’s New York headquarters and the office of California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, among others. Those suspicious packages come on the heels of a similar one left near liberal billionaire George Soros’ home earlier this week.
We don’t know who did this. We don’t know why they did this. And we may not know for a while.
Here’s what we do know: The recipients of the packages are all prominent targets of right-wing criticism and, in many cases, of President Donald Trump himself.
That doesn’t mean Trump is responsible for these packages. Again, we don’t know who sent them, much less their motive. But it’s absolutely impossible to separate the rhetoric from Trump with the sort of political climate in which these acts of terror happen.
After all, Trump has repeatedly called the media the “enemy of the people.” He has, as recently as Monday in Texas, reveled in chants of “CNN sucks” from a campaign crowd. He has suggested the people airing allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh are “evil.” He has urged security officials to treat protesters at his rallies roughly. He has attacked Waters, Soros, Clinton, Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton so many times, it’s hard to keep track.
In short, Trump didn’t create our angry political world. But he’s made it angrier – for his own political benefit.
“There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their attacks on the media,” said CNN President Jeff Zucker on Wednesday afternoon. “The president, and especially the White House press secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that.”
“Words matter, particularly when they are spoken by the head of government,” added Republican Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a frequent Trump critic, in an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Wednesday afternoon. “The President shouldn’t refer to the press as the enemy of the people. People hear that and they follow it.”
Like what you're reading?
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, hit the nail on the head in an interview with CNN’s Kate Bolduan. “Do I believe the heated rhetoric, the toxic environment is part of this? Yes,” he said, adding: “We are at a boiling point.”
Trump himself expressed a similar sentiment on Wednesday afternoon at the White House. “I just want to tell you that in these times we have to unify, we have to come together and send one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America,” he said at the start of an event focused on the opioid epidemic.
The test for Trump – as to whether he can make good on his own pledge for unity and a dialing back of political rhetoric for even a single day – will come tonight when he travels to Wisconsin in hopes of rescuing embattled Republican Gov. Scott Walker. In recent weeks, Trump has hit the campaign trail hard and, everywhere he goes, Trump seems to further escalate his rhetoric against Democrats, the media and anyone else he considers an opponent. (He has also upped the numbers of outright lies he tells.)
The Point: Can Trump follow his own advice in something of an acknowledgment that what he has been saying and doing has inflamed tensions rather than eased them? Or will he revert back to his normal adversarial approach – today’s events notwithstanding?