In the wake of the attempted assassinations — isn’t that what you call sending explosive devices to public figures? — of former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Eric Holder, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. (whom President Donald Trump casts as the embodiment of the Democratic Party), and George Soros, a Jewish billionaire and progressive donor whom Trump recently accused of paying women to protest against Brett Kavanaugh, as well as the attempted bombing of CNN offices in New York, we need to speak clearly and unequivocally, starting with words such as “attempted assassination” and “domestic terrorism.”
Domestic terrorism is defined as an act intended "(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping."
A coordinated attack aimed at the favorite targets of Trump’s hateful rhetoric certainly qualifies. This is a heinous crime, a well-coordinated domestic terrorist attack on Trump’s watch. Perhaps he should have thought through the critical role played by the FBI and other intelligence agencies before he engaged in a campaign of slander and lies, which makes their jobs that much harder.
We should refrain from false equivalency. The president at numerous rallies has led cheers of “lock her up” — which the crowd repeated at his Wisconsin campaign stop just hours after a bomb was sent to Hillary Clinton and her husband. Trump once more did nothing to deter the crowd. Instead he blamed Democrats and the media. The Post reports:
" ‘The media also has a responsibility to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative — and oftentimes, false — attacks and stories,’ Trump said.
"In an apparent swipe at Democrats, Trump denounced those who 'carelessly compare political opponents to historical villains' and who 'mob people in public places or destroy public property.' "
To be clear, women loudly protesting the confirmation of Kavanaugh are not a "mob," and comparing Trump to thuggish autocrats is simple honesty. Trump seems not to understand that criticism of his policies and rhetoric is not the same as a president demonizing opponents, race-baiting and threatening democratic institutions. In his book, news accounts exposing his corruption, ineptitude and cruelty are on par with his insisting that neo-Nazi marches include some "fine people." No, Trump's level of vitriol and overt racism is unmatched by political opponents or past presidents.
The president for three years has demonized the Clintons, accusing Hillary of negligent handling of national intelligence (funny that Trump communicates by unprotected cellphone as the Chinese and Russian intelligence listen in) and threatening to jail her. As for Obama, Trump was a prime purveyor of the racist birtherism nonsense, designed to delegitimize Obama and cast him as the "other" - a foreigner, a Muslim.
Earlier this month, Holder at a campaign stop said, "Michelle [Obama] always says that, you know, 'When they go low, we go high.' No. When they go low, we kick them." Trump in response threatened Holder. "He better be careful what he's wishing for. That's a disgusting statement for him to make. For him to make a statement like that is a very dangerous statement."
CNN, of course, is a target of Trump's ongoing vitriol, a main player in the media he describes as "the enemy of the people." The list of insults lobbed at CNN is long.
For Trump, this blame-shifting is just another day in office — one more national crisis for which he has not demonstrated the moral authority or even the seriousness to take a day off the campaign trail. Even Republicans normally critical of him did not rise to the occasion.
Republican politicians such as Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., make mealy-mouthed statements from which one could hardly determine who has been on a campaign of insults, incitement and bigotry for three years. “What the president says matters, and if he were to take a more civil tone, it would make a difference,” Flake said. That’s about as oblique as one can get. At least he did not call to lock his opponent up with Hillary Clinton as did Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in another display of tone-deafness and faux thuggishness. (Ohio Gov. John Kasich was one of the few Republicans to criticize Trump directly for his inflammatory language: “It’s part of the reason I never endorsed him ... yeah, he does bear responsibility for the divisions.”)
The media's false equivalence ignores reality - a president and one party have adopted thuggishness, threats, bigotry and admiration for violence as mainstays of their rhetoric. It's not both sides that have taken to encouraging violence; it's the Republican Party. It's not both parties that treat the media as a threat to the United States; it's only the Republicans. It's not both sides of the aisle that call to lock up their opponents; only Trump does that.
Moreover, Trump has more power than any single person on the planet to end this downward spiral. He's in charge, and the responsibility falls on him to restore sanity and civility. (I can barely type the words, recognizing how ridiculous it is to expect Trump to referee the food fight he started.)
Alas, Thursday morning he was already back tweeting invectives at the media:
"A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News. It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!"
He hadn't even made it through the day on Wednesday before reverting to form. CNN dryly reported on Wednesday's rally: "President Donald Trump pointed the finger Wednesday night at Democrats and the news media for the turbulent national political environment, on the same day explosive devices were mailed to the Obamas, the Clintons, CNN and other public officials. Trump took no responsibly for the tone of the political discourse." Trump should begin by apologizing for his own language, telling his supporters to cut it out and stepping forward to halt inflammatory language and threatening conduct when they occur. It's not enough to issue a bland call for unity - not coming from the man who called Mexican immigrants murderers, taunted women, trashed critics, went after Muslims, insulted judges, commended a congressman who beat up a reporter, declared he would like to punch a protester in the face and incited crowds to holler at the media (or worse, a specific reporter singled out for his wrath).
I can remember a day when another leader — this one a great American patriot — stood up to hate, by refusing to allow his own supporters to demonize Obama.
Not all politicians can be the late senator John McCain, but none of them should be Trump. Voters who want something better should register their disapproval and remove as many enablers as possible. We can do better than Trump and his flock of political sheep.
Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion from a center-right perspective for The Washington Post. @JRubinBlogger