Trump’s narcissistic suggestion that the attacks, which exclusively targeted his political opponents and critics, were being exploited by Democrats and the media to discredit him ahead of next month’s congressional elections was disgraceful. Trump does not understand he is president of all Americans, not only those who voted for him. His reaction was unworthy, even by his very low standards.
But what of the reaction of Republicans? Trump, after all, was their party’s nominee for president. It is they who foisted him on the country (and the world), on the risible supposition that he was the best man for the job. And it is Republicans, in control of Congress, who have tolerated and frequently colluded in the alarming deterioration in the standards of US public discourse, civility and mutual respect from which this latest outrage stems.
Paul Ryan, the House speaker, condemned the attacks as “an act of terrorism” that had “no place in our democracy”. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, expressed routine gratitude to the police and FBI. But neither man addressed the obvious concern that Trump’s angry, divisive and often violent rhetoric, spewing out over more than two years, has deeply affected the way Americans manage their differences.
Asked whether Trump’s irresponsible language and behaviour were directly or indirectly to blame for the actions of the alleged bomber, who is a registered Republican, Orrin Hatch, a Republican senator, turned mealy-mouthed. “I don’t see anything really wrong with the president. I think he’s in a tough position. He’s getting attacked on all sides, so he ought to be able to express himself.”
The reaction of pro-Republican, hard-right populist rabble-rousers was even more dismaying. The ageing shock jock Rush Limbaugh suggested that Democrats could have orchestrated the attacks to make Trump look bad. Fox TV host Lou Dobbs tweeted: “Fake News – Fake Bombs. Who could possibly benefit by so much fakery?” Ann Coulter, known for her extreme anti-immigrant views, said the “bombs are a liberal tactic”.
In fact, each target of the pipe bomb packages, from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to Robert de Niro and George Soros, had been singled out personallyfor criticism by Trump. They were all on the president’s enemies list.
Since taking office, Trump has continued to pillory “lying Hillary”. He defended white supremacists after a lethal riot in Charlottesville and regularly whips up animosity towards Muslims. His victimising of migrants has reached a new level of obnoxiousness with his threats against a migrant caravan now heading for the US-Mexico border.
All this venom, coming from the top, encourages and normalises division, distrust and outright hatred. Yet both Trump and Republican leaders refuse to acknowledge any link between his uncontrolled, inflammatory rhetoric and last week’s bombs, preferring, as ever, to blame the media – the “enemies of the people”. The murderous attack on a Maryland newspaper office and Trump’s applause for an assault on a Guardianreporter are not unconnected.
The failure of unthinkingly partisan congressional Republicans to limit the president’s excesses and moderate his behaviour is an alarming aspect of the Trump era. The craven kowtowing of experienced politicians who should know better is shocking. This spineless sycophancy was on show during the recent hearings on Brett Kavanaugh’s supreme court nomination. We see it again today. For the GOP, it’s all about power, not principle. Abraham Lincoln, where are you now?