Dana Milbank: Stop the mob, Mr. President
What hath Trump wrought?
Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., last year pleaded guilty to assaulting a journalist. President Trump last week celebrated the assault.
“Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of — he’s my guy,” Trump said to cheers.
CNN’s Jim Acosta said one man at the rally then looked at him “and ran his thumb across his throat.”
Wednesday morning, a pipe bomb arrived at CNN’s offices in New York, addressed to former CIA director and current Trump critic John Brennan. Other bombs went to at least five others frequently villainized by Trump: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, former attorney general Eric Holder, Rep. Maxine Waters and, earlier this week, Democratic financier George Soros.
Trump appropriately denounced “acts or threats of political violence of any kind.” But it’s fair to ask: If a person who assaults a journalist is Trump’s “guy,” might not some unstable person think that, by sending a pipe bomb to a news organization, he, too, is being Trump’s guy?
Nobody but the perpetrator is responsible for this attack. And there is plenty of regrettable behavior on both sides. But one man has done the most to create this climate, whipping supporters to fear and desperation with often violent rhetoric. And only one man can take us back from the brink. Stop the mob, Mr. President.
In the closing days of the 2018 campaign, Trump has revived what worked in 2016, encouraging his mostly white and mostly male supporters to feel besieged by dark-skinned people, immigrants, women, religious minorities and, of course, the media.
Trump recently maligned all the targets of Wednesday’s attack. Thirty-six hours earlier, Trump fired up yet more “Lock her up!” and “CNN sucks!” chants. He roiled the crowd to boo “low IQ” Waters. Trump spread false conspiracy theories that Soros funded the migrant caravan and anti-Brett M. Kavanaugh protesters. After Holder said “when they go low, we kick them,” Trump threatened: “He’d better be careful what he’s wishing for.” Trump called Brennan “a total lowlife” and a “very bad guy” who “disgraced the country.”
This moment is particularly dangerous because Trump has turned partisan divisions into a proxy war over race and gender, stoking backlash to the first black president and the first woman to be a major party’s presidential nominee. Those receiving the pipe bombs include three African-Americans, two women and a Jew frequently targeted by anti-Semites. These demographics figure prominently among Trump’s favorite targets at rallies, mostly women (Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, Clinton), African-Americans (Cory Booker, Waters, Obama) and Jews (Soros, Charles E. Schumer, Richard Blumenthal, Dianne Feinstein).
Trump’s latest stump speech portrays these Democrats as violent, lawless and inhuman, responsible for “an assault” on the country, an “angry left-wing mob” on a “ruthless mission to demolish and destroy,” “corrupt power-hungry globalists” who are “not caring about our country” and “want to replace freedom with socialism” and invite people into the country who “carve you up with a knife.” Democrats are “openly encouraging millions of illegal aliens to overwhelm our nation” and have “launched an assault on the sovereignty of our country and the safety of every single American.”
Is it any wonder people might feel desperate?
Clinton was wrong to say recently that “civility can start again” only if Democrats win. Also wrong: Holder’s “kick them” remark, Waters’ call to harass Cabinet officials, and loudmouths who hound Ted Cruz and others in restaurants. Violence by the left, whether by antifa hooligans or the shooting at a Republican baseball practice, is as evil as violence by the right.
But one public figure’s rhetoric has been more violent than all others, and he has the biggest megaphone. He encouraged supporters to “knock the crap out of” protesters and offered to pay attackers’ legal bills. He expressed his wish to punch a heckler in the face. He urged police not to “be too nice” to suspects. Most recently, Trump hesitated to criticize Saudi Arabia for Saudi operatives’ killing of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi as the president keeps up his attacks on journalists as enemies of the people.
This has an effect. A man was arrested for threatening to shoot Boston Globe employees this summer, calling the paper the “enemy of the people.”
After the bombs were discovered Wednesday, Trump offered a soothing message: “We have to unify. We have to come together.”
Amen. But at Monday’s rally, Trump ridiculed almost those exact words, mocking Clinton’s campaign for having “some stupid slogan like ‘stay together.’”
Actually, it was “Stronger Together.” If only our president believed that.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.