The attempted bombing of political figures is domestic terrorism meant to disrupt and intimidate. That it came to light less than two weeks before an election whose outcomes may constitute a national rebuke to—or soft boost of—President Trump’s controversial leadership means that passions are high and will stay so. Things are feeling primal, tribal.
There’s more than enough time before the voting for the gates of hell to open. Let’s try to keep them shut.
What can help? Some things I’d like to see:
It is crucial that law enforcement use every resource to find the bomber or bombers. They should do this not only actually but showily, to help return an air of order. All law enforcement should be extremely, unusually forthcoming about the facts and state of the investigation. We’re all tired of their swanning around after school shootings with their secret information we can’t have. Be as open as possible without injuring the investigation. This may help calm the finger pointing. “It was a left-wing false-flag operation!”
Everyone running for office should admit things have gotten too hot, too divided. Then they should try to cool the atmosphere. Next Tuesday will mark one week before the election. Candidates should devote the day to something different. It would be good to see every one give a speech or statement containing their most generous definition of the aims and meaning of the opposing party. A Democratic nominee might say, “Whether they always succeed or not, Republicans do want to protect the liberties that have allowed this nation become the miracle of the world.” A Republican might say, “At its best and most sincere, the Democratic Party hopes to help those in peril, and to soften disparities of wealth and opportunity.”
The dirty secret of most political professionals is that they do see virtues in the other party. And when you show respect for people, they tend to put down their rocks.
Does this sound dreamy or otherworldly? Yes. But a tender moment isn’t the worst thing that could happen to us right now, and enraged people will find it boring. We want them bored. And actually I don’t mean it as sentimental but reorienting—a reminder for some and an education for others about what it is we’re trying to do here.
Claire McCaskill, Sherrod Brown, let us hear you on what you know to be admirable in the Republican Party—and in Republicans. Ted Cruz, Martha McSally, the same from you on the Democrats. Show some largeness. We’re dying of smallness.
Both parties could absorb an essential truth of the moment.
Democrats really and sincerely see the threat of violent words and actions as coming from the right. It’s Mr. Trump—he’s hateful and has no respect and it sets a tone. He encourages fights at his rallies; he said the other night that a congressman who pushed around a reporter was his kind of guy. He calls the press the enemy of the people. He widens all divisions, mindlessly yet opportunistically. No surprise his adversaries are being sent bombs.
Republicans and the right truly, deeply see the threat as coming from the left. Rep. Maxine Waters and Sen. Cory Booker actually told crowds to get in Republicans’ faces; Hillary Clinton says you can’t treat them civilly. Republicans see the screamers and harassers at the Kavanaugh hearings, the groups swarming Republican figures when they dine in public, antifa. A man who wrote “It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.” on Facebook didn’t insult Rep. Steve Scalise last year; he shot and almost killed him. The intimidation is coming from the left.
Trump supporters don’t take him seriously when he issues his insults. He’s kidding; he doesn’t mean it; he’s Trump. You’re lying when you say he makes you afraid.
But the left finds him, and some of his allies, honestly—honestly—dangerous.
Just as the right finds Ms. Waters and Mr. Booker and Mrs. Clinton and the swarms and the hissers and antifa honestly—honestly—the threat.
Neither side appreciates—neither side credits—the anxiety the other side legitimately feels. They have no sensitivity to it. They had better get some.
When conservatives see a liberal or progressive not condemning Mr. Booker or Ms. Waters, they assume it’s because the liberal agrees with what they say—that intimidation is part of the plan.
There is too much blindness to how the other side is experiencing the situation. It’s in the news media, too. Politicians should have a greater awareness of their own role in the drama.
Thursday morning New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was on television, saying words that were meant to be helpful. We’re not Democrats and Republicans really, he said, we’re Americans; we can’t be divided. It was good, he clearly meant it. But he spoke as if he had no memory of strikingly divisive words he’d uttered just a few years ago. In January 2014 he said of those who are pro-life, pro-traditional-marriage and pro-gun that they are “extreme conservatives” who have “no place in the state of New York.” No place in the state of New York? That is an extreme and aggressive statement, and it speaks of how too many progressives and liberals feel about conservatives. This kind of thing isn’t new, and it’s contributed to the moment we’re in.
Politicians, don’t lecture us. Clean up your own side of the street.
As to the president, one thought. He will never lead effectively at moments like this because he can’t. It’s not within his emotional range or in his intellectual toolbox. The targets of the would-be bombs have been his antagonists. He’s not believable when he issues pained vows of unity. Everyone assumes his staff told him to do it and in a burst of amiability he did. When he’s obnoxious, people believe he’s speaking his mind.
Mr. Trump has ushered in a new presidential era of verbal roughness. At his rallies he sees himself as being provocative and humorous and teasing. His crowds know he is entertaining them and they have fun back, re-enacting their old 2016 fervor with “Lock her up!” and “Build the wall!” They don’t emerge whipped into a rage; they leave in a good mood, though tired from standing so long because he speaks so long.
The president knows half the country is watching, and dislikes and disdains what it sees. What he doesn’t seem to know is that the unstable are watching, too. They get revved up, ginned up, pro and con. There is danger in this.
Mr. Trump seems to think only about his audience and his foes. He doesn’t seem to proceed with a broad knowledge that there are the unstable among us, and part of your job as president is not to push them over the edge. It can get ugly when you do.
In a funny way he seems to think everything’s more stable than it is, that the veil between safety and surprise is thicker than it is. Maybe you assume everything’s safe when you’ve spent your whole adult life, as he has, with private security and private cars, surrounded by staff. Maybe that makes you careless, or too confident.
But few of our political leaders seem especially sensitive to the precariousness of things. I wish they worried about the country more. That really is dreamy and otherworldly, isn’t it?