Pres­i­dent fu­el­ing dan­ger­ous mob men­tal­ity

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - Opinion - Dana Mil­bank is a colum­nist for the Wash­ing­ton Post.

What hath Trump wrought? U.S. Rep. Greg Gian­forte, RMont., last year pleaded guilty to as­sault­ing a jour­nal­ist. Pres­i­dent Don­ald 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 as- saults 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 up 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 an­tiSemites. 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.


Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ap­pears to be di­vid­ing the coun­try in­stead of heal­ing it with his lat­est com­ments.

Dana Mil­bank

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