The Trump super-fan charged with sending pipe bombs to Trump’s political enemies bears the primary blame for his criminal actions, assuming the feds caught the right man.
But Trump also bears deep moral responsibility, and he should be held accountable politically.
We are already hearing from Trump’s supporters that Cesar Sayoc (or whoever might have committed this crime) is a deluded, mentally ill person. The party line will be that the President cannot be blamed for the criminal actions of a mentally ill person whom he has never met.
But that tired, simplistic rationalization stands reality on its head.
The pipe bomber’s mental illness, whatever form it may take, is precisely the reason President Trump should be blamed for his role in this attack on our country.
It is no secret that there are all sorts of dangerous people in the United States, including angry obsessives. In the words of David French, “the angry obsessive is absolutely vulnerable to being stoked, inflamed, and inspired by angry rhetoric. Speech can inspire violence.”
And nobody has more tools to inspire violence with speech than a president of the United States.
The President occupies a unique communications platform. He speaks not just to the audience immediately in front of him, but to everybody in the country. His words are reported, broadcast live to the American public, and repeated endlessly on cable television. While most Americans have the good sense to view the President’s words through a critical lens, millions of people believe him unquestioningly, precisely because he is the President of the United States. And among those millions, there is always a sprinkling of sick, angry, and dangerous people.
That’s why, before Trump, presidents of both parties moderated their speech even when making critical statements about their political rivals. Acting “presidential” isn’t just about presenting yourself as something other than a buffoon, although I suspect many of us might settle for that right now.
Acting presidential also means being aware of the unique influence of the presidential voice, and respecting basic norms of civil discourse.
While President Trump may not personally know the accused pipe bomber, he certainly knows that there are thousands like him in our nation, fanatical and deluded people who will take everything he says at face value. Whether they are super-partisan fanatics, mentally ill deluded souls, or just sick loners looking for a cause, they’re out there.
And the President knows he speaks to those people, just like he speaks to the rest of us. And that many of them take him both seriously and literally.
That’s why, as President of the United States, the loudest voice on the planet, Trump has a unique responsibility to avoid speech that inflames hatred and inspires violence.
But Trump doesn’t recognize that responsibility. He doesn’t make any effort to avoid inciting angry, dangerous people. To the contrary, such people are often his target audience.
Here’s what the President of the United States has told the pipe-bomber (and all the other sick, angry people out there) about his targets:
Barack Obama is the “founder of ISIS.” ISIS is now “honoring” him. Obama’s administration “actively supported Al Qaeda in Iraq.” Obama, an illegitimate foreign-born president whose “birth certificate is a fraud,” is “the most ignorant president in our history.” Obama had Trump’s wires “tapped” in an act of “McCarthyism.”
“Crooked Hillary Clinton” is the “co-founder of ISIS.” She wants “totally open borders” so that ISIS can get into the United States. She also “gave up 20% of America’s uranium supply to Russia,” and at the same time wants “to abolish the Second Amendment.” “Her misconduct is a disgrace and embarrassment to our country.” She used her position as Secretary of State to “launder money.” “Lock her up!”
“Crazy Joe Biden” has twice “threatened” President Trump “with physical assault.” But “he is weak, both mentally and physically” and doesn’t know the President well enough to realize that “he would go down fast and hard, crying all the way.”
“Crazy Maxine Waters” is “one of the most corrupt people in politics,” trying to sell “nonsense” about “tolerance and inclusion.” She is “an extraordinarily low IQ individual” who has “called for harm” to Trump’s supporters. She’s been warned: “Be careful what you wish for, Max!”
Robert De Niro is another “very low IQ individual.” He “may be punch-drunk.”
John Brennan “has disgraced himself, he has disgraced the Country, he has disgraced the entire Intelligence Community.” He is “the one man who is largely responsible for the destruction of American’s faith in the Intelligence Community.” He poses a threat to the United States because he is a former spy master who “has gone totally off the rails.” He was stripped of his security clearance “for lying to Congress.” He was “the worst CIA Director in our country’s history,” and was “involved with the Mueller Rigged Witch Hunt.”
James Clapper, another former intelligence director, “famously got caught lying to Congress.” Clapper has admitted to “spying in [Trump’s] campaign,” in what looks like “one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history.”
George Soros is the paymaster of the “rude elevator screamers” who are paid to make Republican senators look bad. Soros and other liberals are also funding a “caravan” of South Americans, including Middle Easterners, to come to the United States to take our jobs and commit heinous crimes.
Cory Booker “ran Newark, New Jersey, into the ground; he was a horrible mayor; and he made [sexually inappropriate] statements that when he was in high school or college what he was doing. He actually made the statements. And now he’s talking about Judge Kavanaugh.”
Eric Holder “better be careful what he’s wishing for.”
Kamala Harris is a supporter of “the animals of MS 13,” the vicious street gang whose members murder, maim, rape and terrorize our citizens.
“Wacky & totally unhinged Tom Steyer” has been fighting Trump “and my Make America Great Again agenda from beginning.”
CNN and other non-Trumpist news outlets are the “enemy of the people.” CNN is “a flaming pile of garbage” that traffics in “fake news.” The Fake News is “very dangerous and sick.” They can even “cause war.” 75 percent of “those people” are downright dishonest. “These are really bad people.”
This is not political rhetoric. No other American president in our lifetime has branded political opponents with such extreme, personal, and hate-inspiring invective.
By relentlessly branding them as enemies of the American people, the President of the United States may as well have painted a target on the back of every one of the pipe bomber’s victims.
No one should be surprised that some unstable fanatic took the President’s words seriously, and weaponized the anger and hatred they inspired.