Shortly after the arrest of the DNA-linked domestic bomber - turns out, big shock, that he’s a “Make America Great Again” fan who took Trump’s incendiary words as permission to terrorize - an amazing moment transpired at the White House. Trump called for unity and declared: “We will never allow political violence to take root in our country.”
Have the words of any other president - or, in this case, “president” - rang so worthless?
The provocateur-in-chief has spent the last three years stoking his cultists to commit political violence. He has urged them to “knock the crap” out of dissidents. He promised to pay the legal bills of cultists who commit violence. He labels the press “enemies of the people,” a Soviet term that invites violence. He has praised a politician who body-slammed a reporter. He has retweeted violent imagery aimed at CNN. He mused that the Secret Service should stop guarding Hillary Clinton so we could “see what happens to her.” He said that if Clinton were to become president, perhaps the “Second Amendment people” could stop her from nominating judges.
And yet, he insisted last week that he deserves no blame for the MAGA-bomber. Propaganda minister Sarah Huckabee Sanders duly parroted his claim with the Orwellian assertion that Trump has “never promoted or encouraged violence.” This is straight from the authoritarian playbook “1984:” Believe whatever the Leader says; don’t believe the evidence of your own eyes and ears. As Trump said in July, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
I’m going to say this as calmly as I possibly can: The domestic terrorist’s Trumpist intent was plastered all over his van.
The faces of prominent liberals and Democrats were framed with crosshairs. Trump has repeatedly railed in demagogic language against Obama, the Clintons, John Brennan, Maxine Waters, CNN, and George Soros - and the domestic terrorist, duly inspired, sent bombs to (among others) Obama, the Clintons, John Brennan, Maxine Waters, CNN, and George Soros. To borrow a phrase from the Old Testament, Trump, having sowed the wind, is now reaping the whirlwind.
It was inevitable that a Trump cultist would be sufficiently moved to plot a mass assassination. Words matter. This country is littered with losers who are jonesing to make their mark by translating incendiary words into action. What’s the point of listening to Trump rail against CNN, and displaying a van sticker that rails against CNN, unless you’re gonna do something about it?
Michael Gerson, the ex-Bush senior aide and reality-based conservative commentator, nailed it Thursday (prior to the arrest) when he wrote that Trump’s habit of blaming the media “is like a leper blaming the mirror for his sores.” He wrote that Trump’s rhetorical “poison” invites his partisans “to live in a dream world of ideology and conspiracy... And it is damaging because it provides permission for copycat prejudice ... We have a president who summons the darkness. It is sad and sick that so many have responded.”
So when Trump declares that “we must unify as a nation in peace, love, and in harmony” (not to be confused with Elvis Costello’s lyrics calling for “peace, love, and understanding”), we know that it’s pro forma rhetoric with all the value of a wooden nickel. He’s like the brat kid, the budding sociopath, who’s shoved in front of the school principal to mouth a rote apology after trashing the classrooms. Soon enough, he’s back to mischief with a fatal dearth of self-awareness.
What we’re suffering now was glaringly foreseeable three years ago. As I warned back in December 2015, at the dawn of the primary season, “we’re in danger of embracing a very American version of autocracy ... What an aspiring autocrat needs most is something visceral to exploit. And what we have today, particularly within a subset of the Republican electorate, is fear and anger and a yearning to lash out ... Do we really want to flirt with autocracy? Are we not better than our basest instincts?”
Apparently not. Mailing bombs to Trump’s critics is the inevitable manifestation of those instincts.
But let’s invite Elvis Costello to ask his own questions:
As I walk through
This wicked world
Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity
I ask myself
Is all hope lost?
Perhaps we’ll find out a week from Tuesday, when America votes.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at WHYY in Philadelphia and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.