We don’t yet know who was responsible for the explosive devices and suspicious packages sent to former President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, philanthropist and liberal donor George Soros, CNN headquarters, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and others. It’s conceivable that the most obvious motivation — to cause injury and conceivably death to people who have been at odds with President Trump and his supporters — will turn out not to be the reason, and that some different, more personal explanation will eventually be unearthed.
It seems far more likely, however, that an unstable mind marinated in the often vicious rhetoric of the current political moment decided to act on his beliefs.
It’s always possible that someone will be inspired by ugly words to commit violent acts. The president needs to realize that.
Trump said the right thing on Wednesday when he said that “in these times we have to unify, we have to come together and send one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.”
The problem is that this is the same president who once called major news organizations “the enemy of the American People,” who refused to answer a question from a CNN correspondent because “CNN is fake news,” who ranted about “Crooked Hillary” while his adoring fans chanted “Lock her up,” and who only a few days ago entertained the crowd at one of his rallies by complimenting a member of Congress who pleaded guilty to assaulting a reporter while campaigning. “Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my candidate,” the president said.
The intended recipients of the explosive devices are a who’s who of Trump targets: Soros, the bogeyman for right-wing conspiracy theorists; John Brennan, Obama’s CIA director whom Trump has described as “a loudmouth, partisan, political hack who cannot be trusted with the secrets to our country”; Waters, whom Trump has derided as “crazy” and “low IQ.”
If it turns out that the devices, which fortunately harmed no one, were sent by a supporter of the president, Trump can of course argue that he never encouraged violence or criminality. But surely this kind of violence is the foreseeable outcome of our increasingly toxic politics, in which differences over issues have grown into walls, rage has replaced discourse, in which both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) have recently been chased and cursed in the streets by angry opponents. And in which the president of the United States, far from bringing the country together, fans flames of fear, divisiveness and distrust through a rhetoric of bigotry and anger.
The fact that hostile, provocative and ugly political speech falls short of the legal definition of incitement doesn’t make it right. It’s always possible that someone will be inspired by ugly words to commit violent acts. The president needs to realize that.
Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinionand Facebook