Bomb threats, shootings, heated rhetoric, and aggressive confrontations. In the political news cycle, these rare and shocking events are becoming more prevalent.
In the last month, over a dozen packages containing explosives were sent to well-known political figures, including the Obamas, Clintons, and Joe Biden. Earlier, President Trump and top Pentagon officials were sent letters containing the lethal substance ricin. Luckily, no one was injured in these attempted attacks, but the lack of injury should not take our attention away from the horrific nature of these actions, no matter the party affiliation of the targets.
While physical attacks against political figures are not new occurrences in American history, the spreading of potentially dangerous rhetoric is an increasingly pressing issue in the age of social media. It is very rare for a political leader in the federal government to openly accept the use of violence against those with opposing views; although, it can’t be said our leaders are doing enough to combat politically motivated violence.
Much of the discussion surrounding the package bombs is the use of supposed “violent” rhetoric by top political officials. What should be noted is that unless someone is explicitly calling for violence against a person or group of people, they are not at fault for the horrific actions of others. Much of what is being said towards and by politicians is definitely charged, like President Trump calling the press the “enemy of the people,” or Hilary Clinton saying that liberals, “cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what [they] stand for.”
Blaming President Trump for the actions of the bomber is futile and misguided. The perpetrator, who has since been arrested for sending the packages, did not start his violence when Trump ran for office. Included in a long list of charges and arrests dating back decades is a threat to bomb an electric company in 2002. The presence of political violence did not start, and will certainly not end, with Trump. These accusations against the President have been mainly one-sided, but if the same rules for charged language are applied to members of all parties, then those politicians should be held accountable for such rhetoric.
After saying that Republicans’ health care plans would lead to the deaths of thousands of people, a Bernie Sanders supporter shot at a group of GOP representatives at baseball practice, almost killing one. Senator Sanders has not - and should not - be blamed for the actions of the shooter. He has every right to criticize legislation he disagrees with, and as Sanders’ words were just part of charged rhetoric, there is nothing inherently wrong with his statements. Such guidelines should also be applied for the charged language of President Trump.
While he often uses uncouth and accusatory words, Trump has not explicitly called for violence against others, which is a claim that is often disputed. When making a statement about the attempted bombings, President Trump condemned them, saying, “acts of political violence have no place in America.” Much of what the President says has drawn criticism, and sometimes rightly so, but those same critics accusing him of directly provoking violence are not seeing the whole picture.
However, while not explicitly inciting violence, controversial and heated statements from politicians are doing nothing to calm tensions. Fostering an environment of name-calling will further draw focus away from having civil and productive discussions, which is what America needs right now in such a politically divided society. Leaders have a unique position to change the heated environment in politics. The issue is that they are unwilling to do so. Rather than trying to bridge the divide between parties, politicians look to play extremes or bash opponents in order to gain favor and rile up voters.
Is this really helping the growing ideological divide seen in American politics today? Not by a long shot. Constantly, politicians and candidates take to Twitter to voice their dissent of certain people with ad hominem attacks and name calling. What is really needed is for all leaders to look in the mirror and realize how their actions are affecting the country. Productive conversations that aim to understand and respect the beliefs of others is necessary, rather than who wins the title for best insult.
If political interactions continue as they have been, the chasm between liberals and conservatives will widen to a point where unity is unattainable. If there is no real effort toward lessening heated rhetoric and increasing civil discussions, the political gap will yield disastrous consequences for America and its people. While it may seem like a hopeless cause, Americans have to realize the need for civility and constructive rhetoric, and must put in the effort to obtain it. The movement towards civility starts with every single one of us.
Clare Hillen is a member of the Publications Committee of the GW College Republicans. The opinions expressed on this blog are her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official views of the GW College Republicans.