The big news this week has been the pipe bombs mailed to a number of left-leaning political figures and media outlets. Although none of the bombs has detonated or led to injuries or deaths, the attacks come at a time when tensions are already running high. There is little doubt that the string of attempted bombings will further stoke tempers in an already precarious situation.
President Trump denounced the attacks in a speech at a rally in Wisconsin. “No nation can succeed that tolerates violence or the threat of violence as a method of political intimidation, coercion, or control,” the president said. “No one should carelessly compare political opponents to historical villains, which is done often,” the president continued. “It’s done all the time. “
Trump then turned his attention to one of his favorite targets, which was also a target of the bomber, saying, “The media also has a responsibility to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative and oftentimes false attacks and stories.
Thus far, political leaders have been quick to denounce political violence from the opposing team but slow to critique their own side. In fact, even though radicals on both sides have carried out attacks on the other, few on each side seem to acknowledge or remember acts perpetrated by their own side. If you have friends on both sides of the political spectrum, as I do, you’ll see posts from both sides claiming that the other side is perpetrating all the violence while theirs is as pure as the driven snow.
Even though no suspect has been arrested in the mail bombings, many on both sides seem to have made up their minds already as to the motive of the perpetrator. Since the targets of the bombs are all people who have been rhetorically attacked by President Trump, it’s reasonable to assume that the bomber is a Trump supporter.
On the other hand, with no supporting evidence at all, some on the right are beginning to make the argument that the bombs are a false flag operation (to use Alex Jones’ favorite phrase) to make Trump supporters look bad. Similarly, in the wake of the Charlottesville car attack, some on the right falsely claimed that James Alex Fields, Jr. was a “radical leftist” and Clinton supporter.
Let’s set the record straight. Both sides have violent extremists and both sides are increasingly violent. James Fields was a white supremacist. James Hodgkinson, who attempted to kill Steve Scalise and other Republican senators, was a liberal Bernie Sanders volunteer. Right-wing activists launched an armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge and staged an armed resistance to the arrest of Cliven Bundy. Leftist Antifa radicals have rioted in numerous cities. Leftists have used the threat of violence to deny conservatives such as Ben Shapiro the right to speak. President Trump threatened riots if he was denied the Republican nomination. A Trump supporter threatened to shoot Boston Globe reporters because the newspaper was an “enemy of the people.” Liberals have taken to confronting conservative politicians and media figures in restaurants. Right-wingers did the same thing to Nancy Pelosi.
In this age of mass media directed to different niches, the two sides are increasingly separated into camps that have little contact with the other. A recent conservative meme series refers to liberal supporters as NPCs, nonplayer characters, that are faceless, generic subhumans that don’t think for themselves. The left seems to think the same of the right, frequently referring to the president’s supporters as “Trumpbots.” It shouldn’t be surprising that as both sides dehumanize the other, the potential for violence increases.
Leaders of both sides need to come together for a bipartisan statement that rejects the increasing political violence. This needs to be done with no caveats. Republicans and Democrats should both tone down their rhetoric and instruct their supporters to make their voices heard at the ballot box, not in the streets.
If the leaders won’t take this action, it is up to the American people to reject violence. Don’t condone and excuse violent rhetoric or behavior just because it comes from your team. One way to address the problem is to shame people who take part in this sort of behavior. The second Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville was smaller than the first, in part because neo-Nazis from the first rally were publicly identified and shamed online. Perhaps a similar strategy could be used against Antifa and the Proud Boys.
Reject hatred and violent rhetoric online. The anonymous and isolated nature of social media makes extremism thrive. Unlike and unfollow radical accounts and pages. Report users who violate the terms of service and community standards. Point out the hypocrisy of supporting your own side’s violence while condemning the other.
Both sides claim to want to take their country back, but I suspect that the people who really want their country back are the exhausted middle who are tired of the constant crises and outrage-of-the-day from both sides. It is these moderate and independent Americans who decide elections and they can make a difference by rejecting those who condone violence. These are people who can hold America together while politicians and activists try to rip it apart.
Originally published on The Resurgent