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Trump condemns attempted bombings, but doesn't acknowledge any rhetorical role

Officers watch over the scene outside the Time Warner Center on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in New York. Law enforcement officials say a suspicious package that prompted an evacuation of CNN's offices is believed to contain a pipe bomb.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Kevin Hagen
October 24, 2018 - 9:00 PM

WASHINGTON - Pleas for civility in America's political discourse appeared to fall on deaf ears on both sides Wednesday as Democrats and progressives across the country found themselves confronting a barrage of crude package bombs aimed squarely at Donald Trump's critics and rivals.

The president, whose fiery and often personal rhetoric has branded him the enabler-in-chief for pointed attacks from both sides of the political spectrum, issued only a muted call for unity as he put the perpetrators on notice.

"The full weight of our government is being deployed to conduct this investigation and bring those responsible for these despicable acts to justice; we will spare no resources or expense in this effort," Trump told a gathering in the East Room of the White House.

"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."

Former CIA director John Brennan and ex-attorney general Eric Holder joined former President Barack Obama, past presidential challenger Hillary Clinton and billionaire Democratic philanthropist George Soros as would-be recipients of packages containing what authorities described as crude pipe bombs.

The package addressed to Brennan was sent care of CNN's New York bureau, prompting a chaotic morning of must-see TV live from the streets of Manhattan as police evacuated the Time Warner Center and cordoned off several city blocks in the downtown core.

"This is a very painful time in our nation; people are feeling a lot of hatred in the air," said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who described the incident as an "act of terror."

"This atmosphere of hatred is contributing to the choices people are making to turn to violence, there's no question about it. And the way to stop that is to turn back the other way, to bring down the temperature, to end any messages about the use of violence against people we disagree with.

"And that has to start at the top."

Democratic congressional leaders sounded utterly unmoved.

"President Trump's words ring hollow until he reverses his statements that condone acts of violence," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a joint statement that listed off a number of the president's greatest hits.

"Time and time again, the president has condoned physical violence and divided Americans with his words and his actions."

Oddly, it was actually Melania Trump who uttered the administration's first public comments on the matter, taking the podium ahead of her husband at an event convened to mark a new bipartisan legislative effort to tackle the opioid crisis, one of her principal causes.

"We cannot tolerate those cowardly attacks, and I strongly condemn all who choose violence," she said.

"I'm grateful to the Secret Service and federal and local law enforcement for all they do on a daily basis to keep us safe and to encourage people across the country to choose kindness over hatred."

Earlier in the day, press secretary Sarah Sanders and Vice-President Mike Pence both tweeted written statements condemning the attacks, but Trump was strangely silent, offering only a retweet of Pence with the exclamation, "I agree completely!"

The device meant for Holder, who served as attorney general in Obama's administration, turned up at the Florida offices of U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, also a Democrat, by way of a fraudulent return address. A similar device bound for California Democrat Maxine Waters, another popular Trump target, was intercepted at a congressional mail facility in Maryland.

"We are at a boiling point," said New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. "Keeping the debate and the dialogue civil is very, very important — and for elected leaders, who in many ways set the tone, it is especially important."

The bombing attempts comprise just the latest — and potentially most dangerous — example of extremist elements feeling empowered by presidential rhetoric, said Kamran Bokhari, a Washington-based political science lecturer with the University of Ottawa's Security and Policy Institute.

There was last summer's chilling torchlight display of white supremacist anger during a rally in Charlottesville, Va., a gathering that ultimately turned violent and claimed the lives of three people, and the deadly newsroom shooting in Annapolis, Md., earlier this summer that killed five employees of the Capital Gazette newspaper.

And on the other side of the spectrum, Republican congressman and House majority whip Steve Scalise was one of several people wounded in June 2017 by a rifle-toting left-wing activist who died in the ensuing shootout with police.

"I'm not saying — and I don't believe — that the president is doing this on purpose, but he is doing it for his own political imperatives, especially at a time of upcoming midterm elections," Bokhari said in an interview.

"We're in a place where political rhetoric and political discourse are now serving to embolden people who don't feel any problem with taking the law into their own hands."

The solution, Bokhari said, is twofold: a strong call from Trump for an easing of political tensions, followed by a longer-term national discussion in which both sides play an earnest role, each acknowledging the concerns and the priorities of the other.

"There is plenty of nuance and grey area where the president can still insist on the interests of his base," he said.

"In the long run, there has to be a healing process. And healing is a process of conversation."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2018
The Canadian Press

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