Two former presidents, a former vice president, a former presidential candidate, a major news network, and a number of other politicians and politically-active citizens have been the targets of domestic terrorism. All of them were vocal critics of Donald Trump, and the alleged perpetrator supports him.
How could something like this happen? Ask a president who talked about assaulting and silencing those who dissent. Ask a political party too concerned with reelection to stand up for conservative morals. Ask a people who have failed to cut hateful groups out of their communities.
I think we are all to blame for creating a culture where someone sees an opposing political leader as an oppositional villain. However, some are more to blame than others. Is the root cause of this kind of political terrorism a polarized population, or should we look toward conservative leaders and voters who have allowed bigotry to exist among them?
More and more every year, I see and hear more examples of political polarization. From Tinder profiles that tell me to “swipe like your political views” to countless videos that mock “feminist libtards” and “crazy conservatives,” the issue permeates our society. But no one wants to talk, and no one wants to listen. The us-versus-them dynamic has replaced a time where different affiliations did not mean a different intention: to benefit the American people.
In a country owned and operated by the two-party system, politicians have led by example. Less and less are we seeing bipartisan efforts in Congress, and in its place dismissive and rude rhetoric is on the rise. Whether it is Donald Trump insinuating that former President Obama was not born in the United States or Clinton referring to Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables,” these leaders are setting a terrible precedent for collaborative, respectful discussion for the greater good.
While I acknowledge my own political bias as a liberal, I believe the current president and the Republican Party have failed to uphold a moral responsibility to condemn slander, lies, bigotry, and violence.
Donald Trump and other Republicans have written off journalists who dissent as “fake news,” and Trump has referred to them the “enemy of the people.” At the same time, Trump has fostered amicable relations with Vladimir Putin, the leader of a country who tampered in the 2016 election. Instead of addressing those outside forces who intend to fragment our society, he has villainized critics within our borders. The same occurred when he demanded Hillary Clinton’s arrest, or when he accused her and the Democratic Party of colluding with Russia (while the reverse may be revealed by an ongoing investigation led by Robert Mueller).
Donald Trump did respond to the mailed pipe bombs by condemning political violence. While some criticize his statement for not directly addressing the recipients, he still took the correct and predictable position for a nation’s leader. However, Trump’s spotty track record of condemning political violence does not inspire confidence for skeptics. Though Trump did condemn the alt-right for the death of Heather Heyer last August, he still described a faction called the “alt-left” to qualify his views, and in his immediate response, argued that some pro-Confederate attendees of the Charlottesville rally were “very fine people.”
President Trump’s words and actions paint a clear picture of political division. Additionally, the unorthodox Republican leader has massive sway over his party. His ability to shift the political tone has opened up the door for candidates like Roy Moore, accused of statutory rape, and the late Dennis Hof, the owner of multiple brothels. Even candidates like Scott Wagner, who is running to be Pennsylvania governor, threatened opponent Tom Wolfe with stomping on the sitting Democratic governor with golf spikes. To deny President Trump’s role in this change is out of the question; instead, what should be considered is why Republican leaders have failed to stand up to him.
Many prominent Republicans condemned the violence at Charlottesville, and some have been critical of the president’s rhetoric. Nonetheless, they have been unable to deviate far from Trump’s polarizing path without losing support or political positions.
Why is this? Why have Republicans, instead of standing by their values and leading with their political opinions, lost their backbone and fallen into step? It may be a political disadvantageous decision to disagree with a sitting president from the same political party, but Trump is anything but a traditional conservative. For the well-being of their political party and the nation, Republicans need to re-evaluate this new wave of questionable leadership. They must also take responsibility for allowing violence to fester in their party.
As the adage goes, complacency is complicity.