Don’t let the U.S. boil over into political violence

Amid the continued degradation of our national discourse and the corrosive politics of demonization, we have hit a new low.

Violent rhetoric is being matched by acts of violence. And that’s terrifying.

Bombs were sent to former President Barack Obama, former presidential contender Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former CIA Director John Brennan at CNN, and billionaire philanthropist and Democratic donor George Soros, a target of House Republican Campaign Committee attack ads.

This cannot continue.

It is tempting to make a direct connection to the inflammatory words and endorsements of violence by President Donald Trump, who has attacked verbally or on Twitter each of the bomb recipients. But that connection might not turn out to be the case. What is certain is that he has created a climate in which we are not shocked that the president’s rhetoric could lead to this moment. That’s atrocious.

Trump’s record on this is long. In the 2016 campaign, he encouraged one crowd to “knock the crap out” of demonstrators, promising to pay legal fees. He has bashed CNN as an enemy of the people, and last week celebrated Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte for body-slamming a reporter last year; Gianforte pleaded guilty to an assault charge.

Along the way, this climate has given others license to say whatever they want about anyone. At a rally Tuesday, Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz responded to a crowd chant by joking that Democratic opponent Rep. Beto O’Rourke could share a prison cell with Clinton. That’s not funny.

It might turn out that the bombs were the isolated work of a deranged individual, like the abominable shooting at a Republican congressional baseball team practice last year. That wouldn’t absolve anyone who has contributed to this tinderbox atmosphere. It certainly doesn’t excuse the atrocious conjecture Wednesday from the far right that the bombs were fake, the work of Democrats to create sympathy among voters in the midterms. “Fake news, fake bombs” signs turned up within hours at political rallies.

Trump said the right things in the White House on Wednesday afternoon. “In these times we have to unify,” he said, adding that political violence has no place in America. Now he has to show he means that, every day. No more vitriol at rallies. No more false accusations aimed at political opponents. No more celebrations of violence.

Words matter. And the consequences get scarier.