A series of mail bombs were sent to a multitude of left leaning individuals ranging from prominent government officials to actor Robert De Niro. It seemed that immediately, depending on political affiliation, people began to blame the other side for the packages. People did not wait for information, rather they made an instinctual gut-feeling response to demonize their opponents. Left leaning people blamed Trump and republicans for rhetoric that inspired and fueled the attacks. Right leaning people blamed democrats and a heated political debate in general.
Let’s get one thing straight here. The bombs are abhorrent and they do not reflect proper actions of a free society. If we cannot understand the other side’s issues, whether it be healthcare, security or taxes, we must not question the motives of our political opponents. If we take the bedrock idea that we all are looking for what is best for the American people, and its principles, then we can have a uncensored and constructive debate.
However, we do not live in an ideal world. The most dangerous aspect of heated political rhetoric is its power. It is extremely effective. Successful politicians do not run on “understanding the other side” and people do not get fired up to vote from a nuanced view on tax reforms. They get fired up from candidates mischaracterizing their opponents and making them out to be, in some ways, evil.
Joe Biden fired up support for Obama in 2012 by claiming Mitt Romney wanted to put “y’all back in chains” when discussing Romney’s economic policy of deregulation of federal banks. Do you think it would have been equally as effective to go into an hour long speech concerning complex economic interventionism and how it is superior to laissez-faire economic proposals? I would think that a simple immoral character assassination would be a much better tool for demonizing Romney.
Conversely, Donald Trump’s attacks on opponents that ranged from mildly-accurate to absolutely absurd and equally immoral were instrumental in his victory in the primaries. For example, he claimed that Ted Cruz’s father was in cahoots with Lee Harvey Oswald in the JFK assassination.
My point being that, as a country, we have to tone down the political rhetoric. That being said, Trump’s immoral rhetoric should not be blamed for the attempted bombings. This is for the same reason we cannot blame Bernie Sanders for a crazed supporter shooting republicans during a congressional baseball game.
Speech is not violence. We have the John-Stuart Mill concept of free speech for a reason, it is essential to our democracy as a free nation. We cannot blame speech that does not directly call for violence for the actions of crazed individuals. What we must understand is that while immoral speech is uttered, our moral speech will always overpower it. Heated political speech is normalcy in politics and attempting to restrict speech will do monumentally more harm than good. It is critical that we unify (as Trump did, albeit briefly) as a nation and turn down the temperature while aiming to view each other as individuals trying to get to the greater goal of a better society.