Political incivility is too rapidly devolving in America into harassment and violence.
The news of explosive devices being mailed to President Barack Obama and the home of Bill and Hillary Clinton is the latest in a string of incidents that reveals an ugliness in our political culture that is leading us ever closer to tragic and destructive consequences.
We wrote in June of our dismay over the breakdown of civility in today’s political culture. The seemingly expanding incidents of violence and its lesser cousin, harassment, only deepen our concern.
In addition to the packages sent to Obama and the Clintons, letters containing ground castor beans that produce the poison ricin were recently sent to President Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. We were also dismayed to see people harassing Sen. Ted Cruz and his wife, Heidi, while they tried to dine at a restaurant. Or the way House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi publicly faced people who screamed obscenities at her while calling her a “communist.”
America has had to pay witness to sporadic political violence in recent years, including the congressional baseball shooting and the murder of a protester in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. But with the midterm elections approaching, the rhetoric is relentless, often cruel and thoughtless and dehumanizing of anyone who dares disagree.
It’s easy for disturbed individuals to consume the public political anger because of the speed at which news — real, fake and distorted — spreads through the internet and social media. That pot-stirring, the manipulation of facts, the reduction of people with whom we disagree politically into mortal enemies, has created a climate of both threats and fear. People are hesitant to express their political views for fear of inviting a backlash.
We appreciate that politicians from both sides appear to be speaking out more loudly about the darkness of the current culture.
In response to attempted attacks against President Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton, Cruz, the Texas senator, tweeted, “Violence is never OK” and said we should always “respect each other’s humanity.” New York Sen. Charles Schumer, the leading Democrat, also took to Twitter to condemn the recent violent acts on both sides of the ideological spectrum. The White House also issued a condemnation of the attacks through press secretary Sarah Sanders.
That’s a start, but we need to see more.
A handful of politicians making statements on social media platforms and through spokespeople won’t have the impact that’s required in our current environment.
Sadly, that kind of leadership has been lacking at the White House, despite the condemnation of the most recent events. The president has contributed to a climate where grace is viewed as a sign of weakness and doubling down on rhetoric, no matter how divisive, is seen as a sign of strength.
If the president refuses to lead, others must. Political leaders from both parties, active and retired, standing shoulder to shoulder, denouncing these acts would go a long way in showing that while we will have strong political and policy differences, violence is never the answer.