If you thought a mentally unstable man with access to explosives would be enough to get politicians to restore maturity to our national conversation, well, you were wrong.
It appears, instead, to have made the conversation even crazier.
Cesar Sayoc, a 56-year-old man from Florida, is accused of mailing bombs to more than a dozen people and media outlets he deemed critics of President Donald Trump.
As the crime was unfolding, with more devices found each day, many on the left self-righteously proclaimed: See, I told you Trump’s rhetoric would lead to violence.
On the right, many blowhards pronounced the bombs a hoax, with radio personality Rush Limbaugh explaining, “Republicans just don’t do this kind of thing.”
History shows clearly that neither major political party limits membership to only sane, law-abiding people.
Just as it was a Democrat who targeted Republicans at a congressional baseball practice in June 2017, it appears Sayoc, a Republican, targeted Democrats and others about whom Trump has complained.
Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, CNN, Rep. Maxine Waters, Joe Biden and George Soros were among those Sayoc is accused of trying to murder. All are frequent targets of Trump’s complaints.
This does not make the president responsible for Sayoc’s actions, just as Democrats were not to blame for James Hodgkinson’s decision to shoot Republicans at that baseball practice.
But it does raise the question of where our political leaders are taking us. What is the aim of rhetoric that demonizes any and all critics? What are followers expected to do when the president cheers a politician for assaulting a reporter? What’s the desired reaction among Democratic officials who urge supporters to publicly denigrate and harass political foes?
After Sayoc’s arrest, Trump appeared at a campaign rally in North Carolina, where he blamed the media for repulsive political rhetoric.
“The media’s constant unfair coverage, deep hostility and negative attacks only serve to drive people apart and to undermine healthy debate,” the president said.
The next day, a Jewish-hating gunman killed 11 people at a synagogue in Philadelphia, so Trump headed to another campaign rally to again denounce journalists.
However, it wasn’t a journalist who labeled Maxine Waters “low IQ,” called an alleged former mistress “horseface,” claimed Joe Biden was “weak, both mentally and physically,” or threatened that the nation would suffer mob violence if Republicans lost power in November.
That’s just a tiny sampling of Trump’s boorish attacks on his critics.
And as Trump was egging on the crowd in North Carolina with “lock her up” chants, his son, Donald Jr., was in Montana, calling a Democratic senator a “piece of garbage.”
Some argue such attacks make the president responsible for crimes committed by unhinged fans. Being a believer in personal accountability and the First Amendment, I disagree. But words do matter, which is why the president is responsible for degrading the quality of our political system.
Not just with boorish, hate-filled comments, but also with unprecedented dishonesty.
Obvious, recent examples include outlandish claims about middle-class tax cuts, immigration and protections for those with pre-existing conditions. Trump’s statements are so far out of the bounds that they must be called lies. There’s no nice explanation for being so wrong repeatedly.
We’ve long known that the president believes the end justifies the means — that dishonesty in the pursuit of political victory is not just acceptable but encouraged. Trump’s attacks on the press allow him to shirk responsibility, further divide Americans and discredit the people trying to hold him accountable.
When journalists point out the president is factually wrong, it doesn’t make them enemies of the people. It makes them journalists.
Are all in the media flawless?
Heck no. We’re human. And while some in media, especially on TV, shouldn’t be considered journalists at all, they are outnumbered by reporters and editors doing solid, important work. The bias and errors of a relative few don’t negate Trump’s crass dishonesty.
When we reach the point at which loyalty to the president outweighs acceptance of reality, we have lost our senses — and our integrity. We have followed our political leaders to a miserable place where right and wrong are as changeable as shoes.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana and New York, as well as across Kansas.