On Wednesday, someone tried to bomb the former President of the United States, and no one in America was surprised. As of Friday, we think we know who that someone was—Cesar Sayoc, an apparently far-right disciple of Donald Trump.
Actually, the person responsible tried to bomb two former presidents. And the former Secretary of State, former CIA Director, and former Attorney General. And a sitting congresswoman. And a leading democrat donor and philanthropist. And CNN. Later, Joe Biden, Robert DeNiro, and Cory Booker were added to the list.
Trump did the bare minimum and condemned the attacks. He did not call anyone who was targeted. The original White House statement used the unusual and awkward phrase “terrorizing acts” in lieu of “terrorism.” Hours later, the president flew out of Washington to go a-campaigning, yukking it up on the stump in front of a Wisconsin crowd who chanted “CNN sucks!” and “lock her up!” People standing behind him laughed and smiled, and families snuggled, when he read his perfunctory fig-leaf statement condemning the violence. They’re all in on this sick joke: “Bear with me because I have to say this, but you know I don’t mean it.”
The right-wing response has been unsurprisingly hideous, callous, and embarrassingly stupid, with many of President Trump’s high-profile supporters coming out just hours after the reports to accuse Democrats — Democrats — of planting fake bombs that wouldn’t go off (SEVEN OF THEM AT ONCE, those overachievers!) to turn the country against Republicans in the election. This is Infowars-grade huffing right here, but now it’s just normal. It’s also revolting, cruel, puerile, terrifying in its obscene and flagrant lust for violence and its idiotic arrogance, and it should offend anyone in this country with a brain and a heart and a sense of humanity, because these people think you’re stupid and gullible enough to do what they want, which is for you to lose control so they can give themselves permission to react disproportionately to you. And then blame you for bringing it on yourself.
A little more detail on the attack: According to explosives experts, the package bombs, which contained a volatile sulfur compound, were viable and could easily have exploded in handling. The bombs were all delivered apparently by hand in one form or another, and clustered around New York and D.C. (The one outlier was an incorrectly addressed package returned to “sender,” Debbie Wasserman Schulz, in Florida. It’s possible the package was hand-delivered to Holder’s office in D.C., but sent back from there. After all, these packages had a number of stamps on them to make it look like they had been mailed.)
It’s clear the culprit, whether it’s Sayoc, someone else, or multiple people, wanted to kill many people, all of whom were Trump critics he has specifically and repeatedly attacked by name. Most served their country in the highest levels of government for years. In any other era, this attack would be a major, defining moment in our history. Today we worry it might have fallen off the front page by next week. And though it’s true we don’t yet know for sure who did this, we can make a pretty good guess about where that person’s political allegiances lie—and that was true long before Sayoc’s arrest. If any false-flag crackpots want to bet me on that, I’m so down.
Anyway. This will be a relatively short, depressing, and angry article, not because there isn’t much worth saying, but because there’s too much. This is the reality: There’s no going back to reality.
First, we all need to recognize what I pointed out at the top of this piece: These attempted assassinations didn’t shock us. Domestic terrorist attacks targeting government figures and the press aren’t unthinkable today, are in fact well within the realm of possibility. This is nowhere near what life was like in America four years ago. We have fully entered the shadow.
This is just to say that it’s time all Americans admit we have a reasonable expectation that in the near future, politically-motivated domestic terrorism will kill Americans, including journalists and political officials. Once you admit that, you also have to admit that one significant reason political violence is now all but inevitable is that a large number of Americans want political violence.
This is the reality: That group of Americans includes the president, who, as the leader of their cult, also happens to conduct them.
This is the reality: It’s not that all or even most Trump supporters are primed for violence. But the number who are, and the amount of rage they hold, is disturbing.
This is the reality: The attempted bombing is exactly what those people want. Violence in the air. A permission slip. A conspiracy theory. Any reason at all, no matter how gossamer — or even outright false — to blame the liberal “mob” for violence, and then to “fight back.”
This is the reality: There is no liberal mob, just a bunch of democrats righteously indignant enough about the perverse condition of our country that they feel it’s time to annoy our officials in public. No liberal has assaulted a government official (with one major, major exception I’ll get to later). Maxine Waters did NOT call for violence. Eric Holder did NOT call for violence. Hillary Clinton did NOT call for violence. She said we can’t be civil with Trump supporters, meaning not that we should be uncivil or aggressive, but that it’s clearly pointless to be unilaterally kind. Charlie Brown, football, etc. Civility alone will score you no points.
This is the reality: Shut up about civility. There’s a difference between bothering someone at a restaurant and mailing bombs to assassinate government officials and journalists. Don’t get into arguments about this. Those arguments are vapid and directionless and those people know it. It’s not worth anyone’s time and never was.
This is the reality: Some radical, unhinged Trump supporters will almost assuredly kill Americans sometime soon.
This is the reality: The President of the United States wants violence. From the moment he announced he was running, Trump has encouraged violence, explicitly or implicitly, against people he sees as being against him. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, to Americans, allies, and adversaries alike, ALL THE TIME. Here is a clip of many but not all the times Trump encouraged violence against his critics during the campaign alone. As if anyone needs the reminder, he’s also regularly framed the mainstream press as the enemy of the American people, fake apologized and then doubled down, and singled out CNN with violent imagery, the network targeted in this attack.
This is the reality: Donald Trump does not give a damn.
This is the reality: No one should believe anything Trump or his supporters say. It’s all in bad faith, and primitive enough at this point that the only aim is to create conflict. How do we bridge that gap? That’s not our responsibility any more, not until they mature. There’s no place for these people at the adult table. Don’t negotiate with whiners and bullies.
This is the reality: Violence is the recourse of the bully, the recourse of the weak. Trump has literally nothing going for him beyond stoking the rage of his base against Democrats. It’s in his interest to provoke violence, and it doesn’t matter where it comes from. He needs it. It’s existential for him. He will do what he can to provoke it.
This is the reality: The press must radically shift its coverage of this administration. Even reprinting things Trump says, without immediate and proximate corrections or context, gives them legitimacy as actual viable arguments, when it’s all just a bunch of nonsense he’s more than likely contradicted several times anyway. It’s dangerous, disingenuous, and a breach of journalistic integrity to hide behind selective objectivity in order to protect yourself specifically from one group’s criticism. That’s not objective. That’s shaping a story to suit an audience. Journalists have a choice to either control their own subjectivity, or to be a tool to amplify the heinous tenets of a radically subjective, amoral, and entirely fictitious ideology.
This is the reality: Trump’s ideology is nihilism.
This is the reality: Trump supporters aren’t like me. I hope they’re not like you. I mean, we might like hot dogs or sports or the same bands. But on a fundamental human level, we are not alike. We need to come to terms with that and figure out what that means for how we design our lives, our families, and our government.
This is the reality: We need strong, steady, mature leadership. Someone much less angry than I am right now. Look, we’ve come into a massive moment in American history, one that will run through and beyond the elections in November. We have a duty to protect democracy, to preserve our institutions and allow them the time and room they need to rehabilitate and function again. At his Wisconsin rally, Trump said for the first time that Americans have to accept the outcome of the election. That is a weird thing to hear in the United States.
Because this is the reality: We are living in a proto-fascist state, and Donald Trump will get Americans killed. We liberals will have to respond, and a reaction from some fringe maniac could be worse than an attack. And liberals, also please understand there’s a very real chance the next attack comes from someone on the left in response to these attempted assassinations of democrats. Or for some other reason altogether. We aren’t immune: The maniac who shot up a GOP congressional baseball practice in June 2017 was a Democrat, and that didn’t prevent him from carrying out a stunningly vicious attack, by far the worst act of political violence in this country since Trump got elected. We need to be emphatic about our commitment to non-violence, and we need to rally behind that as our collective identity. We cannot do what the right wing just did and make up some borderline treasonous unfalsifiable story that puts no good into the world and is only designed to make people angrier.
But of course, there’s also a fuzzy middle area, which the right wing is fuzzing up more every passing moment, where like the Battle of Lexington no one can really say for sure who started it.
This is the reality: Donald Trump started it.
This is the reality: To Trump, democracy is collateral damage.
This is the reality: The public at large has chosen for two years now to ignore this very real threat, perhaps because it sounds insane to believe things would ever get that bad. Well, they’re that bad, and they’ve been that bad for a while. It won’t be easy if possible at all to get ourselves back to a better place. I don’t see how we can unite after Trump. The fault line that has been slowing grinding under our feet for years has split. We live in separate realities with separate and incompatible laws, separate and incompatible values, separate and incompatible facts, and separate and incompatible fears.
This is fantasy: Imagine a few of those bombs had detonated. They were supposed to.