Yet again, America's all-Republican president bombs
Faced with a national crisis, Donald Trump turns to point-scoring and electioneering
Most politicians know this: there is a time to play politics and win elections. Then there is a time to lead and unite one’s people. Such moments come to every political leader. Such a moment confronted US President Donald Trump last week.
It was a pivotal moment in American politics. In a country where the idea that you speak and convince your opponents about the superiority and justness of your idea, rudimentary pipe bombs were mailed by a rabid Trump supporter to former President Barack Obama, his former deputy Joe Biden, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, philanthropist George Soros, filmmaker and producer Robert de Niro and other Democratic Party supporters. The media was also targeted.
No matter what party you vote for or support, receiving a pipe bomb in the mail is a scary thing. No one wants to lose limb or life to a bomb. If you are an authentic leader, a time when your opponents and critics are being threatened is a time to rise above partisan politics and defend them – as they, one expects, would defend you.
Poor Donald Trump. He tried to be presidential. On Friday morning, speaking from prepared texts, he said: “These terrorising acts are despicable and have no place in our country ... We will prosecute them, him, her — whoever it may be — to the fullest extent of the law. We must never allow political violence to take root in America. We cannot let it happen.”
For those listening to his remarks, hope rose that perhaps the man would find it in himself to continue along these lines and put his usually divisive, hate-filled rhetoric aside. They hoped he would succeed in becoming a real leader, not someone who wants to score a political point or electioneer all the time.
He failed. As he had done the day before, he left the prepared script and launched into the media and those he believes should not even begin to speak ill of him.
“The media also has a responsibility to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative – and oftentimes, false – attacks and stories,” Trump said. He then went for Democrats, denouncing those who “carelessly compare political opponents to historical villains” and who “mob people in public places or destroy public property”.
Words matter, as so many in the US have pointed out to Trump this week. With his attack on the media, he was essentially condoning the bomb-maker’s actions. He was blaming the messenger, and he had no words for the victims – the recipients of the bombs.
That wasn’t the end of it. On Saturday, yet another one of the US’ all-too-frequent mass shootings occurred, this time at a Pittsburgh synagogue, and left 11 people dead. Responding, Trump said if the Tree of Life Synagogue had “some kind of a protection inside the temple” the perpetrator could have been stopped: “They didn't, and he was able to do things that unfortunately he shouldn’t have been able to do.”
We have seen this type of argument before: if she wasn’t wearing a skirt she wouldn’t have been raped. Blame the victim. Not a word about the hate-filled, nativist speeches that Trump constantly delivers in his rallies, particularly as the country’s midterm elections, set for November 6, loom closer.
The past few days have seen Trump walk away, faster than ever, from what have for ages been taken as a given in US politics. He says he stands for a free press, but when a Saudi journalist was murdered by his Saudi Arabian friends he did not raise a finger and instead praised a fellow Republican party leader who assaulted a journalist. Among those targeted by the Trump supporter who has sent out pipe bombs is CNN, a media organisation. Trump has ramped up his attacks on media organisations.
Faced with major national and international crises, most credible leaders put their own partisan concerns aside. They reach for a higher value, for a deeper meaning. The US, a nation that has become increasingly polarised over the past two years, did not see its leader aim for higher ground last week.
They saw Donald Trump playing politics, they saw him trying to pander to the basest beliefs of his core constituency. It may work. His Republicans may win loads of seats on November 6. That will merely underline that Trump has made himself a president for Republicans and not a president for all Americans.