From intimate fireside chats to the uplifting and hopeful words of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, U.S. presidents are frequently called upon to bring Americans together in common purpose in challenging times whether to “heal broken hearts and bind up wounds” as President Barack Obama sought to do about the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting or simply to call for a “kinder, gentler” nation as George H.W. Bush did in his Inaugural Address. The recent series of bomb scares — directed at what could easily be described as a Donald Trump enemies list — provided the sitting president with just such a moment to put the needs of the republic above those of personal politics.
Briefly, very briefly, President Trump appeared to understand this. On Wednesday, after it became clear that some individual or group had been mailing packages containing pipe bombs to some of Mr. Trump’s favorite political punching bags including Rep. Maxine Waters (twice), Bill and Hillary Clinton, Mr. Obama, former Attorney General Eric Holder, billionaire George Soros and even to CNN in an apparent effort to reach former CIA Director John O. Brennan, he spoke out forcefully denouncing the bombings as “despicable acts” and calling for unity.
“We have to come together and send one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America,” Mr. Trump said reading from prepared remarks.
Yet that evening — just a matter of hours after saying “we have to unify” — President Trump was right back to his customary vitriol and anger. Speaking at a political rally in Wisconsin — one in which he even acknowledged that politics had gotten out of hand and there was a need for “peace and harmony” and, wonder of wonders, congratulated himself for his civility — he was pointing a finger at the news media for causing the problem in the first place. He called on reporters to “stop the endless hostility and constant negative and often false attacks and stories” — as if they were the ones who had sent the bombs.
Another president might have decided that a day of attempted mass political bombings might be a day not to hold such a rally with its aggressive chants and personal attacks, or at least to stop lambasting the folks who stand behind the cameras and microphones. Not this president. And in the off chance that anyone did not get the message of how the media is at fault for the bombings, there was the inevitable follow-up tweet early Thursday morning: “A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News. It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!”
And with that President Trump demonstrated his insincerity about that Wednesday business of national unity and not making threats. Meanwhile, more bombs were discovered addressed to more names culled from the Trump enemies list: former Vice President Joe Biden and actor and Democratic activist Robert DeNiro on Thursday and Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, prominent Democratic donor Tom Steyer and James Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence on Friday, the same day federal agents arrested Cesar Sayoc Jr., 56, of Aventura, Fla. in connection with at least 13 attempted bombings.
Mr. Trump did not cause Mr. Sayoc to do anything, but he is certainly not blameless — as much as he sees himself as a victim. “Who gets attacked more than me?” President Trump pleaded to reporters on Friday. The nation needs a president in times of uncertainty and strife to reassure us that civility matters, the law matters, that we are not at each other’s throats — or at least we should not be. Donald J. Trump has demonstrated, once again, that he is incapable of being such a leader, not beyond a matter of minutes when someone else has written the script. Not even when the suspect wears a MAGA hat. How sad for a nation that could really use a bit of nonpartisan leadership right now.