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Trump’s Amorality Is Spreading Throughout the GOP

Republican leaders are doing all they can to absolve the president of any responsibility for inspiring a national tragedy

President Donald Trump gestures to the audience as he departs a rally at Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro, Ill., Oct. 27, 2018.

President Donald Trump gestures to the audience as he departs a rally at Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro, Ill., Oct. 27, 2018.

Andrew Harnik/AP/Shutterstock

Last week, a Trump supporter from Florida named Cesar Sayoc sent explosive devices to CNN and several prominent Democrats. Many of Sayoc’s intended targets, all of whom or which have been attacked relentlessly by the president, are depicted in crosshairs on the side of Sayoc’s van. One portion of the van’s collage of decals reads “DISHONEST MEDIA,” a familiar refrain of Trump’s, alongside “CNN SUCKS.” The morning after the bomb scare forced CNN to evacuate its New York headquarters, Trump singled out the “Fake News” as being responsible for “the Anger we see today in our society.” He blamed the media again at a rally that night, minutes after preaching the need for unity. When asked the next day whether he would tone down his rhetoric, Trump pushed back. “I could really tone it up,” he said.

He wasn’t kidding. On Sunday night, the president echoed the side of Sayoc’s van in tweeting about how the “dishonest” media is to blame for the division in America. “The Fake News is doing everything in their power to blame Republicans, Conservatives and me for the division and hatred that has been going on for so long in our Country,” he wrote. “Actually, it is their Fake & Dishonest reporting which is causing problems far greater than they understand!”

On Monday morning, three days after one of his supporters tried to bomb CNN, he described the media as “the true Enemy of the People.”

In prepared remarks, Trump has called for the nation to come together in the wake of the attempted bombings and, on Saturday, the shooting that left 11 dead at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. It’s hard to read his tweets Monday morning, or any of his recent extemporaneous attacks against the media and other bombing targets, as a deliberate attempt to further divide the nation and undermine democracy, which is predicated upon a free and independent press. As ignorant as Trump may be regarding just about every facet of his job, he knows what he’s doing by dusting off the “true Enemy of the People” moniker at such a vulnerable moment. It is a direct appeal to his most ardent supporters. In other words, it’s a direct appeal to people like Sayoc, who saw the very same rhetoric as a call to action.

Trump seems to care about the attempted bombings and the mass shooting only as far as they could affect how Republicans will do in next Tuesday’s midterm elections. On Friday morning, he implied the attempted bombings were a false flag, lamenting how they were distracting from the GOP’s momentum heading into election day. Later that day, he laughed along as attendees at a White House event called for George Soros, who had been targeted by Sayoc, to be locked up. After the shooting in Pittsburgh on Saturday, Trump joked that he might have to cancel an event that day because his hair had gotten wet while he was commenting on the tragedy. At a rally that night, he resumed his usual attack on Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), another of Sayoc’s targets. The next day, he blasted another target, billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer, on Twitter. “He comes off as a crazed & stumbling lunatic,” Trump wrote, referring to Steyer’s appearance on CNN.

Party leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have long brushed off Trump’s rhetoric, knowing that he would give them their tax cuts and a conservative Supreme Court. This is the bargain they made, and now that Trump’s calls for violence and demonization of his political opponents have manifested in reality, Republicans are continuing to dutifully brush off the role he has played in inspiring the attempted assassination of a host of prominent liberal figures and the actual assassination of 11 people attending a bris on Saturday.

On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence said that “everyone has their own style” and that “people on both sides of the aisle use strong language” in response to a question about Trump’s language. Paul Ryan wanly managed that “sometimes” Trump’s words can cause division. Others like McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul broadly condemned violence. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) claimed that the bomber was a lone “nut job” who has nothing to do with the president. Still more, like Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), pointed the finger at Democrats. On Sunday, he tried to trick people into thinking House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was threatening Republicans by tweeting one of her quotes about the economic impact of denying climate change.

Not even two years into Trump’s tenure in office, attempts to bomb two former presidents, a host of other current and former political officials and prominent philanthropists and, of course, mass shootings, are subject to the cheapest attempt at his political spin. All that matters is absolving the president of any culpability.

The man who shot up the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh had railed against the “invaders” in the migrant caravan the president has propped up as his key talking point leading into the midterms. The shooter criticized the president for not being harsh enough on the Jewish people, although it’s hard to argue that Trump’s actions since taking office — from praising the “fine people” protesting the presence of Jews in America last year in Charlottesville, to his repeated denigrations of “globalists,” to his laughing last Friday at the idea of George Soros being jailed — hasn’t emboldened anyone with antisemitic views. White nationalist Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is so confident he will win reelection next week that he’s been in eastern Europe rubbing elbows with far-right groups like the anti-immigrant, Nazi-founded Freedom Party in Austria. “If they were in America pushing the platform that they push, they would be Republicans,” Kind said, according to the Washington Post.

On Monday morning, the president echoed the shooter’s language by referring to the migrant caravan as an “invasion.”

But Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders doesn’t see the president as having anything to do with any of this, implying that the attack on Saturday was carried out despite the president’s love of the Jewish people.

The Jewish community in Pittsburgh disagrees. Jewish leaders in the city on Sunday penned an open letter to the president, writing that he is not welcome in Pittsburgh until he denounced white nationalism. “For the past three years your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement,” they wrote. “You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence.” They added that Trump has “also deliberately undermined the safety of people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities” and that Saturday’s “massacre is not the first act of terror you incited against a minority group in our country.”

On Monday morning, Trump Counselor Kellyanne Conway blamed late-night comedians.

Like Trump has done, Conway portrayed herself and others in the White House as victims. “I can’t believe on these shows yesterday and over the weekend, politicians are pointing the finger and the media is making it about themselves,” she said, adding that these people need to “cut it out.”

Shortly after Conway’s appearance on Fox & Friends, another explosive device bound for CNN, this time to their Atlanta headquarters, was intercepted by authorities.

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