December 10, 2018

Why We’re So Spooked by the Bomb Threats

It’s not as if our country isn’t used to violence. We lose thousands every year to gun shootings alone. In an open society, some people will, all too often, resort to violence to settle their differences. That’s a given.

So why are we so spooked by the threat of violence against politicians and media outlets which has been all over the news this week? So far, thankfully no one has been hurt by the pipe bombs which were discovered in mail directed against President and Mrs. Obama, President and Secretary Clinton, CNN and others.

And yet, it feels like a disaster, because it crosses a sacred line. It harkens back to those rare and dark times in our history when violence has poisoned politics; when even presidents like Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy were not immune.

Our republic lives or dies on our ability to resolve our political differences without resorting to violence. Without that, we might as well close shop.

Everything about the American political tradition — our Constitution, our system of laws, our rules of Congressional decorum, our tradition of checks and balances, our elections, etc.– revolves around managing power and politics peacefully, without physical violence.

How we react when the threat of political violence rears its ugly head — as it did this week — is crucial. We fail royally when we blame one side more than the other. All that does is reinforce the extreme partisanship that got us in this mess in the first place.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. Both sides have used language that can lead to violence. Both sides have violated basic rules of political discourse. Both sides are guilty.

Even if you’re certain that “the other side” is more to blame, this is not the time. When it comes to keeping violence out of politics, we must all be fanatically bipartisan.

“While we have yet to learn all the facts behind the attempted mail-bombings reported Wednesday, I fear the disturbing frequency of politically motivated threats and violence is a sign that too many Americans are becoming isolated and obsessed by what divides us, putting political disagreements front and center in how we relate to one another,” writes Republican Steve Scalise, who survived a politically motivated assassination attempt while practicing for the Congressional Baseball Game last year.

We should heed Scalise’s words. We should not allow politics to rule our lives. We should condemn violence equally regardless of where it originates. And the media must do its part, even if alarmism and partisanship are good for business. What is at stake is more than the future of a political party or a media company—but the future of our republic.

As Scalise writes, “America is better than these acts of threats, intimidation and violence against people based on their political beliefs. We are better than this, and we will move beyond this.”

Let’s make sure he’s right.