In recent weeks several critics of American President Donald Trump were sent suspicious packages containing pipe bombs. The apparent threat, made to the recipients, seems climactic of a global phenomenon that has been gaining potency over recent years: incivility.
Floridian Cesar Sayoc was arrested after authorities named him as a suspect for sending the packages. A van, believed to belong to Sayoc, was draped in pro-Republican stickers which attacked critics of the President. The FBI seized the van, and it was later announced that Sayoc was charged with five federal crimes including threat, assault and mailing explosives. American authorities used a combination of mobile communication, DNA evidence and fingerprinting technology to track the suspect.
The targets of this postal terror attack include George Soros, Maxine Waters, Barack Obama, and Hilary Clinton. One of the suspicious packages was even mailed to CNN’s New York offices and addressed to frequent commentator and former CIA Director John Brennan. The link between all of these individuals is that they have either been critical of the President or have been subject to one of his scathing tweets.
The response to these pipe bombs has been highly politicised.
The response to these pipe bombs has been highly politicised. Republican commentators have blamed the Democrats for contributing to the heightened culture of violence, meanwhile many liberals have blamed the rhetoric from the administration. President Trump, echoed by his Press Secretary, was quick to castigate the media and called for them to “stop the endless hostility”. This response was later criticised by CNN President Jeff Zucker who stated that the Administration “lack[ed] understanding” on the consequences of their attacks on the media.
After his inauguration, hopes of the President toning down his speech was lost
To understand how American politics has become so deeply divisive, one must reflect on the events of the past two years. The 2016 Presidential election saw Trump publicly mock the disabled and suggest that the “Second Amendment people” could deal with his opposition candidate. After his inauguration, hopes of the President toning down his speech was lost after he adopted Twitter as a polemical Forum.
However, It must also be noted that Democrats have contributed to this divisive culture. Earlier this year key White House staff were turned away from restaurants, booed at theatre shows and mobbed by protesters. Democrat Congresswoman Maxine Waters was criticised after encouraging such action and calling for her supporters to “create a crowd” around members of the Trump administration and “tell them they are not welcome”. In the past two years, both Democrat and Republican politicians have played a role in deepening the political divide and have consequently dragged political discourse into unchartered waters.
The EU Referendum and the General Election, that followed, saw such vitriolic attacks espoused by both political sides
One must be careful not to see this coarsening of rhetoric as unique to America, this is a global trend that has also made an appearance in British politics. The EU Referendum and the General Election, that followed, saw such vitriolic attacks espoused by both political sides. This resulted in unprecedented rates of racial and religious discrimination following the referendum. As recently as August, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stoked the fires of intolerance in his inflammatory Telegraph article in which he compared those wearing Burkas to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.
Last month, Drill artist Drillminister collaborated with Channel 4 news to create a song titled ‘Political Drilling’. The Drill MC used threatening and violent quotes made by MPs to highlight what he saw as a “hypocrisy” of politicians criticising Drill Lyrics, despite them using similar language. This song featured a quote by George Osbourne claiming he would not rest until Prime Minister Theresa May was “chopped up in bags”. Recently, May called on politicians to be “careful about language” regardless of their “passionate beliefs”.
It is important to understand the life-endangering consequences of this political discourse. In 2017 Republican Congressman Steve Scalise was shot by an extreme left-leaning gunman at a baseball practice. Similarly, former Democrat Gabrielle Giffords was shot outside a supermarket at a meeting with constituents. Britain also had to re-evaluate the state of its politics after Labour MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered, during the Referendum, by an extreme right-wing terrorist stating “keep Britain independent”. The attacks are not only physical, but also occur online. Numerous studies have shown the sky-rocketing figures of online abuse, with Diane Abbott receiving nearly half of all abusive tweets aimed at female MPs.
Rhetoric has become a conduit for hatred.
As the old proverb goes, ‘the fish rots from the head’. Senior political figures must recognise the vast influence they hold and take responsibility for the tone they set. Rhetoric has become a conduit for hatred. The lines of acceptability have been shifted and there is a need for leadership on both the Left and Right to bridge the divide.
Civility is a dying virtue – To restore it, all parties on the political spectrum must denounce acts of hate, terror and intolerance. Globally, we are at a crossroads with regards to our political discourse. Societies must decide whether to continue down this self-destructive route, where rage is normalised, or pave a new path where both sides can disagree without being disagreeable.