Trump Blames Media for ‘Anger’ as Serial Bomber Targets His Foes
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump blamed the media for “a big part” of society’s anger Thursday as authorities removed the latest suspected mail bomb sent to one of his critics from a New York City restaurant owned by actor Robert De Niro.
In an early morning tweet, Trump failed to echo the call for unity he made Wednesday as suspected explosives were discovered targeting former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CNN and others who Trump has frequently singled out for ridicule in speeches and on Twitter.
Instead, Trump appeared to conflate the mailing of suspicious packages to his foes with his own personal attacks against the media. In the past, he’s criticized reports on everything from Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the Trump family’s use of the tax system and, as recently as this morning, a New York Times report that foreign governments are spying on him when he uses his personal iPhones.
“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,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday that Trump is aware of the latest suspected bombs. She told reporters at the White House that it is Trump’s “responsibility to lay out political differences between Democrats and Republicans as we head into the midterm election” and that he will “continue to point out contrasts in policy.”
“But at the same time we’re condemning violence and calling on Americans to come together,” Sanders said.
Trump shelved his vitriol for part of the day Wednesday, denouncing the attacks at a campaign rally in Mosinee, Wisconsin.
“Acts or threats of political violence are an attack on our democracy itself,” Trump said. "We want all sides to come together in peace and harmony," he added. "We can do it."
The president’s comments for unity were met with scant and subdued clapping -- a telling moment for a Trump campaign rally, typically characterized by boisterous cheers. His remarks echoed those made earlier Wednesday, hours after authorities intercepted devices mailed to Clinton, formerObama and his favorite media foil, CNN.
Yet Trump’s condemnation of “these despicable acts” stood in contrast to the incendiary rhetoric he has deployed against Democrats and the press since he began his campaign for the presidency in 2015. On Wednesday, after his offices in New York were evacuated, CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker, whose network has been repeatedly attacked by Trump as “fake news,” laid the blame at Trump’s feet.
“There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media,” Zucker said in a statement.
But at the rally in Wisconsin, Trump said that “the media also has a responsibility to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative and oftentimes false attacks.”
“By the way, do you see how nice I’m behaving tonight?” he asked the crowd at one point. “Have you ever seen this?”
Trump spoke hours after several devices were intercepted in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Florida on Wednesday less than two weeks before elections that will determine control of Congress. His remarks Wednesday departed from his campaign appearances in recent months in which he stoked conservative anger by denouncing “evil” opponents working against him and casting Democrats as a party of violence.
"You can’t ask the country to come together when you’re tearing it apart," said Princeton University political historian Julian Zelizer. “He has used inflammatory rhetoric -- this has been an ongoing problem -- about many of the people who are targeted, including CNN. The danger is that a president can’t control how his rhetoric is used.”
Trump ran for office leading crowds in chants of “lock her up” against Clinton and has declared media organizations the “enemy of the people,” a label Soviet leaders fixed on opponents headed for the Gulag or execution.
He launched his political career with repeated, false accusations that Obama wasn’t born in the country. In recent weeks, he suggested Democratic financier George Soros is secretly behind protests of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation -- a phenomenon Trump has derided as violent mobs. He’s mocked Congresswoman Maxine Waters as "low IQ.” And earlier this month, Trump denounced former Attorney General Eric Holder as himself spouting "very dangerous" rhetoric.
Soros, Waters and Holder -- all regularly invoked as bogeyman by Trump -- were among the targets in the wave of suspicious packages reported Tuesday and Wednesday.
A package sent to CNN was addressed to former CIA Director and commentator John Brennan. Brennan has sparred with Trump, who revoked his security clearance in August, accusing him of “erratic conduct and behavior.”
De Niro, the star of “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas,” “Analyze This” and many other movies, has been an outspoken Trump critic. He denounced the president with obscenities at the Tony Awards in June, prompting Trump, while on his way back from the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, to call the actor “a very low IQ individual.”
Speaking at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday, Brennan welcomed Trump’s remarks, but added that "I sincerely wish he had said those things previously." Trump, Brennan said, "too often has helped to incite some of these feelings of anger if not violence."
Democrats and Trump detractors have employed polarizing rhetoric of their own, though their leaders don’t come close to Trump’s tone. Some Democratic lawmakers have called for the president’s impeachment. Several Trump administration officials and prominent Republicans have been driven out of restaurants by protesters. At Davos, Soros declared the Trump administration “a danger to the world.”
Political violence and strident rhetoric also aren’t new to American society. Four presidents have been assassinated. More recently, Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords and Republican Representative Steve Scalise were both shot in public places.
Yet Trump’s tweeted insults and raw rhetoric are a sharp break from the language the country is used to from its head of state.
Eliot Engel, a Democratic congressman whose district includes parts of New York City, demanded Trump “stop fomenting division.”
“The president has a moral obligation to lead here by abandoning his relentless attacks on Democrats and the press, which have only stoked the flames,” Engel said.
Supporters of the president countered that the work of a rogue individual shouldn’t be blamed on the president. Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said political violence was nothing new and that in a nation of millions, "you’re going to have some people who are just out of whack."
“I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with the president,” Hatch added. “He’s in a tough position and attacked on both sides. He ought to be able to express himself.”
Tucker Carlson, a Fox News host and vocal Trump supporter, laughed when Clinton aide Philippe Reines suggested Tuesday that Trump bears some responsibility for the suspicious device delivered to Soros.
"Elected leaders are not allowed to criticize George Soros?" Carlson said. "C’mon."
At political rallies in recent weeks, Trump has labeled Democrats “the party of crime” and warned they “want to unleash violent predators and ruthless killers” onto American streets.
“Democrats want to give illegal immigrants the right to vote,” Trump said during an Oct. 20 rally in Elko, Nevada. “I’ll tell you, we’ll go down fighting for that one.” That claim, like many of the president’s charges, isn’t true.
During a rally this month in Montana, Trump praised Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte for body-slamming a journalist last year, mimicking the assault to the cheers of the crowd.
Trump also spread several conspiracy theories about the so-called migrant caravan currently traveling through Mexico toward the U.S.
He has claimed that “unknown Middle Easterners” are part of the group, despite admitting that he had no proof. He has also claimed that Democrats are behind the group’s march toward the U.S.
Trump often uses violent themes as part of his rhetoric -- in his inaugural address, he lamented what he called “American carnage” under his predecessor. But he has sharpened his attacks on Democrats in recent weeks, as polls show Republicans in danger of losing the House.
The bitter nomination battle over Kavanaugh’s confirmation rallied Republicans around a more bare-knuckles approach to the midterms. Trump has led the charge, calling Democrats who opposed Kavanaugh “evil people.”
Trump on Wednesday said “what we can not do is let our disagreements about policy matters tear us apart. We can’t do that,” he said. “Let’s get along.”
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