Trump's Anti-Press Rhetoric Is Irresponsible, Even If the Bomber Is Just a Crazy Person

Trump: "We must never allow political violence to take root in America."


Oliver Contreras/Sipa USA/Newscom

Authorities have arrested Cesar Sayoc, a 56-year-old resident of Florida, in connection with the dozen explosive packages mailed to the Clintons, the Obamas, CNN, and other political and media figures.

From what we can tell—based on his van and crazy social media ramblings—Sayoc seems like a textbook unhinged far-right troll. He worships President Trump and is violently obsessed with denigrating the media and Democrats. He appears to buy into every stereotypical right-wing conspiracy, from David Hogg being a crisis actor to Obama's missing birth certificate.

Sayoc also possesses a criminal record, and he was charged with making a bomb threat way back in 2002.

It's tempting to place some of the blame here on unhinged right-wing rhetoric. Unlike Jared Lee Loughner—whose motivations for shooting Gabby Giffords turned out to have nothing to do with Sarah Palin, or with right-wing politics in general, contrary to what many in the media continue to assert—Sayoc seems at first blush like a conventionally right-wing crazy person (at least in the Alex Jones sense) who was fired up about the sort of issues that animate the #MAGA fever swamps of social media.

We might learn new facts that complicate this narrative. Or we might not. Either way, ultimate blame lies with the person who committed the crime, not overheated rhetoric. Just as you shouldn't blame Sen. Bernie Sanders for the shooting of Steve Scalise, Trump is not directly responsible for those suspicious packages.

That said, Trump's statements about the media—CNN, in particular—are truly vile, and he should tone them down considerably. Calling the press "the enemy of the people" is something demagogues do. It's one thing to encourage healthy skepticism of mainstream narratives; it's quite another for the president to deliberately sow distrust of anyone trying to hold him accountable.

Trump spoke to attendees of Turning Point USA's Young Black Leadership Summit on Friday afternoon. He began by thanking law enforcement for their excellent work finding Sayoc so quickly.

"These terrorizing acts are despicable and have no place in our country," he said. "We must never allow political violence to take root in America. I am committed to do everything in my power to stop it, and stop it now."

Trump's subsequent remarks included none of the overheated anti-media denunciations that have become a common staple of his campaign rallies. It would be better for the country if this became the new normal, whether or not the president's anti-CNN screeds played any role in inspiring the bomb scares.