Editorial: Politics of war and words

November 12, 2018

Politics is not war, but it’s close.

It is planned in skirmishes and battles. It includes secret intelligence and espionage. There are sneak attacks and guerrilla tactics. It can be planned, as in the invasion of Normandy, but is frequently engaged because of a random, inadvertent shot across the bow.

It is not just the generals and the foot soldiers who participate in the battles. Some of the most dangerous attacks come from civilians aligned with a cause.

On Wednesday, several suspicious packages were sent to current or former political officials -- Barack Obama, the Clintons. Former CIA Director John Brennan was sent one at CNN’s offices at Time Warner Center in New York City. Fortunately, those packages were intercepted.

The story rolled downhill quickly. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s package was sent back to the return address on all of them, that of congresswoman and former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters was sent one in California.

They came two days after major Democratic donor and billionaire George Soros received a similar delivery at his New York home, not far from where the Clintons live. We do not know who sent them.

The obvious threads that connect the recipients are their political affiliation and opposition to President Trump. The president has returned that antipathy.

It built from a not-so-cold war during Obama’s term in office and grew more heated as Trump and Hillary Clinton faced off in 2016. Since Trump’s inauguration, it has worsened.

But with less than two weeks until the midterm elections, after the bitter shots of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing and amidst international crises like the apparent murder of a Washington Post reporter by the Saudis and an advancing group of Central American asylum seekers to the south, it is ugly. It is hateful. It is dangerous.

Trump said after the Charlottesville white nationalist rally that ended in a dead protester and other injuries last year that there were “good people on both sides.”

In this war of words used as bullets and bundles of opinion -- some mixed with fact and some with fantasy -- lobbed like grenades, that phrase might be true. It is also undoubtedly true that there is fault on both sides.

Trump stood at a news conference Wednesday and decried the violence. He has much more often stood on a stage, sometimes literal and sometimes virtual, and encouraged or espoused hostility, frequently against the people who were mailed or delivered pipe bombs this week.

There has been more. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., was shot last year. Waters has encouraged confrontation. A Washington, D.C., pizza parlor was the subject of a 2016 conspiracy theory that ended in gunfire. Fringe media melds rumor with ideology and little thought for the consequences.

We must all begin to see what we say as bearing responsibility. We cannot scream “murder” and then be surprised when someone is shot. We cannot blow a dog whistle and be shocked at a lynching.

Politics is not war. It should not be war.

But politics can be the easiest way to start one, and all of us must stand against that.

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