For three long days this week, the Republican Party held its breath as a serial bomber sent a dozen devices to CNN’s New York headquarters, two former Democratic presidents, a former Democratic vice president, two former CIA directors, several elected Democrats, and Democratic activists George Soros and Tom Steyer. After months of rabid attacks on his opponents as enemies of the people, Donald Trump’s crop of crazy came to fruition this week and was almost ready for harvest. By either incompetence, luck, design flaws, or providence, none of the bombs in this campaign of political terror cost life or limb.
This hasn’t been an easy week for Trump loyalists. They spent the last 72 hours praying that the MAGA Bomber would turn out to be a false flag attack, the product of some dastardly Democratic cabal. The idea, which bubbled up from the fever swamps of Breitbart, Infowars, and the rest of the Trump-right ecosystem like a fart in a bathtub, was as illogical as it was pathetic. It couldn’t be this president’s penchant for daily political arson, right?
Twitter Javerts like Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, Ann Coulter, Frank Gaffney, John Cardillo, Laura Loomer, Jacob Wohl, and alt-right thought leader and Pizzagate promoter Jack Posobiec all jumped to sell the idea that Trump’s gushing sewer of inflammatory rhetoric could never inspire a serial bomber. Their mirror-world version of Occam’s Razor was that this must be a fiendishly clever leftist plot to disrupt the November elections. Just hours before the arrest of Cesar Sayoc, the president reinforced their fevered belief.
Introspection isn’t exactly one of this president’s strong suits, and the discovery that the MAGA Bomber was one of the millions of creatures he created, inspired, and motivated to wage war against those he describes as Enemies of the People will never trouble the placid waters of his stunningly shallow intellect. Worry about his responsibility will never penetrate the vacuum of his moral landscape. Trump made an enemies list, and then he weaponized his social media power to push that enemies list into the minds of the furious and febrile who slavishly lap up his every utterance. What, precisely, did he think would happen?
Before Republicans sputter themselves into a tu quoque seizure, calling out Trump’s inflammatory political rhetoric isn’t an excuse for political violence against Republicans. It doesn’t trivialize or ignore the acts of violence committed against members of Congress, or anyone else.
All political violence is unacceptable in a functioning republic.
All of it.
All the time.
From anyone, left, right, or otherwise.
This is why we need to look objectively at Trump’s role in this affair. No one in American political life has even a fraction of his power to inspire behavior and action. No one. It's time we recognize that Trump's unique social media presence is a weapon of radicalization. No one else in the American political landscape stokes the resentments, fears, and prejudices of his base with equal power.
Trump always misses the chance to be bigger and better. He never fails to close the door on opportunities to be a consequential leader and not a winking, simpering buffoon who holds the title but never wears the mantle of the presidency. As we saw after Charlottesville, his defiance of every American norm and his eagerness to “both sides” every argument is an extended middle finger to our republic.
What’s shocking about what we’ve seen from Sayoc’s social media feeds is just how ordinary they are in the Trump online ecosystem. The slurry of conspiracy theories (particularly all things Soros), birtherism, xenophobia, boomer memes, and MAGA spank-bank material in his Twitter and Facebook feeds is the raw distillate from Infowars, Breitbart, and Fox.
I could find dozens of similar feeds just by scanning my latest crop of trolls. Sayoc isn’t a one-off loner radicalized by a few edge-case media outlets; he's the inevitable product of an alternative-reality media silo that increasingly defines the intellectual landscape of the Trump right.
By now we've all seen Sayoc’s van. The vehicle, covered with a thick layer of pro-Trump, anti-media bumper stickers, signs, and memes, is a perfect symbol of this moment and his movement. This material isn’t an outlier; it’s definitional to Trump Republicanism. The era of Trump ended the GOP branding as the party of limited government, fiscal discipline, constitutional loyalty, and moral probity. Trump’s base defines the GOP as a party of ranty Facebook groups, garishly overwrought conspiracy theories (hello, QAnon!), and raging oppositional defiant disorder.
This is the future of the GOP under Trump; it’s not a party; it’s a backwater sub-Reddit careening from crisis to crisis, chasing an increasingly elaborate set of conspiracies to paper over the raging inconsistencies of the Dear Leader’s message and conduct.
Cesar Sayoc isn’t just some loner gone wrong. He isn’t merely a one-in-a-million Unabomber with a cabin in the woods, a crazed manifesto, and too much black powder. Sayoc is the future. Donald Trump's famously loyal base has been radicalized, and while only the tiniest fraction will resort to political violence, neither the president nor the hollow shell of the GOP will do anything to stop it.
This is a president with obvious mental and moral deficits who will say and do anything to retain power. He’s backed by a runaway “conservative” media feeding his rabid base a daily dose of conspiratorial lunacy. There is no mechanism to stop Trump’s division, radicalization, and calls to arms against his enemies.
America was lucky this week; none of the weapons exploded, and the FBI and state law enforcement moved with amazing speed to apprehend the bomber. We might not always be so lucky, particularly if this president continues to give what future Sayocs see as their marching orders.