Opinion: Politically motivated violence in Trump's America is no surprise

The US Secret Service intercepted potentially explosive packages sent to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. It's too early to focus on details, but not to conclude they come as no surprise in the wake of Trump's behavior.

Let's start with an important caveat. The investigation into the potentially explosive devices — which were mailed to the homes of former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to CNN addressed to former CIA director John Brennan, and other leaders — is still unfolding. So it is not prudent to dwell at this point on the possible nature and background of what appear to be attempted terrorist attacks, which comes on the heels of an explosive device being sent to liberal billionaire George Soros on Monday. 

But it is both possible and necessary to say that the deeply toxic, increasingly partisan American political climate has at least provided fertile ground for anyone even contemplating such politically motivated attacks. It is also both possible and necessary to say that US President Donald Trump has been the key driving force behind the unprecedented deterioration of the political climate in this country.

Read more: Ralph Nader: Trump is 'a clear and imminent danger' to the world

Inciting violence 

He ran and won his presidential race on a campaign based on fearmongering and ad hominem attacks against political rivals and the news media, which he has repeatedly labeled as the enemy of the people. He has a long-established track record of using cavalier language and vague threats against anyone who expresses disagreement or criticism of his policies or statements. Just a few examples in Clinton's case: allowing raucous crowds to chant "lock her up," proposing the "Second Amendment people" can do something to stop her, suggesting her Secret Service personnel no longer carry guns and "let's see what happens to her." It's not a leap of logic that some die-hard Trumpers could see his statements as tolerance, if not an outright call, for politically motivated violence.

After the death of a counterprotester at a right-wing march in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump — who just a day ago casually and without garnering huge media attention described himself as a "nationalist" at a Texas rally — initially hesitated to offer a clear condemnation of the right-wing extremist perpetrator.

Michael Knigge is DW's US correspondent

At his campaign rallies, he has repeatedly insinuated violence against the media and opponents. And less than two months ago, in a closed-door meeting with evangelicals, Trump warned the group of "violence" from the left should Democrats win the midterm election.

Trump's rabble-rousing rhetoric is based on a winning-at-all-cost attitude that accepts no criticism and knows no compromise. While that is a problematic disposition in a person, it is a dangerous disposition in the president of the world's most powerful nation.

Ramped-up divisions         

All of this, of course, is nothing new. But we have normalized Trump's behavior to a certain extent since he launched his then widely derided presidential campaign in a speech denouncing Mexicans as "rapists" back in the summer of 2015. 

No one is laughing about Trump any more.

Because in the brief three years since his arrival onto the political scene he has single-handedly transformed the Republican Party into his own political fighting machine. And as a consequence, he has fomented and ramped up the already existing deep divisions in the country to an extent hardly deemed possible. That some of his supporters — or anyone at all, for that matter — may interpret the president's rhetoric and behavior as a call to exert violence against his political detractors should surprise no one.

Donald Trump: deal-breaker abroad and at home

Iran nuclear deal

The "worst deal ever": That's how Donald Trump described the 2015 landmark agreement that lifted international sanctions against Iran in exchange for the country dismantling its atomic program. In May 2018 the president followed through on a campaign promise and said he would withdraw the US from the deal, which had arisen out of painstaking multi-year negotiations.

Donald Trump: deal-breaker abroad and at home

Trans-Pacific Partnership

In February 2016 then-US President Barack Obama signed the free trade agreement known as the TPP along with 11 other Pacific nations. However, it never went into effect: Shortly after taking office, Trump signed an executive order that took the US out of the deal, thus keeping it from entering into force. The scuttled TPP evolved into a new regional trade partnership — without the US.

Donald Trump: deal-breaker abroad and at home

Paris Agreement

The Paris climate accord was adopted in December 2015 after the COP 21 meeting. All 195 participating member states and the EU agreed to reduce emissions, decrease carbon output and try to rein in global warming. The US signed the accord but support was short-lived: in November 2017 Trump told the UN that the US would withdrawal from the accord at the earliest possible date, November 2019.

Donald Trump: deal-breaker abroad and at home

Domestic environmental regulations

Trump not only has undone US participation in international climate deals but also has scrapped domestic environmental regulations. Scott Pruit, Trump's head of the Environmental Protection Agency, announced in March 2018 that Obama-era vehicle emissions standards would be rolled back. And at the very start of his term, Trump also said he would review the Clean Water Act and Clean Power Plan.

Donald Trump: deal-breaker abroad and at home

Affordable Care Act

The ACA, nicknamed "Obamacare," was landmark legislation that roughly halved the number of medically uninsured Americans through program expansion and insurance mandates. Its critics, Trump among them, described it as federal government overreach that would cause skyrocketing health costs for individuals. While total repeal has failed, Republicans did do away with the mandate in 2017 tax reform.