The swift arrest of a Florida suspect in a nationwide bomb scare brings relief to Americans of all political stripes. As should the fact that none of the devices – sent to a dozen or so prominent Democrats and critics of President Donald Trump – exploded.
Americans don't settle their political disputes with violence; they settle them at the ballot box. Although if that's the democratic ideal, it's not always the reality.
As a nation, we're divided into political and demographic tribes. But we do pull together under threat. This mail bomb spree was more than an attack on one party. It was an attack on the country's political system, its democratic foundations.
This episode reminded us that politically inspired terror is ecumenical in its reach. It stalks a baseball field where a former Bernie Sanders volunteer doesn't open fire on a congressional baseball team until he makes sure the players are Republicans. It arrives in packages, believed to be laced with the poison ricin, sent earlier this month to the president and the Pentagon.
Now comes the inevitable next chapter, exploited by internet conspirators and pugnacious internet trolls: What, or who, might have motivated the suspect, Cesar Sayoc Jr.?
Many will suggest that the prime suspect there is Trump, who has thrilled some voters but revolted others with reckless, incendiary language. All political leaders take on their foes; Trump demonizes opponents and calls those of us in the news media "enemies of the people." His attacks are personal and mean-spirited.
That said, we don't know if Sayoc, if guilty, was taking his cue from Trump or from overlords on Mars. Millions of Americans hear Trump's combustible rhetoric yet don't rush to the post office with pipe bombs. Which is not to absolve Trump, or any politician of any party, for whipping up passions by dehumanizing the opposition. We'd counsel Trump – yet again – to tone it down for the benefit of the nation.
Speaking after the arrest Friday, Trump said, "We must never allow political violence to take root in America." That may be dutiful and heartwarming, but it belies the history of a nation born in revolution. Political violence, assassination included, punctuates America's past. Yet in incidents like this, political violence flouts American values.
That's why the vast majority of citizens, even rabid partisans, denounce physical acts as a way to make a political point. Policy differences do fray tempers. Disputes on Capitol Hill, or in City Hall, always will be rancorous. But that should be the outer limit.
Every American will now watch as our justice system takes over. Here's what happens to those who threaten violence and get caught: prosecution, perhaps conviction, and if so, punishment. We hope that epilogue deters the next would-be political terrorist.
– Chicago Tribune