President's reckless remarks widen country's rift

As Donald Trump’s political survival enters a fretful phase, the president’s attacks on the investigations into Russian collusion and obstruction of justice are becoming more ominous.

Trump has escalated his aggressive assaults on special counsel Robert Mueller and at new investigations launched by House Democrats.

In a disturbing interview with Breitbart News, Trump hinted at violence to come if his presidency is threatened by the investigations’ findings, and his supporters mobilize to defend him.

“I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people,” Trump said. “But they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point. And then it would be very bad, very bad.”

It is very bad already. The country is cleaved fiercely along a partisan divide. Trump is a wedge widening that rift. Those comments he made to Breitbart were reckless in the extreme.

This newspaper rarely agrees with Steve Bannon, a Trump whisperer who managed the presidential campaign and served as White House chief strategist. Bannon predicted last week that 2019 “is going to be as ugly as any year in American politics since the Civil War.” We fear Bannon is right.

Every week, new revelations undermine the president’s situation. The investigations’ findings will pose potential political humiliation for Trump, his family and his business organization. The possibility of criminal indictments and/or impeachment loom. At a minimum, Trump will launch his 2020 re-election campaign as a weakened, scandal-plagued candidate.

Like a doomed royal in the third act of a Shakespearean tragedy, Trump is consumed by dashed ambitions and thoughts of revenge. With the Breitbart interview, he raised the horrible specter of violence pitting his supporters against their fellow Americans.

The fraught situation was further enflamed a week ago when a white-nationalist gunman with an assault rifle massacred 50 Muslim worshippers at two New Zealand mosques. The admitted gunman, Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant, had previously issued a 74-page internet manifesto that carried an endorsement for Trump’s brand of nationalism.

“Were/are you a supporter of Donald Trump?” the manifesto asks. And the answer: “As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policy maker and leader? Dear god, no.”

In the aftermath, Trump should have strongly condemned the growing threat of white nationalist terrorism. Trump should have adamantly disassociated himself from being considered a poster boy for the Islamophobia that spawned the savagery.

To his credit, Trump did extend his “warmest sympathies and best wishes” to the New Zealand victims and their families. He also condemned “the monstrous terror attacks” on the “sacred places of worship.”

But Trump downplayed the massacre as part of a larger global upsurge in white-nationalist violence. “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.” Trump said.

The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, implored Trump to express “sympathy and love for all Muslim communities,” on behalf of the American people. Instead, he renewed his splenetic Twitter attacks on his perceived media enemies. He lamented that “the fake news media is working overtime to blame me for the horrible attack in New Zealand.”

President Trump is not to blame for the massacre. But he has a record of anti-Islamic rhetoric. In 2015, he accused President Obama of weakness for not calling out “radical Islam” for the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. One of Trump’s first acts as president was to impose a travel ban on people entering the United States from several Muslim countries.

There were 1,020 hate groups identified in the US in 2018, the highest number ever reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The FBI reported that hate crimes increased by 17 percent last year. The Anti-Defamation League warned that “white supremacy” is becoming “an international terror threat.”

Whether he intended to or not, Trump has tapped into those hate groups. His disturbing quotes in the Breitbart interview only add fuel to that fire. 

The president is stoking animosity among Americans who hold different political, religious or cultural beliefs. As his presidency comes under increasing threat, Trump is playing a dangerous game with the welfare of the country. 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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