SALT LAKE CITY — Republican Rep. Chris Stewart says it’s “insane” in America to not be able to have political arguments and discussions without them leading to violence.
“We’ve crossed a line, I think, where if you’re on the opposite side of the political prism the assumption is you’re actually a bad person, and it didn’t used to be that way,” he told Fox News on Thursday.
And “there’s going to be injuries and death from that and all because of a political debate,” he said. “It’s just nuts for us to find ourselves in this position.”
Members of Utah’s all-Republican congressional delegation expressed similar thoughts as authorities investigate bombs mailed to prominent Democrats across the country.
In the past two days, 10 suspicious packages were sent to people who have sharply criticized President Donald Trump, and who have been on the other end of Trump’s harsh verbal attacks.
Former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former Democratic National Committee head Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., former CIA Director John Brennan, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., billionaire mega-donor George Soros and actor Robert DeNiro all were sent packages containing potentially explosive devices.
Stewart said it appears they were targeted because they’ve been engaged in political discussions.
“This is a political conversation that someone’s trying to have through a means of violence,” he said, noting his Washington, D.C., office building was evacuated Thursday due to an undisclosed threat.
Trump condemned the attempted bombings and called for unity, saying political figures “must stop treating political opponents as morally defective.” He then went on to blame the media for the incivility.
A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News. It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!,” Trump tweeted.
Rep. John Curtis suggested there’s plenty of blame to go around.
“I think the bombs are very clearly a symptom of something that is far larger than one person,” he said. “This is a good time for all of us to take a hard look at ourselves — our rhetoric, the way we treat people.”
Curtis said while Trump “needs to be a leader in this,” no single person or institution is responsible for what he termed “the caustic nature of almost everybody on every issue, everywhere you go.”
The newest member of Utah’s congressional delegation said he’s felt pressure since taking office a year ago to respond to the president “with the same type of vitriol they sense coming from the White House, so it escalates.”
Blasting the president, he said, just continues the cycle, as do some of Trump’s own statements.
Curtis said while the news media doesn’t bear the “primary responsibility,” there needs to be the same self-evaluation among journalists as everyone else.
“I wish the president would communicate with more care and compassion. I wish we all would,” he said. “I wish we could talk about each other in ways that de-escalate the anger instead of increasing it.”
Stewart said it’s not surprising the country finds itself in the current climate.
“I think that everyone, and I mean everyone, needs to take a breath and look at their own rhetoric and ask themselves, ‘Is this inflaming the conversation or is this moderating the conversation?'” he said.
“It’s a heated time in our society, there’s no question about it,” Stewart said. “But you can have a political dialog without assuming that the other person is an enemy to our country or that the other person is a bad person who would like to destroy our country.”
Rep. Mia Love agreed and said violence is never an acceptable reaction to political disagreements.
“We live in an atmosphere where differing political viewpoints are sparking strong emotions and debates, and our discourse seems to have devolved into personal insults and character attacks,” she said. “But allowing those emotions to rise to the level of violence and threats of physical harm are never OK. Period.”
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said bombs were sent in an act of cowardice and those responsible must be found and face the full force of the justice system.
Curtis said he doesn’t see the same friction in the town hall meetings he’s holding throughout the 3rd Congressional District.
“There’s too much of this on all sides,” he said. “I’m going to use the love word. The caring that seems to be missing in our political dialog right now, caring about other people, I think we do well in Utah.”