The past week has seen the nation grapple with violence being blamed on a toxic political environment in the country.
The media and his political foes blame President Donald Trump. The president blames the media.
Both are right – and wrong.
Bombs being mailed to leading Democrats is a serious matter – whether they were intended to go off or just scare. As CNN received one of the packages, the cable network provided non-stop coverage of the matter over days, with its news anchors mixing in opinion with reporting. And routinely that opinion, with guest analysts weighing in, focused on Trump as the architect of a political environment devoid of civility.
There was very little balance by way of reporting on the harsh words by Democrats about the president and other Republicans, nor the call by leading Democrats to harass Republicans wherever they can be found.
No wonder Trump continues to call out the media for its reporting. The criticism is more than the president not liking stories that are negative toward him or his administration. It is a pattern by some in the media simply not to give the president fair play in reporting.
That is not good journalism.
For his part, the president’s unconventional, confrontational style has created an environment in which political discourse grows increasingly nasty. He has few or no respectful words for opponents and counter punches with a vengeance when attacked. It is inevitable that he will get brushback from those he criticizes. The back and forth hardens hearts and gives Americans the look of a government in which compromise is impossible.
Among some in our midst, the rhetoric foments genuine hate. Couple that with instability and a willingness to hurt others and you get actions such as mailing bombs, the killing of two African-Americans at a Kentucky grocery store and a massacre at a Jewish synagogue in Pennsylvania – though all should be careful in reaching conclusions about exactly what sparked the culprits in the cases to take such actions.
We always have been an advocate of civility in government because the American political process is built around compromise, which is hard to find when opposing sides are busier attacking than looking for ways to make the system work.
And that brings us to former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, the Bamberg County native serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She has first-hand experience in dealing with deeply divisive politics amid a catastrophe such as the Emanuel Nine church massacre in Charleston in 2015. She offers perspective, none more pertinent to today than her serious words at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in October.
Amid jokes that are an expected part of the occasion, Haley struck a serious tone and called for greater civility in America.
"In our toxic political environment, I've heard some people in both parties describe their opponents as enemies or evil," Haley said. "In America, our political opponents are not evil."
"In South Sudan, where rape is routinely used as a weapon of war — that is evil. In Syria, where the dictator uses chemical weapons to murder innocent children — that is evil,” she said. “In North Korea, where American student Otto Warmbier was tortured to death — that was evil.
"In the last two years, I've seen true evil," she said. "We have some serious political differences here at home. But our opponents are not evil. They're just our opponents."
Further, it is as dangerous as it is wrong to portray opponents as evil enemies. Even as he works aggressively for political victory, the president cannot take the scorched-earth approach to politics. He must pay more than lip service to fostering unity.
In doing the same, his political foes must realize they have as much obligation as Trump in fostering civility in government and politics – and among the American people.