Democracy was firebombed last weekend in North Carolina. The competition of ideas was burned, vigorous debate was charred, free speech was defaced.
The news that a North Carolina Republican headquarters had been torched was sickening and disheartening – not just for Republicans, but for all Americans who understand our country thrives in part because we choose our government leaders with free elections, not through intimidation or violence.
That’s why, even in such a vitriolic election year, people across the political spectrum came together to denounce the attack, from Hillary Clinton to N.C. GOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse. Democrats started a Gofundme page and in less than an hour had raised $13,000 to help repair the Hillsborough County Republican headquarters. Some may dismiss that as a political stunt, but it was an encouraging and proper response.
Others from across the spectrum, though, instantly leapt to conclusions about who was responsible, and they tried to capitalize on the incident politically. Though authorities don’t know who did it, Twitter does: the Left. The Right. The Media. Those who placed blame without knowing facts contribute to our crumbling discourse.
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“Animals representing Hillary Clinton and Dems in North Carolina just firebombed our office in Orange County because we are winning,” Donald Trump tweeted.
“Violent left-wing Hillary Clinton fascists” were to blame, according to the “hillaryisdeplorable” Twitter account.
Jim Blaine, Senate leader Phil Berger’s chief of staff, tweeted that the editorial page editors of the Observer and the (Raleigh) News & Observer were “getting what they want” from the bombing.
Those on the left were also irresponsible in declaring, with no evidence, that the attack was the work of Republican operatives who wanted to make Democrats look bad.
No one yet knows who was responsible. Maybe it was a Democratic extremist. Maybe it was a scheming Republican. Maybe it was a drunk teenager.
That will come out eventually, perhaps. What we know now is that the act violated American principles and should be met with bipartisan intolerance. The attack goes far beyond the heated rhetoric that has marked this election year, though it’s possible it was inspired by that rhetoric.
Whoever was responsible, we need to hope it was an isolated case, and that it doesn’t prompt anything similar or worse in the final weeks of what has been a dispiriting campaign.
The tenor of this election is bordering on dangerous. The Arizona Republic, for instance, received death threats after endorsing a Democrat for president for the first time in its history. Publisher Mi-Ai Parrish wrote a moving piece last weekend in response. She talked about staffers who know free speech requires compassion, bravery and open debate.
U.S. Sen. Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, in calling for a bipartisan approach to foreign policy, declared in 1947 that partisan politics stops at the water’s edge. It must stop, also, when a flaming bottle shatters a storefront window.