Explosives mailed to Democrats signal 'a dangerous period of American politics,' Trump critic says

A prominent American conservative commentator says this week's slew of suspicious packages and crude explosives sent to prominent Democrats and news media reflects the intense political polarization and divisiveness in the United States.

'The presidency is the ultimate bully pulpit,' says conservative commentator Charlie Sykes

A member of the New York Police Department bomb squad is pictured outside the Time Warner Center in the Manahattan borough of New York City after a suspicious package was found inside the CNN headquarters in New York on Wednesday. (Kevin Coombs/Reuters)
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A prominent American conservative commentator says this week's slew of suspicious packages and crude explosives sent to prominent Democrats and news media reflects the intense political polarization and divisiveness in the United States.

"If you look at the rhetoric and the escalation of the rhetoric and the sense of desperation about our politics, I think we could very much be at the beginning of a very, very dangerous period of American politics," Charlie Sykes told The Current's guest host David Common.

I think we could very much be at the beginning of a very, very dangerous period of American politics.- Charlie  Sykes , conservative commentator

Several crude pipe bombs, addressed to former pre​sident Barack Obama, former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and CNN headquarters were intercepted Tuesday and Wednesday by police. Other apparent targets included New York liberal billionaire George Soros, Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters and actor Robert De Niro.

No one was hurt in any of the incidents. FBI officials provided no details about possible suspects or motives.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, left, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, centre left, Democratic Party donor George Soros, centre right, and former U.S. president Barack Obama are pictured in a composite photograph. Federal authorities are investigating packages addressed to each person. (Gretchen Ertl/Kamil Krzaczynski/Luke MacGregor/Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

Presidency 'the ultimate bully pulpit'

U.S. President Donald Trump condemned the attacks at a rally Wednesday night in Wisconsin.

"Any acts or threats of political violence are an attack on our democracy itself," Trump said. "We want all sides to come together in peace and harmony."

The appeal didn't convince Sykes.

"The presidency is the ultimate bully pulpit. It is the ultimate megaphone," he said. Chants of "lock her up," referring to Clinton, and "CNN sucks" regularly erupted from Trump's audience, he said.

However, Sykes said that the current American political climate is "relatively" more peaceful than some periods in the past, particularly the 1960s, which were marked by a raft of politically motivated assassinations.

He's worried that the current situation could escalate before it gets better.

"To be quite honest, David, I am terrified," he told Common.

Heated moments in U.S. history

Historian Joanne Freeman drew some parallels from the current political climate to some of the most heated periods in U.S.'s past.

"In the 1790s, the debate, really more than anything else, was about the democratization of politics. In the 1850s, it was about the place of slavery in American society. In the 1960s, there were two very different visions of what Americans, and America, should be," she said.

"And I think this moment clearly falls in line … and during these moments, people tend to step away from rules. They tend to see everything in extremes, and there is violence during those kinds of moments."

This screenshot from WNBC shows a New York City bomb squad vehicle leaving the Tribeca neighbourhood Thursday morning after removing a suspicious package that may be linked to the pipe bombs sent to prominent Democrats. (WNBC)

Freeman, a resident of New York City, noted that police have warned about suspicious packages and apparent bombs, either left in public or sent through the mail.

But she was troubled by the fact that every package intercepted in the last 24 hours were either sent to prominent figures on America's political left, or perceived critics and opponents of Trump.

"It's the fact that there's a widespread, targeted nature of the spreading of this kind of a threat that is most alarming," she said.

Click the listen button above to hear the full conversation.

  • Charlie Sykes is a conservative commentator and author of How The Right Lost Its Mind.
  • Joanne Freeman is a professor of history in American studies at Yale University and co-host of the historical podcast "Backstory". Her latest book is The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War.

Written by Jonathan Ore with files from The Associated Press. Produced by Howard Goldenthal and Kristin Nelson.