President Barack Obama took the occasion at a typically apolitical event Tuesday to share his “dismay” over the recent violence and animosity that has been occurring on the 2016 campaign trail. “It has to stop,” Obama declared.
The developing aggressive behavior in politics is being accepted as “the new normal,” and everyone must reflect on how they have contributed to the “vicious” political environment, Obama said to a bipartisan group of members of Congress during House Speaker Paul Ryan’s St. Patrick’s Day luncheon.
“For it is a cycle that is not an accurate reflection of America, and it has to stop. I say that not because it’s a matter of political correctness. It’s about the way the corrosive behavior can undermine our democracy and our society and even our economy. In America there aren’t laws that say we have to be nice to each other or treat each other with respect, but there are norms. There are customs,” Obama said.
Obama’s comments about violence on the campaign trail came after protesters shut down a Donald Trump rally in Chicago on Friday, though the president did not directly mention the leading Republican candidate. At another Trump rally last week, a white man punched a black protester in the face as the demonstrator was being led out of the event.
Ryan also denounced the animosity at political rallies on Tuesday, adding that all candidates still have a responsibility to promote “harmony” and avoid rhetoric that incites violence. Obama said that he appreciated Ryan’s comments criticizing the recent campaign trail unrest, as well.
“We have heard vulgar and divisive rhetoric aimed at women and minorities and Americans who don’t look like us or pray like us or vote like we do. We’ve seen misguided attempts to shut down that speech. However offensive it may be, we live in a country where free speech is one of the most important rights that we hold. In response to those attempts we’ve seen actual violence and we’ve heard silence from too many of our leaders,” Obama said.
Since the Chicago Trump rally shutdown, both Democratic and Republican candidates have criticized what they call Trump’s divisive rhetoric on the campaign trail.
During an MSNBC town hall Monday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said Trump was responsible for the recent violence at his rallies and that he is “inciting mob violence.” Clinton’s Democratic challenger, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, also said Monday at an MSNBC town hall that Trump is enticing supporters to be violent at rallies when Trump said he would look into paying the legal fees of a supporter that was arrested after punching a protester at a North Carolina rally last week.
Republican candidate Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has said Trump was responsible for the “general tone” of unrest in the campaign, but said on Fox News that Trump was not responsible for the riot in Chicago Friday and “there’s blame to go around.” He said some of the blame should fall on Obama for “dividing Americans.” Sen. Ted Cruz, meanwhile, told reporters in Illinois Friday night after the rally shutdown, that “a campaign bears responsibility for creating an environment.” Ohio Gov. John Kasich also denounced the unrest at Trump’s Chicago rally, saying in a statement that the divisive rhetoric Trump “has been sowing this whole campaign finally bore fruit, and it was ugly.”
Talking more generally of the increased tension on the campaign trail, Obama concluded that the cycle of violence in politics can affect other parts of American society and tarnish the United States’ reputation among other countries.
“The longer that we allow the political rhetoric of late to continue and the longer that we tacitly accept it, we create a permission structure that allows the animosity in one corner of our politics to infect our broader society, and animosity breeds animosity,” Obama said.