Steve Robino arranges packages on a conveyor belt at the main post office in Omaha, Nebraska, Dec. 14, 2017. Credit: Nati Harnik | AP

Wednesday has already been one of those days when you feel the country has descended into madness. The Post reports:

“The Secret Service said Wednesday that it had intercepted packages containing ‘potential explosive devices’ addressed to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in New York and former president Barack Obama in Washington.

“The devices were recovered not long after an explosive device was found in a mailbox at the Bedford, N.Y., home of George Soros, the liberal philanthropist who is a frequent target of criticism from far-right groups.”

CNN’s New York office was also evacuated Wednesday morning after a suspicious package was delivered.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders responded with one of her best, most unequivocal statements to date on any subject:

“We condemn the attempted violent attacks recently made against President Obama, President Clinton, Secretary Clinton, and other public figures. These terrorizing acts are despicable, and anyone responsible will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. The United States Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies are investigating and will take all appropriate actions to protect anyone threatened by these cowards.”

We’re about to launch into a discussion as to whether overheated, hyperpartisan rhetoric induces violence. We shouldn’t go down that road. Let’s all acknowledge the obvious: Some evil or mentally unstable people will commit violence despite what public figures say; some portion of evil or mentally unstable people will be inspired by what public figures say.

Rather than debate cause and effect, we should — but surely won’t — take the opportunity to rebuke racist, hysterical rhetoric and statements that even hint at violence, regardless of who the source is. We should do so in any case, but we should at the very least use these events to remind us of our basic, human obligations. We should also end the corruption of language, whereby we call peaceful protesters a “mob” and some members of a neo-Nazi march “fine people.” Loud demonstrators exercising their First Amendment rights are not a threat to law and order. Encouraging police to rough up suspects does promote lawlessness.

We’re also going to hear a lot of moral equivalence and whataboutism. Both sides are over the top. Both sides are too partisan. Let me be clear: Only one party calls for its opponents to be locked up, calls the free press the “enemy of the people,” incites violence at rallies, praises an act of criminal violence by a congressman, deploys race-baiting and xenophobia as a political tactic and stokes fear of crime at a time it is at record lows.

To be more precise, the president of the United States does all these things, and by and large, Republicans condone or at the very least ignore him. Afraid of their own shadows and of their own base, Republicans choose to turn a blind eye when Trump whips his crowd into a frenzy — and the audience turns its venom on the media covering the event.

We are not saying Trump causes bomb threats; we are saying his rhetoric is unlike any of his predecessors, does damage to our democracy and can motivate fringe characters to behave violently. He systematically destroys comity, decency and rationality in the public square. The violence understandably gets the attention of the public, and of the White House. But the “it’s only words” or “ignore the tweets” or “so he lies” mentality that Republicans use to defend Trump must end. His rhetoric is indefensible. Period.

While Sanders deserves praise for her most recent statement, one has to ask how she remains in an administration in which her boss cheers an assault against a reporter or calls the press “the enemy of the people.” Those inside the White House have moral obligations as well. It’s beyond time they implore the president to sound like one — and leave if he doesn’t.

Jennifer Rubin is a columnist for The Washington Post. Follow her @JRubinBlogger.

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