The Memo: Bomb attacks expose festering divisions 

Partisan enmity, incendiary rhetoric and polarization were under a more intense spotlight than ever Wednesday after crude explosive devices were sent to several leading Democratic politicians and to CNN.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi pulls State of the Union surprise on Trump IRS waiving penalty for some in first filing season under Trump's tax law How Pelosi is punishing some critics while rewarding others MORE, addressing the crisis briefly at the White House, insisted that “we have to unify, we have to come together.”

But Democrats and liberal commentators reacted with scorn to that message, pointing the finger at Trump for injecting toxins into the nation’s political bloodstream.

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Trump was accused of encouraging violence at his rallies during the 2016 presidential race, on one occasion pledging to pay the legal fees of anyone who were to “knock the crap” out of protestors. 

He has consistently called his 2016 Democratic opponent Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGillibrand announces exploratory committee to run for president on Colbert Former PepsiCo CEO being considered for World Bank chief post: report Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing MORE — one of the targets of this week's attacks — “crooked.” And he has blasted the news media as the “enemy of the American people.”

During his White House remarks on Wednesday, however, he said that “acts and threats of political violence have no place in the United States of America.” He also described the attacks as “egregious” and “abhorrent.”

There were other calls on unity from both sides. 

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenHow Pelosi is punishing some critics while rewarding others Julián Castro calls for ‘tuition-free’ public colleges, apprenticeships Sanders to meet with staffers as he does damage control MORE tweeted that “this country has to come together. This division, this hatred, this ugliness has to end.” 

2012 GOP presidential nominee — and current Senate candidate — Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King Des Moines Register calls on Steve King to resign MORE said that “hate acts follow hate speech. It is past time for us to turn down and tune out the rabid rhetoric.”

But that looks to be easier said than done. 

Polarization in the United States has been growing for decades. Trump’s rise was, at the least, a symptom as much as a cause of chasms that have been widened by numerous factors: the rise of talk radio as far back as the 1990s, the self-perpetuating ideological dynamics of social media and an overall rise in partisan sentiment. 

According to a Pew Research Center report from 2014 — a year before Trump even began running for president — 45 percent of people who expressed mainly conservative views said they would be “unhappy” if a family member married a Democrat. Thirty-one percent of people who expressed mainly liberal views said they would be equally displeased if a family member wed a Republican.  

In the same report, a full 50 percent of people who held “consistently conservative” views — and 35 percent of people who held “consistently liberal” views — said it was important for them to live in a place “where most people share my political views.” 

Even on Wednesday, the calls for unity were soon swallowed up by appeals that fell squarely along partisan lines.

The two leading Democrats on Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGovernment shutdown impasse is a leveraging crisis Overnight Health Care: Dem chair meets Trump health chief on drug prices | Trump officials sued over new Kentucky Medicaid work rules | Democrats vow to lift ban on federal funds for abortions We can’t tackle climate change if we ignore the main polluter — transportation MORE (N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' On The Money: Shutdown Day 25 | Dems reject White House invite for talks | Leaders nix recess with no deal | McConnell blocks second House Dem funding bill | IRS workers called back for tax-filing season | Senate bucks Trump on Russia sanctions Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (Calif.), issued a joint statement saying that Trump’s words would “ring hollow until he reverses his statements that condone acts of violence.”

Meanwhile, some hard-right figures and media provocateurs who support Trump pushed the unsupported idea that the attacks could have been “false flag” operations intended to engender sympathy for Democrats and the media.

Other, more mainstream conservatives were quick to note that the specter of political violence was not something that was only directed at figures on the left.

House Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseScalise: Trump wants Congress to solve shutdown problem Scalise on Steve King's white supremacy remarks: 'There is no place for hate' House votes to reopen Interior, EPA as shutdown fight wages on MORE (R-La.) was shot and seriously injured last year in Alexandria, Va., after a gunman attacked a group of congressional Republicans who were practicing for a charity baseball game. The shooter in that case, James Hodgkinson, held left-wing political views. He died after a shootout with police. 

Trump went ahead with a scheduled rally in Mosinee, Wis., on Wednesday evening. He delivered a somewhat more low-key oration than usual, calling the apparent use of bombs "an attack on our democracy itself" that "must be fiercely opposed and firmly prosecuted." But he also insisted that the media should "stop the endless hostility and constant negative and often false attacks and stories." 

Former President Obama and Clinton were the most prominent targets of the pipe bombs on Tuesday and Wednesday. Devices were addressed to both of their homes but were intercepted at screening facilities.

Other Democratic politicians targeted with the suspect devices included Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersMaxine Waters meets with CBS News representatives over lack of black 2020 reporters Ocasio-Cortez to join House panel overseeing financial sector On The Money: Shutdown Day 25 | Dems reject White House invite for talks | Leaders nix recess with no deal | McConnell blocks second House Dem funding bill | IRS workers called back for tax-filing season | Senate bucks Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (Calif.) and former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderProtecting voices of all voters is critical to free and fair elections Castro to headline forum in New Hampshire after announcing 2020 decision New Jersey governor calls for redistricting reform MORE

The package intended for delivery to Holder was returned, but to an office affiliated with Rep. Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzDeGette dropped from chief deputy whip spot Lawmakers call for investigation into Labor Secretary Acosta for sex offender plea deal Corsi says he will file 'criminal charges' against Mueller MORE (Fla.), the former Democratic National Committee chairwoman. A crude bomb, discovered on Monday, was also sent to liberal donor and billionaire George Soros. 

A reportedly near-identical bomb was received at CNN’s facility at the Time Warner Center in New York City on Wednesday. It was addressed to John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanBrennan calls on Congress to end shutdown before negotiating border security: Not 'subservient' to the president Washington’s reflexive opposition to Trump on Syria Brennan hopes GOP abandons Trump in 2019 over 'malfeasance, corruption' MORE, the CIA director under Obama and a prominent Trump critic. The device's discovery led to an evacuation of the building, the beginning of which occurred during a live broadcast from that location.

Trump has consistently lambasted CNN as “fake news,” and signs and merchandise attacking the network are often seen at his rallies. Outside a rally earlier this month in Erie, Pa., T-shirts proclaiming “CNN Sucks!” and rendering its full name as “Communist News Network” were on sale at one stall close to the venue. (Such stalls are private enterprises, not affiliated with the president’s political network.)

CNN President Jeff Zucker, who has often tangled with the president in the past, issued a statement in which he blasted the White House for a “total and complete lack of understanding ... about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media.” 

Zucker complained that Trump and his White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, had “shown no comprehension of that.”

But such statements, justified or not, themselves prove that the tide of polarization will not easily be turned back. And that leaves people on all points of the political spectrum fearful about what might come next.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.