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 TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation 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 ClintonJordan calls Pelosi accusing Trump of bribery 'ridiculous' DOJ watchdog won't let witnesses submit written feedback on investigation into Russia probe: report What are Republicans going to do after Donald Trump leaves office? 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 BidenJoe BidenButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California 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 RomneyOcasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field Jon Huntsman expected to run for governor in Utah Trump Jr's 'Triggered' debuts at No. 1 on NY Times bestseller list 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 SchumerOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary Schumer blocks drug pricing measure during Senate fight, seeking larger action MORE (N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump knocks testimony from 'Never Trumpers' at Louisiana rally Jordan calls Pelosi accusing Trump of bribery 'ridiculous' USMCA deal close, but not 'imminent,' Democrats say 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 ScaliseLive updates on impeachment: Schiff fires warning at GOP over whistleblower Bottom Line Trump allies assail impeachment on process while House Democrats promise open hearings soon 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 WatersWhite House, McConnell come out against House bill on Ex-Im Bank Divides over China, fossil fuels threaten House deal to reboot Ex-Im Bank Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers unleash on Zuckerberg | House passes third election interference bill | Online extremism legislation advances in House | Google claims quantum computing breakthrough MORE (Calif.) and former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderPelosi refers to Sinclair's Rosen as 'Mr. Republican Talking Points' over whistleblower question Krystal Ball: Billionaires panicking over Sanders candidacy Obama celebrates 'great night for our country' after Democrats' victories in Virginia and Kentucky MORE

The package intended for delivery to Holder was returned, but to an office affiliated with Rep. Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Dem rep defends calling Ken Cuccinelli a white supremacist Both sides claim win in White House official's impeachment testimony 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 BrennanThe curious timeline for taking down Trump Brennan: Russian election interference 'changed the mind of at least one voter' Brennan responds to Trump tweet with advice for diplomats, intelligence agents and 'other courageous patriots' 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.