Pittsburgh, Kroger, pipe bombs and Trump
Grief and outrage are prompting this op-ed. Eleven Jews have been murdered in an outburst of anti-Semitic hatred in a Pittsburgh synagogue; 14 pipe bombs were sent to prominent Democrats across the country only three days earlier; and sandwiched in between, an elderly black man and woman were shot and killed in front of a Kroger grocery store in Jefferson, Kentucky. All in the week prior to the Nov. 6 elections.
All the perpetrators have been apprehended by the police and FBI: a middle-aged man chanting “All Jews must die” in Pittsburgh; another, racist epithets in Jefferson; and, in West Palm Beach, another intent on harming, probably killing Democratic politicians and their supporters singled out by Trump for verbal attack. These included “Crooked Hillary,” two former U.S. presidents and George Soros, the Jewish financier and alleged money man behind the anti-Trump protests. Each of the three meet the FBI profile of individuals intent on mass murder — middle-aged men laden with grievances and seeking retribution for offences committed against them or a person or persons they revered.
In this instance, the aggrieved person appears to be President Trump, and each of the assailants took on the responsibility of punishing the targets of Trump’s tweets or electoral rally rants: black and brown persons, “illegal” immigrants, Muslims, Jews, Democrats and Liberals, journalists or the purveyors of “fake news.” In short, the “others,” scapegoated to stir up fear and hatred in the country’s white majority group.
Trump is not the first U.S. president to use race-baiting to promote his political agenda. In the 20th century, there’s Woodrow Wilson, who legitimized the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan when he viewed D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” in the White House in May 1915. Next came Richard Nixon with his “Southern Strategy” for the election of 1972 — the “law and order” president who would protect the “silent (white) majority” from “the blacks (who) are the problem.”
A few years later, Ronald Reagan brandished the phrase “(black) welfare queens driving welfare Cadillacs” as a constant trope during his 1980 campaign rallies, much as Trump has demonized “immigrants,” his code word for brown-skinned Latinos, particularly Mexicans. Reagan also kicked off his first campaign for president at the Neshoba County Fairgrounds, 7 miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, where the civil rights workers Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman were murdered by Klan members 16 years earlier.
Bush the elder, Reagan’s vice president, picked up on these themes and used his “Willie Horton” TV ad during the 1988 campaign to remind voters that the Republicans were the “law and order” party, the only ones capable of protecting Americans from the crazed and depraved black man portrayed in the ad. Just this past Halloween Wednesday, Trump tweeted his own Horton variation: a video featuring Luis Bracamontes, an undocumented immigrant and drug dealer who killed two California police officers after Democrats, in Trump’s telling, neglected to deport him.
Bush Jr., after the 9/11 attack, freed his VP, Dick Cheney, to stir Americans’ fears, blaming radical Muslims and, by implication, all Muslims for the killing of 3,000 Americans. Which let loose a flood of fear and hatred aimed at Muslims in this country and in Europe, which has led us into unending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It has also allowed Trump, in his less than two years in office, to label black-skinned countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Central America as “shithole countries”; to ban travel to the U.S. of residents from eight other countries in Africa, South America, the Middle East and the Far East; and to propose building a $30 billion war to keep out the brown-skinned hordes from Mexico and Central America.
Trump came to the presidency as the anti-Obama, determined to undo whatever his predecessor had done, the “first white president,” as Ta Nehisi Coates has labelled him — not president of all Americans but only of those who are white. I’m most concerned about his self-identification with white nationalism and his denigration of all “other” Americans. Most immediately, I’m disgusted with his disrespect and ultimate contempt for the Jews killed and wounded in Pittsburgh — depicting the shootings as an inconvenience that slowed the electoral momentum he had been building, and blaming the victims and the members of Tree of Life for their short-sightedness in failing to hire an armed security guard. In short, proffering the NRA solution rather than examining and taking responsibility for his own malignant rhetoric and that of his white supremacist supporters.
Over the past almost two years, Mr. Trump has remained immune to confrontation and criticism. Since he offers no response to disagreements and challenges addressed to him other than to denigrate them and those who present them, he appears to have discouraged the most easily dissuaded journalists from pursuing him over his lies and provocations. His fellow Republicans have embraced him, and most Democrats have given up. I haven’t heard any of the Democratic or Republican candidates for office here in the North Country question and disavow his failure to calm the waters after last week’s outbreak of hate and violence and to offer comfort and solace to the victims. To worsen matters, none of them has, either.
And what of those of us who live here? What have we to say? I know folks here in the North Country, at their best, are wise and kind and know when wrongs have been committed. I personally believe our collective interests lie with all Americans of all colors and creeds and that our self-identity as Americans will best be respected and protected by those who believe in equal protection under the law and the universal benefits of democracy for all. Ultimately, Mr. Trump is a “zero sum” guy who believes in winning at all costs, regardless of the consequences for most Americans and the U.S. of A. That is not the American way, not in the 21st century. Democracy is spoken here and will continue to be, regardless of the outcomes of the Nov. 6 elections.
Jack Carney, DSW, lives in Long Lake.