This past week has certainly been a tragic one for this nation. Hot off the heels of the arrest of Cesar Sayoc for sending pipe bombs to several people President Donald Trump has verbally attacked on the campaign trail, Robert Bowers was arrested and charged with the murder of 11 people at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last Saturday. Not only is this the latest mass shooting tragedy to rock the nation, but it’s also the most disturbing sign yet of how unbridled hate has caused a very clear and present danger to our democracy.
First, it was a critical mass of pipe bombs. Then, it was a mass shooting.
Last week, the nation was shocked enough when reports surfaced of pipe bombs targeting Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Eric Holder, John Brennan, George Soros, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California), and several other prominent national leaders. The common thread: They’ve all been publicly attacked by Trump and the Republican Party. And now, we know that they were all sent bombs by one Cesar Sayoc of Aventura, Florida.
Just hours after Sayoc’s arrest, news broke of an active shooting in Pittsburgh. Ultimately, 11 people were shot dead inside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh’s historically Jewish-American Squirrel Hill neighborhood. This mass shooting is the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.
Both Cesar Sayoc and Robert Bowers had extensive histories of engaging in extremist hate speech on social media. In Bowers’ case, his affinity for “killing Jews” was so extreme that he gravitated to Gab, a social media network that’s dedicated to the free flow of the kind of “free speech” (as in, freely promoting white supremacist activism and fringe conspiracy theories). Ultimately, both Sayoc and Bowers utilized the vast array of online social media to find like-minded extremists who were united in their hatred of people of color. And both events came on the heels of two African-Americans being shot dead outside a Kroger supermarket in Louisville, Kentucky.
As Americans mourn these tragedies, Trump continues to revel in rage and hate.
Trump delivers scripted remarks abt bombing, ending with shout out to crowd chanting CNN sucks. pic.twitter.com/koHgcVIe7X
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) October 27, 2018
As Americans try to make sense of what’s happened to their country this past week, Donald Trump and his administration refuse to relent in their “culture war” against political enemies. Right out of the gate, Trump blamed the Tree of Life Shooting on the lack of armed guards at the synagogue and on the so-called “FAKE NEWS MEDIA!” who report on real news that he doesn’t want reported. Then yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders exclaimed that the White House would “continue to fight back” against anyone who criticizes Trump while scolding the victims of Sayoc’s bomb threats for criticizing Trump. And last night, Vice President Mike Pence decided to “honor” the Pittsburgh victims by having a Christian “rabbi” (who’s part of a Christian fundamentalist movement to convert Jews) pray at a campaign rally in Michigan… And ask for divine intervention to lift Republicans to victory next week.
And in case that wasn’t enough of a weapon of mass distraction, Trump then began to make a show out of his desire to issue an executive order to cancel the 14th Amendment, which guarantees birthright citizenship to every American. The 14th Amendment was one of the constitutional amendments passed after the Civil War to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision and guarantee equal citizenship rights to all Americans regardless of race or class. Over 150 years later, Trump is essentially daring the federal courts to stop him should he actually follow through on this latest threat.
Though Trump isn’t talking about bringing back slavery or explicitly proclaiming that African-Americans are inferior to white Americans, his latest attack on immigrant communities fits into his larger narrative of “culture war” that pits his overwhelmingly straight, white, male, and Christian-identifying supporters against all “the others”. While he alternates among Latinx immigrants, any African-Americans who ever challenge him, women who have survived sexual assault, and transgender Americans, the theme remains the same: “It’s you against them, and I’m always looking out for you.”
How did a somber moment become a debate over “momentum”?
Did Axios give any thought to fact that no President can do this? Congress can't even do this. https://t.co/nLJGSfDEeE
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) October 30, 2018
Don’t be fooled by Trump’s “tough talk” of “law and order”: His recent words and actions are part of his last-minute “Hail Mary” to save Republicans’ endangered Congressional majorities. With D.C. pundits finally relying less on partisan spin and more on real numbers, the talk has turned from “Trump bump” and “Kava-mentum” to “Oh wait, have Democrats regained momentum after all?”
As a result, Trump is engaging in his tried and true tactic of changing the subject. Even in the wake of another horrific mass shooting, Trump foregoes the typical American tradition of the President stepping in as “Comforter-in-Chief”, and instead adds more fuel to the fire of hateful extremism that’s burning across the country, just so he can appeal to voters who might share his concerns over “economic anxiety“
This leads us back to Trump’s fear of Republicans losing next Tuesday. Last month Trump ramped up the hateful rhetoric when he rallied with U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R), Gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt (R), and other Nevada Republicans here in Las Vegas, and Trump did it again alongside Heller in Elko this month. Thus far none of these Republicans has called on Trump to stop fanning the flames of hate. Instead, they continue to praise Trump and emulate his rhetoric.
Frankly, it feels so morbid and so bizarre that we’re discussing electoral politics in the same breath as we’re processing multiple violent tragedies. And yet, what weaves it all together is the ideology of hate that this White House continues to embrace. In about a week, we’ll know whether this campaign of hate was worthwhile for them. Yet regardless of how this election shakes out, this kind of politics is anything but good for democracy.