I don’t know about you, but I feel stunned. I feel like I have received three body blows and cannot yet catch my breath. I was thinking about how to respond to an attempt to decapitate the Democratic party (including TWO former Presidents) and other targets of Trump including CNN by Ceasar Sayoc, when Gregory Alan Bush murdered two people – Maurice Stallard and Vickie Jones – in an act of frustrated hate violence. He wanted to attack an African American church. Then before another breath, Robert Bowers attacks the Tree of Life Synagogue murdering eleven congregants, and wounding two more, then also wounding four police officers. Three high visibility crimes driven by one thing – hate. These are all acts of domestic terrorism, regardless that the FBI and law enforcement seem to want to minimize the reality of domestic terrorism. Watching President Trump ask those at a political rally whether he should tone it down, the response was “NO!”. At the same rally were cries “CNN sucks” (also found on a sticker on Sayoc’s van).
Trump (other than promoting the death penalty) sees no connection to himself, nor the people he (and almost everyone else) writes off as “wackos.” I fear they are not wackos, but the tip of a spear.
There has been a long process of nurturing hate in this country. It is part of our history, and while there has been a long fight against it, at some point things turned. I have repeatedly witnessed the vitriol against affirmative action, against LGTBQ folks being open and integrated parts of their communities, against women’s reproductive freedom, against (perceived) Muslims, against (brown) immigrants, against, against non-whites in general. On the other hand, I have also witnessed the rise of perceived victimhood by those who are far from victims. Most notably these include certain groups of Christians, whites (and especially white heterosexual men), and the financially well off. While some of this “push back” is decades old and goes back to the legislation and/or legal decisions that spawned them, the real turning point was September 11, 2001. Or perhaps more specifically, the response to September 11, 2001. At least on a racial basis we lost at least 50 years of civil rights advancement at that time. For too many the only “real” Americans were white Americans. From that point, we have seen an escalation of both attacks on civil liberties (with some exceptions for LGBTQ issues) and in people being more vocal in those attacks.
Into this environment steps Donald Trump, first as a candidate and then the President. There are no two ways about it, Trump is toxic. He thrives on anger, hate, and victimhood. He has framed himself as the Victim-In-Chief taking the “body blows” of his critics and the “fake news” press for America the victim of the world and of whites – particularly white males. He is the ultimate aggrieved party and his rage is not cathartic, it is the blaze into which he constantly pours the fuel of fear and hate. Below are the faces of white men who hate, and certainly see themselves as victims taking action to save “their” country.
Trump refuses to acknowledge his part in fueling what is going on. Instead, he blames his detractors and the “enemy of the people” press. It is their responsibility to lower the heat. Of course, the only way he would perceive that had happened is if they’ve laved him with praise and bowed before him – just as Fox News, Breitbart, Info Wars, and other far right outlets do. Unfortunately, Trump needs big enemies and he will create them one way or the other.
Here we sit with three back to back hate crimes, and I for one am waiting for the next and the next. Has the match been lit that the neo-nazi right has so long waited for? Has the day to the lone wolves finally arrived? Certainly a President who now proudly claims he is a “nationalist”, backed by a party in power who is cowed to his side, and a questionable judge implanted who believes firmly in the “unitary executive” theory of the presidency. Is now the time to “make America great again” by putting everyone back in their “place”?
I am stunned and I am frightened. Those who have truly been victims of the pathological actions of individuals and this society rarely claim to be victims. We identify ourselves as survivors. What do we make of the privilege taking on the mantle of “victim” and then sanctioning any action as “self defense”? Where will this end?
Assuming that enough people come out to vote to put a political check on Trump and the Republicans who have largely manufactured the broader environment we are in, we will still need to come a long way back to creating a civil society. It will be a longer way back to create a just society. Do we have enough love and compassion for this? While I hope we do, I have never been overly impressed by the empathy of the dominant culture of this nation.
Historians could point to the fact that we survived the Civil War when “brother fought brother”, but what is all too clear at this point is that the hatred of those times has simmered, and in some cases putrefied, and is coming to a boil again.
* Featured image credit: Just A Storm – populism, authoritarianism. (Barabeke, Flickr).