This is not who we are. We are better than this.
How many times have we sincerely said this to ourselves, only to hear the words echoed by the very people who help stir the fires of bigotry and violence?
Take a look at some of those who sent their “thoughts and prayers” to the families of the eleven congregants gunned down Saturday at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. Compare their words, as Igor Volsky, executive director at the activist group Guns Down, did, with the money they’ve received from the National Rifle Association. Here are just a few:
US Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS):“My prayers are with those who lost loved ones at the Tree of Life synagogue.” From the NRA: $1,584,153
US Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV):“I’m praying for all the victims and their loved ones.” From the NRA: $335,770
US Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX):“My prayers with all affected and selfless first responders.” From the NRA: $158,111
US Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA):“Our hearts break for the victims of this anti-Semitic act . . .” From the NRA: $137,232
US Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV):“Lynne and I are praying for the victims and their family members . . .” From the NRA: $125,302
US Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH):“ . . . We grieve for Pittsburgh and the Jewish community as a whole.” From the NRA: $114,548.
You get the idea. While their hands are busy being pressed together in prayer, sanctimonious politicians give a head nod to the gun lobby, asking it to slip more thousands into their back pockets, especially with the approach of Election Day. A reminder, too, that the AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, one of the weapons used on Saturday, has been described by the NRA as “America’s Rifle,” and that variations have made appearances in Parkland, Florida (17 dead), and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando (49 dead); Las Vegas (58 dead); Sutherland, Texas (26 dead) and Newtown, Connecticut (28 dead), among many other scenes of murder and mayhem.
Of course when Dear Leader was asked about the Pittsburgh tragedy on Saturday, he said that the surfeit of guns in America—393 million, more than there are people in the United States—and the lax laws regulating them had “little to do with it, if you take a look.”
Instead, the president said that we need more guns in places like houses of worship: “If they had protection inside the results would have been better.” To at least one of the mourning families, it was “inappropriate” and felt like Trump “was blaming our community.”
Trump ignored the fact that police with guns were shot at the scene in Pittsburgh or that armed guards have in fact been present at many mass shootings. Soon our short-attention-span chief executive was talking and tweeting about other things, including the World Series—oh, and invasions of brown people and the media as an enemy of the people and the death penalty.
In truth, usually, these all too frequent mass shootings stir up a flurry of vows to do more about gun violence which all too quickly fades—until the next one—but Pittsburgh is one instance of in which the gun control issue almost immediately took a back seat to another enormous concern; primarily, the anti-Semitic, anti-immigration and other prejudiced, white supremacist sentiments expressed by supporters of this wretched White House.
In the social media of both the alleged Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers and Cesar Sayoc, arrested for the mailing of pipe bombs to top Democrats, other Trump critics and CNN, there was a spew of anti-Semitic and anti-refugee hatred, much of it directed against the bête-noire of the right, George Soros.
But it’s all of a piece. Trump is frantically stirring the pot ahead of the midterms, encouraging xenophobia, tossing out ideas “to see what might stick,” as Peter Baker of The New York Times put it, “ . . . untethered from political or legal reality.”
Some are marginally more benign than others—his imaginary middle class tax cut, for example. Other are just plain wacky but dangerous appeals to the base: 5,200 troops to the Mexican border to combat a group of exhausted threadbare refugees that’s a thousand miles away and diminishing in size by the hour, rejecting the 14th Amendment and ending birthright citizenship—convinced he can overturn a piece of the Constitution with a single stroke of his stubby black Sharpie. And all the while insisting that this and that scheme “has nothing to do with elections.”
Yes, it’s all meant as a distraction from such real issues as healthcare, the deficit and trade policy. And we should not let his patented heinous humbug to lure our attention away from any of them. But Trump’s games of Let’s Pretend and vilification have dire consequences. Already, too many people have been murdered, hurt or threatened by wingnuts who think they have the sometimes more than tacit approval of the commander-in-chief.
It’s not for nothing that the Anti-Defamation League reports a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents during 2017, “the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since the ADL started tracking such data in 1979.” Also in 2017, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, noted a 12.5 percent increase in hate crimes in the ten largest American cities, “the highest total in over a decade.”
Yet virtually no one in the spineless Republican Party dares to challenge him. They’ve accepted, even embraced the hate and his other tricks in exchange for his treats—tax cuts for the rich, deregulation and hardcore conservative judges.
This is not who we are. We are better than this. I cringe when people say they find this president “exciting” (as in a fake reality TV show, I guess) or worse, “fun,” as I heard a woman declare the other day on the radio.
But it’s not fun as in the orange-haired little boy from next door going trick-or-treating and soaping your windows or toilet papering the oak tree on the front lawn. A long time ago, the tricks of this petulant manchild escalated to burning down the house—while the rest of us still are in it.
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Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer forMoyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship.