We Live in Dangerous Times

Tree of Life

We Live in Dangerous Times

October 28, 2018 in Jewish World, Latest
4 Comments

My heart goes out to the people killed and injured at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and their families.

We live in unexpectedly dangerous times. Election periods are times when weak democracies with troubled civic discourse are particularly vulnerable to violence.

People living in a weak democracy know too well that dangerous rhetoric leads to dangerous consequences. While we may not be accustomed to thinking of our democracy as weak, the United States is experiencing these consequences right now in what has been several days of pre-election violence, including the largest massacre of Jews in this country’s history, and bombs sent to members of President Donald Trump’s political opposition.

These dangerous times began during the 2016 presidential campaign, brought about by a candidate and the far right who engaged in political discourse to whip up anger, fear and distrust.

The consequences of this discourse were immediately obvious, even in my normally quiet Washington, DC neighborhood. First up was the viral hoax claiming that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring in the basement of a pizzeria just a few blocks south of my house. Fueled by right-wing extremists, including the son of the president’s soon to be (briefly) National Security Council chief Michael Flynn, it inspired a young Salisbury, North Carolina father armed with an AR-15 assault rifle to charge into the restaurant and begin firing on a busy afternoon. Fortunately no one was killed. Five blocks the other direction, white supremacist’s Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute threw an election victory party at an Italian chain restaurant, where an attendee proudly tweeted a selfie making the Hitler salute. Around that time, my husband found an anti-Semitic flyer on the sidewalk near our house. As I took my daily walk, I saw swastikas painted on mailboxes.

It should come as no surprise that in the run-up to our first national election since 2016, we are experiencing a heightened blast of nationalist anger, manifested in anti-immigrant, anti-Jewish, anti-black, anti-minority rhetoric and violence. This time, the man whipping them up has the ultimate bully pulpit.

Whether President Trump is aware or not, whether he cares or not, whether he is doing this deliberately or not—and I have no way of knowing—he and his echo chamber are responsible for motivating people to commit violence. He needs to cease all nationalistic rhetoric right now. Cease holding rallies. Cease feeding conspiracy theories. He needs to do this for all Americans, not just for Jews and political adversaries, who are predictably the first targets of violence.

This is more important than winning an election. It may already be too late. This kind of rhetoric, once injected into the political atmosphere, can persist for years. I hope it won’t, but as Jews we know that prejudice can take decades, centuries, even millennia to recede.

I see that the president has said he will travel to Pittsburgh. He should not go. What kind of message will he send to the nation? I can imagine that the teleprompter will have all the right words and that he will speak them calmly, even respectfully. But as we have seen, even when he reads the right words, they are empty, devoid of the compassion, of the empathy, of the understanding needed to give them meaning in order to reach the people who need to be reached.

The midterms are but a week away, and given that Trump is unlikely to transform into a different man, we need to prepare ourselves for the real possibility of more violence. We the people need to fully participate in our democracy, which includes staying true to our values. And voting early or on election day so that we can strengthen our democracy.

4 Comments
  • DAVID FROST 15:49h, 30 October Reply

    This is appalling. Trump’s rhetoric, or emotions, or whatever you like, had absolutely nothing to do with this tragedy, any more than Obama’s anti-Israel rhetoric caused the fatal shooting at the Seattle Jewish Center in 2006. Moreover, the idiot who mailed pipe bombs to Trump’s opponents was neither more nor less a villain than the idiot who sent poisoned letters to the White House and the Pentagon a few weeks ago. You scream about the former and ignore the latter, simply because you’re looking to blame Trump. You’d much rather ignore the fact that some of the President’s opponents can be every bit as unpleasant and unreasonable as some of his supporters.
    At bottom, the tragedy that just occurred was the result of an evil man’s actions; to pretend otherwise in order to score political points is vulgar and thoroughly dishonest.

  • Rachok 16:30h, 30 October Reply

    Great honest article. All rational sensible people can recognize the danger of the overtly hateful rhetoric coming from those who are supposed to be leaders.

  • Gary Buck 14:52h, 01 November Reply

    When president Trump said he is a nationalist, I did not hear National Socialist,White Nationalist,fascist or NAZI. I heard a man talking as a patriot,putting his country and its people first. Theodor Herzl,David Ben-Gurion,Chaim Weizman were Nationalists as were Nelson Mandela,Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. You call to infringe on the President’s 1st amendment rights because you interpret his speech as hateful rhetoric. Many educated Jews will disagree with you. He is far removed from being anti-semetic or racist. I am shocked by the left leaning American Jews vitriol attitude.President Trump is not our enemy. I believe the danger facing us are the Progressive Democrat socialists. I speak from experience. The murder of Jews in Pittsburgh illustrates the need for us to be more aware of the rampant anti-semitism around us. It has always been there and always will be. Nothing says never again like an armed Jew.

  • Davida Brown 19:08h, 14 November Reply

    I agree with the above written by David Frost and Gary Buck. I must ask you, dear editor, what are America’s democratic values?

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