Our country is in a dark place. The rabbit hole of hatred through which we are descending keeps getting deeper.
Last week, three Americans targeted three sets of people for death. A Florida man was charged with mailing 14 pipe bombs to Democratic leaders and critics of President Donald Trump. A Kentucky man fatally shot two black senior citizens at a supermarket after he failed to open the locked doors of a black church, officials said. A Pennsylvania man federal officials say wanted to “kill Jews” shot 11 people dead in a Pittsburgh synagogue.
The nation is on edge. Unlike his predecessors, Trump neither can nor will play the role of comforter or uniter. So we no longer ask him to do that.
President created an ugly climate
Trump didn’t direct any of these horrible attacks to happen. But he has created a climate that has motivated the unleashed and the unbalanced. The president must take responsibility for his words. Yet, his need to demonize is unabated. On Monday, he tweeted, “The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People.” He echoed a phrase even Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev banned because it was used by tyrant Josef Stalin to justify killing those who disagreed with him.
Trump, who plans to visit Pittsburgh Tuesday, was right to call the most recent attack evil. But he also has called Democrats and the media evil. The symmetry is disturbing. Hating the media is now normalized. Reporters are harassed at Trump rallies. It’s not about us; it’s about discrediting institutions that would hold him in check.
It’s not just Trump. His right-wing media apologists also fan the flames, like the Fox News Channel hosts who worry that migrants in the Central American caravan will bring diseases into the country, even as they themselves spread the diseases of fear and bigotry. Also damaging is the malevolent ignorance of those who use social media to claim that the pipe bombs Cesar Sayoc is charged with sending are fake, that Sayoc’s van with its pro-Trump and anti-Democrat stickers was fake, that it was all a Democratic plot, even the synagogue killings.
This ugliness is part of who we are
This nation faces a reckoning. That inevitably will include the regulation of online platforms. Agitated Americans once were checked by society, by their families and by religious institutions. As those structures break down, social media indulges their fears, stokes their conspiracies and emboldens them to act. The norms that used to constrain people’s worst impulses are collapsing.
Now we cry after each deranged act that this is not who we are. But it is. Sadly, this violence always has been part of our nation’s fabric. Something in our culture allows these strains of hatred to live and, at times, flourish. We’re seeing that now, it’s ugly, and it, too, must be confronted.
How far have we come from the awful day in 1963 when a racist bombing at a Birmingham church killed four young black girls? An Atlanta columnist wrote then that all of us share the blame, for not calling out actual evil, and for “electing politicians who heat the kettles of hate.”
All of us — including leaders, even some Democrats — need to turn down that flame. Or the fire will consume us all.