Domestic Terrorism, President Trump, and the 2018 U.S. Midterm Elections

I am heartbroken for the victims of today’s domestic terrorist attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh which has left 11 people dead. These people were praying and celebrating a recent birth with a bris. The killer apparently yelled “All Jews must die” as he opened fire.

This comes just a few days after two African-American patrons of a Kroger store were senselessly killed in Louisville Kentucky in another racist domestic terrorist incident after the shooter could not get into a predominantly African-American Baptist church. The killer at one point explained that “whites don’t kill whites.”

And of course these incidents come the same week as a man apparently obsessed with President Trump sent pipe bombs to those who have been frequent targets of the President’s inflammatory rhetoric, including former Presidents Obama and Clinton, Secretary Hillary Clinton, Sen. Kamala Harris, Rep. Maxine Waters, CNN, George Soros, and others. Fortunately, at least so far the bombs that have turned up in the mail have not exploded.

Ordinarily, the acts of a deranged individual who commits political violence should not be attributed to the elected official they support or who inspires them. Think, for example, of the shooter of Rep Steve Scalise at the congressional baseball game who was a Bernie Sanders supporter.

But things with President Trump are different. He has refused to condemn anti-semitism and racism; he has encouraged chants of “lock her up” against his political opponent Hillary Clinton and against others; he has appeared with, and promoted the views of, those who blame George Soros and the Jews for immigration problems; he calls his political adversaries by demeaning names, especially African-American women opponents such as Rep. Waters. He has done these things even as this violence grows. He praised the body slamming of a journalist by Rep. Gianforte. He has shown no interest in bringing the nation together, suggesting that rather than “toning it down” he could “really tone it up.”

He has pursued a political strategy that is aimed at inflaming his base to try to win the election. He has even complained about how the pipe bombs could hurt Republican election momentum.

And he has brought many Republicans along with him, such as Kevin McCarthy, soon to be leader of Republicans in the House of Representatives. McCarthy, in a now-deleted tweet, accused “Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg” of “trying to BUY this election.” Such anti-Semitic tropes have moved from the fringe right wing to the center of the Republican party.

At the beginning of the Trump presidency, I had hopes that people like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan would have courage to speak out about these things, and actually take action to punish Trump for not strongly condemning the racism and violence Trump has encouraged. It hasn’t happened. There is the barest of hand-wringing by people like Senator Sasse and Senator Flake, and no consequences for Trump. Republicans in the Senate are fine to put up with the racism and inflammation toward violence if they get to pack the federal judiciary with conservative appointees.

There is reason to believe that if Republicans lose the House, Trump will only turn up the rhetoric, perhaps attacking the legitimacy of the election results, and trying to rile up his base more in an effort to preserve his presidency and maximize his chances for reelection. As ugly as things have gotten, they stand to get uglier.

It is time for people across the aisle to stand up to racism. So far people like Paul Ryan have been cowards. Maybe they will have more “courage” if it seems that Trump’s appeal to racism will cost the party its lock on power. But I would not count on it. And in the meantime, increased political violence and domestic terrorism seems not only possible, but unfortunately likely.

May the memory of this week’s victims be a blessing, and may their deaths not be in vain.


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