That Kavanaugh victory party feels like it was so long ago. The GOP sounds nervous again. The mid-term elections are a referendum on Trump, so Trump declares. If the Trump-sympathetic doesn’t judge their well-being in stock market performances, it’s going to be hard to say they are better off now than 2 years ago. Hell, even the GOP candidate for senator of Arizona has to focus on fantasies of invasion rather than realities of health care. So, what do you do if you want to save Trumplandia?
Build the Wall. That was Trump’s favorite line during the 2016 election, but now we need to focus on the migrant caravan: “this is an invasion, and our military is waiting for you” is the message. Escalating anxieties with the fear monger’s vision is now Trump’s most potent politics. Put into un-coded language: ‘Beware those people (of color) who will come to pillage and hurt you. Don’t pay attention to the quality of your life or of democracy; look at this threat from which the strongman can save you by putting children in cages and troops on the border. Vote for the GOP and me as its leader.’
And then the unthinkable happens. Extreme violence is undertaken by those who believe Trump legitimates their action. Those inclined toward such terrorist violence don’t recognize shades of meaning; they hear Trump talk war, and they can act as if they are in a civil war.
Certainly the pipe bomber took his cue from Trump’s hateful and divisive rhetoric. He didn’t tell that individual to do it, but Trump reinforced the attempted mass assassin’s conviction that he was right to hate, if not also to kill. When Trump, who is supposed to be the president of all Americans, tells folks that there are enemies among Americans, he creates the climate that justifies terrorist violence. In those conditions, I witness the bravery of our press corps, not to speak of politicians and public figures, who continue to do their job and to exercise their sense of political and civic responsibility. Trump is responsible for creating the conditions that make mass assassination of his critics more likely. (That’s probabilistic, not legal, reasoning, for Trump cannot be convicted in court for conspiracy (on that action at least — we’re waiting Robert Mueller)).
Some, like conservative commentator David French (with Craig Melvin on MSNBC), want to say that Trump should not be held so responsible for the terrorist attack on the synagogue because Trump is not engaging in the same measure of hate speech against Jews as he has mobilized resentment against others (including but not only people of color, migrants, women, trans people and Democrats). That Pittsburgh synagogue attacker was motivated by his own ultra-nationalist hatred of Jews, drawing on an old strain of white supremacist US politics, so the French story goes. But Trump is, even here, responsible for the climate that led to that mass murder. The Tree of Life Synagogue was an active contributor to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. That was enough to convince that murderer that Jews brought Muslims to America, and thus threaten his white homeland.
Even beyond these ties, Trump and other GOP leaders are linking the “globalist” threat to old nationalist bile about Jewish cosmopolitan conspiracies to take over the world. We can debate how internationalist and isolationist America ought to be — a longstanding US discussion — but when somebody uses the world “globalist” know that they are invoking George Soros first, and then other wealthy Jewish-identified contributors to the Democratic Party. This may not be manifestly anti-Semitic, but its chain of meaning is tied directly to nativist currents that draw their emotional charge from white Christian anxieties over Jewish wealth and power. That’s anti-Semitism.
There is no question that Trump ought to be held accountable for this climate that makes such violence more likely. Of course there are others who are responsible too, but Trump is the person whose job it is to be Americans’ uniter. He is not. He is the opposite because that is the only way he can hold onto power. With more distractions and conflicts, people’s anxieties grow and seek the great leader’s protection; they become less able to see “invading migrants” as the distraction it is, and the apparition that symbolizes the crisis Trump brews in this country to hide his own incompetence and immorality.
But something has changed in this last week.
The succession of these attacks on a synagogue and on Trump’s critics (the racist murders in Kentucky of Maurice Stallard and Vicki Lee Jones don’t appear to shock the white conscience) may just keep self-respecting Republicans from voting for those whom Trump endorses. Those moderate Republicans may, out of their own sense of decency, just sit out this mid-term election, confident that the GOP will hold the Senate despite their absence.
I anticipate that the massive mobilization campaign Democrats have undertaken, especially among younger people, will nonetheless bear fruit. Even before the last week’s violence, I expected the Democrats to take back the House. This last week makes that anticipation almost a sure thing.
I would bet American democracy on it. In fact, we all should.