WHEN, IF EVER, WILL ENOUGH BE ENOUGH?
[a thought provoking contribution by George]
On Saturday, Robert Bowers, an avowed white nationalist and anti-Semite, brutally slaughtered 11 people as they worshiped at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburg. Since then I have heard nothing of any meaning coming from the White House or from the leadership of the Republican-controlled House and Senate. Their reaction to Robert Bowers’ despicable act should have been immediate, visceral and unequivocal condemnation of white nationalism, bigotry and all that they stand for. Instead all these supposed leaders had to offer were prayers, platitudes and carefully parsed generalities designed not to alienate their “base” before the mid-term elections.
I for one am sick and tired of hearing our political leaders offer their prayers following one massacre after another. We did not elect them to pray for us. We have our clerics to do that, and we can do it for each other. By electing them, we granted our politicians access to the levers of national and local power. We expected them to use that power to protect us from the parade of heinous mass murders that have become commonplace and the daily slaughter on our streets. And what have they done? NOTHING. They offer their “thoughts and prayers” – a totally hollow gesture that loses all meaning when repeated with grotesque monthly frequency.
One year ago on October 1, 2017, 58 people died and 851 were wounded by gunfire in Las Vegas when Stephen Paddock mowed them down with a semi-automatic rifle equipped with a bump stock. The White House and GOP leadership offered their thoughts and prayers and mouthed some words about doing something about bump stocks. And what have they done? NOTHING. Neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nor Speaker of the House Paul Ryan would even permit such a bill to come to the floor.
My God, they could even act when their own members were the victims. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords will never be the same and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise still uses a wheelchair after being shot in 2017 at practice for a Congressional baseball game.
By any standards the elected officials who choose to do nothing are derelict in their basic duty of protecting the populace.
Instead effective action what do we get? A president who fans the flames of division, hatred and violence and Senate and House majorities whose muttered platitudes and inaction are nothing short of endorsements of Trump’s behavior.
Since Trump became president statistics clearly show that hate crimes and violence against Jews, Muslims, Hispanics, members of the LGBTQ community and other minorities are up sharply. That is indisputable fact.
Almost daily in his tweets, and on many days in multiple tweets, Trump assails one minority or another. In his campaign rallies, castigation of minorities is basic fodder. Muslims are terrorists who should be denied entry to the US. Muslims want to impose Sharia law on us. Mexicans seeking entry to the US are rapists and criminals. The repeated castigation of George Soros is a clear dog whistle. Of all of the Democratic donors, it singles out a Jew who is not even the biggest or must influential Democratic donor.
Some of Trump’s pronouncements are not dog whistles – they are loud, clear sirens. Saying that there were “fine people on both sides” in the violence in Charlottesville, VA was far from a dog whistle. One side was chanting “Jews will not replace us” and that side admitted in interviews and on their websites that the carrying of torches was meant to replicate Hitler’s Germany. Trump’s pronouncement that Muslim terrorists had infiltrated the caravan of refugees moving through Mexico was far more than a dog whistle. Further stoking ethnic fears and division, Trump expanded the lies about the caravan into a phony crisis of “invaders” headed for our southern border.
Eight days before the mid-term elections he deployed at great public expense 5,200 soldiers to the border when the caravan, which is a thousand miles from the border and advancing at 20 miles per day, will not get to the border until mid-December. Even Shepard Smith of Fox News debunked any threat as a falsehood: “There is no invasion. No one’s coming to get you. There’s nothing at all to worry about.” And last week, Trump declared “I am a nationalist.” Not a dog whistle. Rather, exactly what the white nationalists wanted to hear. Every one of them is fully aware of the book, “The Nationalist Perspective,” authored by the founder of the American Nazi Party, George Lincoln Rockwell
In the face of criticism for his divisiveness, Trump’s own defense and that from his communications staff and Congressional accolades was that his words have nothing to do with encouraging the escalation of division, hate and violence. Rather, they contended that the blame lies in the words of the press – in the words coming from “the enemy of the people.”.
What an astonishingly illogical, self-contradictory defense! If the words of the press matter, most certainly the words of the president matter. If Trump’s words don’t matter, why is he out on the stump giving one campaign rally after the next? Why does he waste his time with his daily tweet barrages?
And how do they explain that the incidence of hate crimes that was on the decline has been up sharply in each year since his election?
Of course, his words matter, and the white supremacists, white nationalists, bigots and other brands of haters hear every one of his words. Their logic is simple. If you can hate Muslims, we can hate Jews. Some go a step further – if as you say “they” constitute a clear danger to America, we will do you a favor and get rid of “them” for you.
Until recently, I was a resident of rural Virginia. There is gas station and general store on the way to the mountains where once a month a group in camouflage uniforms with Virginia Militia patches would assemble on their way to “training exercises.” With bib overalls and a John Deere hat, it was easy to engage them in conversation. They fed on Trump’s words, and the foregoing logic of if-you-can-we-can always was present as was the notion that, if the president called “them” enemies, then they stood ready to defend the country against “them” and eliminate “them” as necessary. “Them” existed in many guises – always prominent were Jews, Muslims, Latinos and members of the LGBTQ community.
The impact of Trump’s words is not restricted to rural redneck kooks. A retired Marine Colonel and his wife who lived near me were part of a group of avid Trump supporters who took deeply his words on the dangers posed by illegal Latin aliens. The group’s members each spent thousands of dollars stocking their homes and barns with years of nonperishable foods and buying weapons to defend these stockpiles in anticipation of what they believed was a real threat from an uprising of these indigent Latin criminals.
That Trump fans the flames of division, hatred and violence is not a matter of debate. Why he does it might be.
The motivations of his accolades in Congress are, for the most part, quiet clear. It is difficult to accept that people like Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Orin Hatch, Chuck Grassley and many other GOP lawmakers believe the lies and fabrications that Trump spews out daily to divide us and to pit one group against the next. Rather these people are willing to prostitute all principles and morality for fleeting political advantage. Their failure to speak out, condemning Trump for his lies, dog whistles and incitement, speaks directly to this shameful conclusion.
The silence from Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and an orthodox Jew, is particularly telling. Of all of the members of the White House staff and Trump clan, he should be loudly condemning white nationalism in all of its forms and hates. But like the others, any moral fiber that he had shriveled to nothing to get a few more votes from the GOP’s base.
The hate crimes and violence that we are experiencing are all bound up with their perspectives on law enforcement and the possession firearms. This is precisely where Trump and his administration jumped in response the bloodbath at the Tree of Life synagogue. Trump immediately called for “full enforcement of the law” and the death penalty as did Attorney General Sessions. In addition, Trump disgracefully blamed the synagogue for the deaths by not having armed guards, and once again he suggested that armed guards and armed citizens were the answer to the violence.
First it must be recognized that these proposals are reactive. They are not preventive remedies. They cut in after the shooting starts and people lie dead and wounded. There also is no evidence to support their efficacy in reducing the violence.
Under the banner of full enforcement of the law, America has by far the largest number of people incarcerated in the world. We have more incarcerated that nations with much larger populations; more incarcerated than despotic regimes like China, North Korea and Russia that we denounce as tyrannical. Despite having annual prison populations that habitually run between 1.5 million and 2.0 million, the US has the highest crime rates in the industrialized world. We squander billions on a “remedy” that is demonstrably ineffective and this remedy – full enforcement of the law – is the very remedy Trump and his Attorney General reached for in response to the carnage at the synagogue.
They also called for the death penalty. This may satisfy a need for vengeance but there is no evidence that it deters killing. States with the death penalty do not have lower homicide rates than states without the death penalty. And the US homicide rate well exceeds the homicide rates of European countries without the death penalty even in periods when the death penalty was common across the US.
For fear of alienating their base, the GOP has consistently eschewed proposals that could be effective. The two proposed “remedies” that they just offered fully fit Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”
While claiming that his words have no effect, Trump appallingly attempted to pin the blame for the massacre on the synagogue for not having armed guards. Parroting the NRA, he has rolled out arming guards and teachers in response to just about every school and other mass shooting that has occurred under his watch. To those more worried about offending the GOP’s base than protecting the American people, it has the political advantage of transferring responsibility for protecting our citizens from our lawmakers to the private sector and the citizens themselves. It is a perfect fit for their inaction. They can offer their prayers and thoughts while we save ourselves.
There are two clear problems with this solution. It is completely impractical, and it is opposed by law enforcement.
There is somewhere in excess of 150,000 public and private schools, colleges and universities in the US. If each had only one armed guard who was paid $50,000 per year, the total annual payroll would be $7.5 billion. Actually the cost would be far higher because only one guard per campus would be woefully inadequate for prompt response. Add to this the yet larger costs for armed guards for churches, malls, sports venues, and the range of other soft targets and the total annual cost becomes prohibitive. Will the government pick up the tab? Not likely.
Law enforcement does not support armed guards or teaches in schools or other soft targets. They oppose it. The National Association of School Resource Officers, for example, published a list of their objections.
- Law enforcement officers who respond to an incident at a school could mistake for an assailant a teacher or any other armed person who is not in a uniform.
- Anyone who hasn’t received the extensive training provided to law enforcement officers will likely be mentally unprepared to take a life, especially the life of a student assailant.
- Firearm skills degrade quickly, which is why most law enforcement agencies require their officers to practice on a shooting range frequently (as often as once per month), under simulated, high-stress conditions. Anyone without such frequent, ongoing practice will likely have difficulty using a firearm safely and effectively.
- In addition to maintaining marksmanship, ongoing firearms practice helps law enforcement officers overcome the physiological response to stress than can reduce the fine motor skills required to accurately fire a weapon.
- Anyone who possesses a firearm on campus must be able to keep it both ready for use and absolutely secure. Law enforcement officers receive training that enables them to overcome attempts to access their weapons.
- Discharging a firearm in a crowded school is an extremely risky action, with consequences that can include the wounding and/or death of innocent victims. Law enforcement officers receive training and practice in evaluating quickly the risks of firing. They hold their fire when the risks to others are too high.
Law enforcement has the data to backup their opposition. Even with all of their training, it’s hard for police officers to hit a target especially in chaotic conditions. The New York Police Department is the nation’s largest police force and among the best trained, yet its own study showed the average hit rate was 18 percent for officers in a gunfight. Similar accuracy results have been found in studies of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. Roughly 80% of all rounds fired by highly trained personnel miss the shooter and present a real danger to people in the vicinity. Armed guards, teachers and the like with not nearly as much training – especially training under simulated shooting situations – will miss with well over 80% of their shots; 95% or higher is the general estimate. In a recent store shooting, an armed citizen engaged a robber and fired 13 rounds hitting everything but the robber.
Despite the obvious impracticality and danger in armed guards, Trump and the large majority of GOP Senators and Representatives offer it as a solution following one mass incident after the next, Basically, if the National Rifle Association, an organization of 5 million members, squeaks, the GOP caves in and 327 million Americans pay the price.
Claiming to be rabid constitutional originalists, they wrap themselves in the Second Amendment. But the notion that Second Amendment covers high-powered semi-automatic rifles equipped with bump stocks to make them fully automatic is one of the greatest pieces of the very constitutional revisionism that they decry. There is absolutely no way that the authors of our Constitution foresaw modern weapons and intended the Second Amendment to cover them.
Another of piece of revisionism that appears in Trump’s dog whistles and that is used by the far right and many of their Christian allies to justify the bigotry, hate and violence directed at other faiths is the notion that the United States is, should be and was founded as a Christian nation. Nothing is farther from the truth. The majority of our Founding Fathers were deists; not Christians. They founded our country as a haven for all persecuted people. This is enshrined in our Constitution, in the Federalist papers and in a multitude of the Founders’ writings. One of my favorites is a letter that George Washington wrote on August 18, 1790 to a Jewish congregation that he had addressed in Newport Rhode Island. Because it so wonderfully encapsulates what we should be, it is presented below in its entirety.
Who among our current crop of leaders would write something like this? Vote for whomever comes closest.
While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.
The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.
If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.
The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy — a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.