White Supremacism, Trump, and the Future of Civility

The “new normal” becomes yet more virulent. On Saturday, 27 October, 2018, a gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and opened fire, killing 11 of the congregants. Four police officers were also wounded when they responded to the incident before the assailant was taken into custody. Investigation into his background yielded results which were predictable to the point of being almost intuitively obvious. He was extremely anti-Semite, and while superficially a Trump supporter, also castigated the president for not being sufficiently pro-white-America.

On the following Sunday morning, Matthew Dowd, former strategist for the Bush-Cheney 2004 presidential campaign and ABC News political consultant, observed on ABC This Week that the last three terrorist attacks within the US, including both the mail-bomb attacks on Democrats and the synagogue shooting, were the product of white supremacists. This bold statement was reinforced by a tweet sent out by Dowd a few days earlier:

The media has an obligation not to “both sides” this moment of fomenting violence and hate. The President of the US is pushing exactly the wrong message to Americans, and white nationalist terrorism is at an all-time high.

Meantime, we see Donald Trump making soft-spoken and likely largely scripted responses, decrying the violence, while speciously suggesting that armed guards at the synagogue would have provided ample protection against such incursions. More talk from a chief executive who, I seriously suspect, will do little to nothing other than talk about it. Why? Because Trump can’t afford to alienate his base, and a substantial portion of his base are the white supremacists who have drawn succor and support from him practically from the day he was inaugurated. Is Trump directly responsible for these events? The honest answer must be, “no.” What he HAS done is make the ground more fertile for such events. The fact remains that with his “America First” attitude, which amounts to dog-whistle for White Christian America First, a great number of white males who perceive, either correctly or not, that their influence is diminishing, are becoming more emboldened to act out against those who allegedly are causing that loss. Civility takes yet another in a series of hits, and the likelihood of yet more incidents of domestic terrorism becomes that much greater.

The real danger is that such attitudes and actions won’t end with the eviction of Trump from the White House. Regardless of how he exits, he will leave behind a great number of radicalized white nationalists behind who, encouraged by his rhetoric, will take their lack of public political representation as evidence of their suppression and persecution, providing yet more impetus to lash out. The only possible means that might be deployed to defuse them and their anger might be the kind of Socratic interchange which Peter Boghossian suggested to open believers’ minds to the fallacies of their beliefs, though that would be as slow a process with the white radicals as it is with the theists.

And the seasons, they go round and round,
And the painted ponies go up and down...

-- Joni Mitchell, "The Circle Game"

And we keep going in circles, solving very nearly nothing. Take guns and ammo and mix them with angry white men in a culture which has begun to devalue them, and the situation has gotten a LOT worse, people … and I don’t mind telling you, it scares me.

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Comment by Michael Penn on November 3, 2018 at 4:54pm

I thought of another example of Trump dog whistles and the effects from that. My area is mostly GOP and they all drink the koolaid. I was having a small gathering and inviting people. One person refused to come and said "that guy is from Peru." It isn't true but what would it matter? The problem here is that everyone has heard Trump on his caravan claims and they are reacting to what he has said. They have assumptions based on Trump's words.

Another (but different) proof of such things is in CNN's refusal to run a racist add placed by Trump Jr. It seems that Trump Jr. cannot figure out how his add is racist and he damns CNN a bit more.  

Comment by Loren Miller on November 3, 2018 at 10:09am

You have my point precisely, Michael.  Trump is effectively saying to the "deplorables" that it's okay for them to act out ... and they ARE.  With the shooting in Kentucky, the pipe bombs and the Tree of Life Synagogue attack, we have ample evidence of Trump's paving the way for them, and this doesn't even mention Charlottesville.

Undoing the social damage done by Trump is going to take a while, too, long after he's gone, and that's the real problem.

Comment by Michael Penn on November 3, 2018 at 10:01am

I see all of this as greatly disturbing, possibly for a long time to come even after Trump is gone. It is strange to me that others don't see what is happening as being similar to what happened in Germany with Hitler. Maybe everyone did not study Hitler. 

My own co-workers immediately defended Trump and his daily ranting tweets by declaring Twitter was not popular during Bush and Obama years as if this made a daily dose of nonsense something that we all wanted in our lives. It's all about Trump and his ego. I'm told he turned his own father's funeral into something about himself, and it all got worse once he got out of construction and started selling his brand, which is his name. Trump wants to sell himself to everybody.

Trump calls the media the enemy of the people but admits that what he is doing is forcing them to be nicer about things on him. What really happens here is that he uses media constantly to call out situations and make you think he can change or wants to change them. His "dog whistles" play on peoples inner prejudice or vice and some people want to help him out with this. Next we get into things like the recent Synagogue shooting, the pipe bombings, black people supposedly in the wrong place, people speaking Spanish, idiotic 911 calls, and so much more.

White supremacists, Nazis, fascists, racists, and much more start coming out of the woodwork because underneath and deep inside them they feel justified by Donald Trump. Some are killers and murderers. Others feel justified to do stupid things. I even know a Republican that said she had no idea that Cesar Sayoc was a longtime member of the GOP. She just thought he was a "kook." Maybe so, but he is a Republican kook. Apparently he wanted to help Donald Trump along by removing some "enemies."

Hitler and his ideas were alive and well in some areas of Germany when I was there in 1965. Trump and his minions may be alive and well in America long after he is gone. We have to be aware of this now and we have to have power to act on it.

Comment by Loren Miller on October 29, 2018 at 12:40pm

By way both of bumping this entry and supplying some pertinent information regarding the reaction from the Jewish community to the Tree of Life shooting, allow me to present some input from the New York Times' Jonathan Weisman and author Steve Weisman, as well as observations and commentary from MSNBC Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski.

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