“It’s a terrible, terrible thing, what’s going on with hate in our country, frankly, and all over the world, and something has to be done,” President Trump said in the wake of the tragic synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh that killed 11 Jews.
That shooting, and those words, came in the same week that a dozen bombs were mailed to Trump’s political enemies by a hate-filled supporter, the same week that a white man in Kentucky tried to break into a black church to murder attendees, and when frustrated, walked into a nearby store to execute whatever black people he could find there.
So those words are fine words, necessary words in this overheated environment, yet they are the words of an arsonist pretending to fight the very fire that he has helped to ignite.
They are the words of a man who campaigned for president on a promise to ban an entire religion from entering our country, who launched that presidential campaign by railing about Mexicans as rapists and worse, who raged that a judge’s Mexican heritage made him unqualified to preside over a lawsuit, who has ranted against immigrants coming from “s—-hole countries” when they could be coming from places like Norway instead, and who may soon try to dictate that those born in our country will no longer be automatic citizens of our country.
After neo-Nazis marched through Charlottesville with torches, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” it was Trump who told us that there were good people on both sides. It was Trump who made himself leader of the birther movement, seeking to undermine Barack Obama’s legitimacy as our first black president. And in recent weeks, it has been Trump who has tried to hype a ragtag caravan of asylum seekers a thousand miles from our border into a terrifying “national emergency,” filled with murderers and Middle East terrorists coming to assault us, and Trump who has spread the groundless conspiracy theory that this “invading” caravan is financed by shadowy enemies of the American people out to tear this country down.
If you took Trump’s words seriously, if you believed that this truly is an invasion of our country, what would you do to stop it? The Pittsburgh shooter, whose main argument with Trump was that Trump wasn’t willing to go far enough, took his AR-15 into a synagogue to kill as many Jews as possible, because he believed it was Jews who are financing that caravan.
“I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered,” the mass murderer wrote on social media. “Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
Since then, Trump has expressed horror at the racist nature of that shooting, calling it “an assault on humanity” and pushing for a united effort “to extract the hateful poison of anti-Semitism from the world.”
But that’s the thing about hate. You can’t say it’s OK to hate Group A, Group B and Group C, but then expect Group D to be exempt — especially when Group D is Jewish. Hate is not a controlled burn; once it is ignited, once you fan the embers into open flame, it goes where the winds blow it and wherever it finds fuel to sustain itself.
This is a far, far better country than Trump believes it to be, but he is testing its character in ways that I once would not have believed possible. He acts as if hatred and fear are carefully calibrated tools that produce the effects that he desires, and only those effects, and only on the targets that he selects. Everything about human history teaches us otherwise. Everything about human history tells us we need to extinguish this fire, and now.