There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2018
To say that President Donald Trump is the debaser-in-chief of contemporary political discourse is to state the obvious. After a weekend of gruesome, anti-Semitic murder that left 11 dead at a Pennsylvania synagogue, he tweets the above. He should stop this sort of garbage talk.
Yet to hold him responsible for the actions of the shooter is ridiculous. The same goes for holding him responsible for the deeds of alleged mail bomber Cesar Sayoc. Mass killers and criminals are responsible for their actions and the leap from rhetoric to action, along with all the blood they shed, is on their hands alone. That won't stop political opportunists from trying to tie the two together, of course. "Trump's Caravan Hysteria Led to This," argues Adam Serwer at The Atlantic, despite the fact that the shooting suspect actually denounced the president just days before the shooting:
"Trump is a globalist, not a nationalist. There is no #MAGA as long as there is a" — he inserted a slur for Jews — "infestation."
At The Washington Post, ex-conservative Max Boot says "Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media can't escape responsibility" for violence. At The Nation, Sasha Abramsky avers, "The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Is the Inevitable Result of Trump's Vile Nationalism."
No, it isn't, and it's particularly disturbing for journalists to conflate words with deeds and to impute motivation from the texts and ideas that evildoers consume. Who "activated" the shooter of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who turned out to be a Bernie Sanders volunteer? The short answer: Noboby. Same goes for the shooter of Rep. Gabby Giffords, Jared Loughner, who consumed a lot of left-wing news. Did Fifty Shades of Gray really cause rape and torture? Is The Catcher in the Rye really connected to the killing of John Lennon or Star Wars to the serial murders committed by Jeffrey Dahmer? Of course not.
This is such a smear of @benshapiro. Osama bin Laden read Noam Chomsky, Bob Woodward and Michael O'Hanlon. It means nothing. To connect the author to the deeds of the sociopath who reads him is moronic. https://t.co/E46mI8HKB1— Eli Lake (@EliLake) October 26, 2018
There is every reason to call out Donald Trump for his fact-free, ugly, divisive rhetoric and, more important still, his often-inhumane and counterproductive policies. But to blame him for all crimes that happen during his tenure as president is not only wrong, it directs attention away from dynamics far larger than him.
For everyone that wants to blame Trump for the staggering political hatred in the US today, it's worth asking why the same thing is happening across Europe and many developing economies.
Trump is a symptom, not the cause.— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) October 28, 2018
We desperately need a reset in contemporary politics, one that allows for conversation and dialogue that goes beyond the shrill, polarized positions invoked by the contemporary Republican and Democratic parties and the conservative and liberal ideologies they generally represent.
One of the worst aspects of the current situation is that it manifestly fails to represent the fact that most Americans actually agree on many issues. It's the partisans in politics and in the media who are more likely to be unrepresentative of where we stand and to rush toward idiotic, unsubstantiated positions (here's a list of various conservatives and Republicans, including the president, who insisted without evidence that the spate of mail bombs sent to liberal politicians and celebrities was a "false flag" operation to discredit Trump). Recognizing that would be a useful first step in having better, smarter conversations about politics and culture.
This Reason interview with political scientist Morris Fiorina is on point:
Photo Credit: Richard B. Levine/Newscom