If the mailing of bombs to the homes of two former presidents of the United States, other senior Democratic leaders and one television station did not unify the nation, nothing will.
The one person who could have done so chose not to. Asked whether he would call bomb targets Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, President Donald Trump told reporters, “If they wanted me to, but I think we’ll probably pass.”
Instead, Trump all but ignored this unprecedented act of domestic terrorism to concentrate on campaigning for Tuesday’s mid-term elections and to hawk his “fake news” claims, citing CNN, a target of the bomber. The president also appeared to give credence to those alleging the bombs were “fake,” and that they were mailed by Democratic operatives to win sympathy votes – although the suspect is a registered Republican, his van is plastered with proTrump posters and his social media posts are virulently anti-Democratic.
Mailing bombs to former presidents aims at the heart of our democracy and is not a matter for partisan bickering. Rather, it is the sacred duty of the president, as head of state, to unequivocally denounce it and bring the nation together, not fan the flames of divisiveness. But his relentless vitriolic rhetoric resonates with his supporters and evidently the bomber heard a call to arms.
Someone has to tweet to the president the 848-year-old story of King Henry II of England, who, frustrated by the criticisms from Archbishop Thomas- a-Becket of Canterbury, commented, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” Four knights rode for more than five hours and killed Becket the next day. Words matter.
But there cannot be a Trump without the enablers, those who believe he can do no wrong and those who provide him with political cover. They bear responsibility for the toxic environment in which we all must live. Tens of millions of Americans obviously see Trump as their political savior, feeling, justifiably, that they were sidelined politically and economically for decades – the “basket of deplorables,” as Hillary Clinton called them, the ones about whom Obama said, “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or antitrade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
But these folks are no better off under Trump. The economy and the jobless rate have improved but income growth is now the smallest in 15 years. The health insurance situation has worsened. The much touted tax cut has benefitted mostly the very rich and 60 percent of Americans want it repealed rather than cutting domestic spending. The budget deficit is nearing $1 trillion. Still, these Americans cling to the illusion that a politician who is a billionaire is their kind of guy.
And class differences are often complicated by racial factors so many of them also see themselves as warriors in a battle to save the white race. Some now openly proclaim their racism. Just about the time the bombs were on the way, a 51-year-old white man in Kentucky randomly shot and killed two African Americans at a Kroger grocery store.
He told an eyewitness, “I won’t shoot you. Whites don’t shoot whites.”
Trump acolytes mindlessly applaud his demonization of immigrants, Muslims, Jews, gays and the press. It was not a big leap for them to see others who are different from them as their “enemies.” He fuels that belief, unable to rise above pettiness, as the late U.S. Senator John McCain did when a woman at a campaign rally claimed that Obama was an Arab: “No ma’am. He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”
Meanwhile, bona fide racists, lurking for decades under rocks, have crawled out into the open now that the political sunlight has turned to darkness. They are given space, including social media, to promote white superiority, some making millions of dollars peddling hate on radio and television and in books, and the president has finally proclaimed himself a “nationalist.”
Then there are the aides, such as Stephen Miller, architect of the heartless immigration policy, and others who use high office to promote Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, sometimes with deadly consequences, as in the killing of 11 worshipers in a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday.
An even higher tier of enablers includes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and House Majority Leader Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, along with a Republican-dominated Congress. They have done absolutely nothing to check the behavior of their party leader and president. Most are scared they would be voted out of office if they oppose him.
Even Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who is not up for re-election, couldn’t bring herself to empathize with a university professor courageous enough to face the chauvinistic hounds on the Senate Judiciary Committee. She sat in silence as the likes of Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Chuck Grassley of Iowa humiliated a woman who merely wanted to tell her story of sexual assault. Even Jeff Flake of Arizona, who professed to be fed up with living in the re-stocked swamp and is retiring, in the final analysis supported Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court and had the gall to admit just a few days ago that he still does not know if he believed the nominee.
Then there are the evangelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell Jr. who do not even have the decency to hold their noses as they cohabit with man who is antithetical to all that was dear to Jesus. Falwell, the Guardian reported, delivered 81 percent of the white evangelical vote to Trump and has labored diligently in the vineyard of hypocrisy to keep that support going, with 71 percent of white evangelical Protestants still holding a favorable opinion of Trump.
The editors of Decision Magazine, organ of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, recently wrote, “If progressives reclaim a majority in Congress, not to mention in state and local governments, believers will once again be open targets for punishment by left-wing activists bent on silencing those who wish to live out their faith in society.”
But there are hopeful signs for the antiTrump camp. A number of evangelical groups have been formed to counter the betrayal of the message of Christ by those who have sold their pulpits for access to power.
Vote Common Ground launched a 30-city tour to urge Christians to vote in the midterms to help Democrats take control of Congress, according to The Guardian.
Around two dozen church leaders issued a manifesto, “Reclaiming Jesus,” citing a “dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches.” Red Letter Christians laments the “toxic Christianity” and “the gospel of Trump.” Another group has revived Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People Campaign.
Also, a recent AP-NORC poll found that 77 percent of Americans are unhappy with the state of politics and 59 percent disapprove of Trump’s handling of the job of president.
But what will matter is whether there is a change in who controls the political discourse. A change in Congress will not immediately restore sanity to our politics but it will mark the start of a desperately needed course correction for the ship of state.