It’s been a turbulent few months for the United States. The mid-term election machine has been rumbling towards an unpredictable conclusion, President Trump has been on a campaign mission and then three startling events occurred over the past couple of weeks. But rather than an anomaly, they seem like a hauntingly normal occurrence in today’s America.
Firstly, there were the pipe bombs sent via post to prominent Democrats and critics of the President by a fanatic Trump supporter. Secondly, on Saturday 27th October, Pittsburgh witnessed one of the worst anti-Semitic attacks in US history. 11 people lost their lives with a further 6 injured when Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life synagogue with the intent of killing as many as possible. He was armed with three pistols and a military grade assault rifle. This attack has once again raised the question on gun laws in America and how a man who left anti-Semitic comments across social media was able to purchase these weapons. Finally, an attack in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, where a 51-year-old white man attempted to gain entry to a predominantly black church with the intention of carrying out a shooting. When he wasn’t able to enter the church, he went to a local supermarket and shot dead two elderly people, both of whom were black. It’s being treated as a hate crime by investigators, with the perpetrator having a history of mental illness which meant he shouldn’t have been able to own a gun. These events show that divisions in US Society are growing and the man responsible for fixing them is only making them worse.
Firstly, these horrific attacks show a terrifying trend in the US. Hate crime is on the rise, whether it be political, racial, religious or otherwise. Prior to his attack at the synagogue, Bowers left numerous anti-Semitic messages on social media and once finally detained, told SWAT officers that he wanted “all Jews to die”. Hate crimes that were reported to police in America’s ten largest cities rose 12.7% in 2017 which followed a rise the previous 3 years. It was also the highest rise in over a decade according to a study done by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
There are a number of potential factors as to why we’re seeing this rise. Ranging from President Trump’s “America first” rhetoric creating vast divisions in American society, to an aggressive and highly partisan mid-term election race, to the effects of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections. The Russians aimed to divide Americans through clever, targeted social media campaigns and it can be argued that they succeeded. More needs to be done to stop hate crime and for the potential of violent and lethal outcomes. The President should be uniting the people rather than continuing to divide on issues of race, politics or heritage.
Take for example the NFL players kneeling during the national anthem at games. They’re peacefully demonstrating a cause that is important to them; they’re kneeling to protest racial inequality and police violence against minorities in the US. Trump has attacked them on multiple occasions, rather than attempting to understand what these players are trying to say and make changes. These assaults by the President have given reason to others to abuse other Americans on similar grounds. Essentially for them, if the President is saying or doing it, then it’s OK.
Trump’s presidential campaign rhetoric actively encouraged people to create clear divisions within their community. These were based on things such as political allegiance, where you were born or what religion you followed. He did this to win votes and found it was highly successful. Trump’s continued this tactic during his time as President. The recent events in the US can be linked to the rhetoric spouted by the President. As President, Trump should be saying things to stop these attacks from happening, but, if anything, what he’s doing is creating an environment where some feel it’s right to pick up a gun and attack innocent members of society based on something that marks them as “different” from them.
Trump has tried to take the blame away from himself, as is the Donald Trump custom. He’s attempted to place it on the media, calling them the “enemy of the people”. Following the deadly shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland in June 2018, Trump’s response was noticeably absent. Having returned from a trip to Wisconsin shortly after the shooting, The Donald walked past the crowd of reporters, smiling, ignoring questions about the shooting being put forward by the press. He left it to a White House spokeswoman to make a statement, which was a generic comment about not condoning violence. This was the minimum requirement. Trump didn’t call for this targeting of the press to stop, he thanked the first responders on Twitter and paid respect to the families of those who died, but the absence of a clear stance did more damage than a fumbled speech ever could. The President of the United States was essentially giving the impression that he didn’t care, and wouldn’t care if it happened again. I fear it won’t be long until we see another attack at a media outlet or press conference, such is the danger of his anti-press rhetoric.
In August 2017, Trump didn’t denounce white supremacists at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally where one counter-protester tragically lost her life when a car, driven by a white supremacist, collided into a group of counter-protesters. Trump’s initial comments didn’t condemn the actions of the white supremacists, nor did his later remarks, made after the negative reaction to his original response. He essentially gave moral equivalency to the white supremacists, and many took this as a sign that he was sympathetic to their cause. The President, rather than attempting to shift the blame, should realise that his rhetoric is enabling these sorts of attacks and giving the perpetrators justification. Whether he meant this or not, Trump should know that what he says matters. He needs to be harsher in his condemnation of actions that threaten the safety and security of the US and its people, regardless of who it is.
Recently, following yet another rally in Florida, Trump once again referred to the media as “the enemy of the people” and stated that a third of Americans believe that the media is the enemy. Trump didn’t provide any evidence to back up his claim. I would’ve been incredibly surprised if he had whipped out a folder of statistics to support his statement, but Trump isn’t into facts so this is unlikely. This dangerous doubling down of his rhetoric will only divide the country more, and will lead to further violence against members of the press, media and other groups he demonises in public. The man responsible for sending the pipe bombs was found to own a van plastered with posters of Trump. Clearly, there are those who take his word as gospel, without question, and are willing to do terrible things. In Florida, Trump said that he has “forcefully condemned hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice in all of its ugly forms”, yet he clearly has a selective memory as the Charlottesville response stands in stark contrast to this, as do his statements about immigrants, Muslims and women.
Once again, the gun control debate has been fiercely contested, with Trump claiming the shooting in Pittsburgh had “little to do” with current gun laws in the US. Clearly, it’s to do with current gun laws in Timbuktu, which is obvious. Trump’s reasoning was that “if they had protection inside, maybe it could have been a different situation?” Two highly trained SWAT officers were injured when they entered the synagogue, so it’s hard to see how an untrained person with a gun would’ve made a difference. Trump is still blinded by his belief that more guns will solve the problem and that with more guns you’d have less shootings. The issue with the Pittsburgh shooter is how was he able to own the weapons he had? He was known to be mentally unstable and an outspoken anti-Semite, yet he was allowed to own an AR-15 assault rifle and 3 handguns.
A young member of the vigil that was held on the Sunday following the attack, nailed it in a statement to a BBC reporter, she said that “an anti-Semite with a gun is more dangerous than an anti-Semite without a gun, so that’s a good place to start”, and she couldn’t be more right. This applies to any incident where a shooting is involved. If the perpetrator didn’t have access to military grade weapons, multiple handguns and copious amounts of ammunition, then attacks like this would be few and far between. Gun control needs to happen, and it works, Australia is a great example of this. Following a massacre in Port Arthur in 1996, sweeping gun control legislation was brought in which drastically reduced the numbers of massacres in the country.
Trump should understand that making inflammatory statements at rallies and during speeches is part of the problem. He’s not helping by using language utilised by Josef Stalin in his purge of the free press, yet Trump believes it’s the media’s responsibility to fix the situation. His overall rhetoric is designed so that people question his opponents and adversaries, rather than him and his administration. For the majority, this is quite obvious and makes Trump look delusional and maniacal, however, among his supporters they see him as the only source of truth.
The Thing Is, The Donald has a knack for normalising behaviour that otherwise would be seen as irrational and extremely controversial. The President of the United States is the leader of one of the eminent democracies on the planet, yet Trump’s acting more akin to a dictator determined to control his image in the public, showing little care to those who criticise him, regardless of any harm that comes to them. It was blatantly clear that the bomb threats to the Obamas, Clintons and others were serious, yet the President referred to them nonchalantly on Twitter as “bomb stuff”, giving the impression that the situation didn’t matter and wasn’t serious. This helped fuel the conspiracy theories and also detracted from the gravity of it all. Bombs were sent in the post; they could’ve gone off at any time and injured any number of innocent people.
With the mid-terms around the corner, there’s bound to be some controversial and divisive results. Such is the toxicity of the environment that the elections themselves may become overshadowed by events that could occur afterwards, protests and potentially violent outbursts from disgruntled groups. A pre-emptive fire blanket needs to be thrown over the situation and for people to calm down. Donald Trump should be doing this; it should first come from the very top and permeate all the way down. However, I feel if results don’t go his or the Republicans way, Trump will be the one throwing the biggest tantrum and making more hostile and inflammatory statements, with the potential for a very aggressive environment to be created. The United States is in a precarious and very dangerous position, teetering on the edge of a political “civil war”. Soon the name, “The United States of America”, will be said with more than a touch of irony.