Trump’s Rhetoric and Conservative Denial

The president cannot be absolved of responsibility for inciting the hatreds that led to El Paso.

Connor Betts, the alleged Dayton shooter, had left-wing political views, believed in socialism, supported Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy, and regularly inveighed on Twitter against various personages on the right (including, it turns out, me). This has some conservatives fuming that liberal media is conveniently ignoring the progressive ideology of one shooter while obsessing over the far-right ideology of another — Patrick Crusius, who posted an anti-immigrant manifesto shortly before police say he murdered 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso.

Sorry, but the comparison doesn’t wash. It’s idiotic.

The Dayton victims did not fit any political or ethnic profile: They were black and white, male and female, an immigrant from Eritrea and Betts’s own sister. Crusius’s victims, overwhelmingly Hispanic, did: They were the objects of his expressly stated political rage.

What happened in Ohio was a mass shooting in the mold of the Las Vegas massacre: victims at random, motives unknown. What happened in Texas was racist terrorism in the mold of Oslo, Charleston, Pittsburgh, Christchurch and Poway.

The former attack vaguely implicates the “dark psychic force” that Marianne Williamson spoke of in last week’s Democratic debates. The latter directly implicates the immigrant-bashing xenophobic right led by Donald Trump.

This needs to be said not because it isn’t obvious, but because too many conservatives have tried to deny the obvious

The president cannot be absolved of responsibility for inciting the hatreds that led to El Paso.

. It’s not about ideology, they say: It’s a mental-health issue. But that’s precisely the kind of evasive reasoning many of those conservatives mockedin 2016, when the mental state and sexual orientation of Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen was raised by some media voices to suggest that his attack had not really been an act of Islamist terrorism.

Alternatively, conservatives have cited the decline of civil society, the effects of the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill, the paucity of prayer and the ubiquity of violent video games — in sum, the breakdown of “the culture” — as explanations for mass shootings. This is the right-wing equivalent of the left’s idea that poverty and climate change are at the root of terrorism: causes so general that they explain everything, hence nothing. Why not also blame Friedrich Nietzsche and the death of God?

Get real: The right’s attempt to downplay the specifically ideological context of the El Paso massacre is a transparently self-serving attempt to absolve the president of moral responsibility for his demagogic rhetoric. This, too, shouldn’t wash. The president is guilty, in a broad sense, of a form of incitement.

No, Trump did not specifically incite anyone to violence, as characters like Yasir Arafat once did. (“To Jerusalem we march, martyrs by the millions!”) He will not, as Palestinian leaders still do, offer financial rewards to the families of terrorists. His scripted condemnation on Monday of white supremacy was, at least, a condemnation.

But incitement takes many forms. In June 2018, Trump tweeted the following: “Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!

The tweet (noted by my colleague Frank Bruni in a recent column) is significant precisely because it is almost forgotten. It does not even rank in a top 10 list of Trumpian outrages. And yet it’s all there:

  • The imputation of bad faith to his political opponents.
  • The conspiracy theory about “potential voters.”
  • The sneaking conflation of illegal immigrants with violent gang members.

And the language of infestation. In the early 1990s, Hutu propagandists in Rwanda spoke of the Tutsi as “cockroaches.” The word served as a preamble to the 1994 genocide in which over half a million people died. In today’s America, the dissemination of the idea, via the bully pulpit of the presidency, that we are not merely being strained or challenged by illegal immigrants, but invaded and infested, predicated the slaughter in El Paso.

It’s worth noting that the Walmart massacre is, as far as I know, the first large scale anti-Hispanic terrorist attack in the United States in living memory. On current trend, it will surely not be the last or the worst. The language of infestation inevitably suggests the “solution” of extermination. As for the cliché that sensible people are supposed to take Trump seriously but not literally, it looks like Patrick Crusius didn’t get that memo.

The main task for Democrats over the next 15 months won’t be to convince America that they need yet another health care re-invention, or that the economy is a mess, or that the system is rigged, or that the right response to Trump’s immigration demagoguery is an open border. It’s that the president is

  • a disgrace to his office,
  • an insult to our dignity,
  • a threat to our Union, and
  • a danger to our safety.

After You, Mr. Putin

Live in Helsinki, Trump brings his blame-America-first tour to a close.

.. let me admit that my absolute top take away was that at a critical moment in modern American history, our president managed to mention his winning margin in the Electoral College.

Bret: Also, I’m thinking about just what Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and the rest of right-wing punditry would be saying if it had been President Barack Obama at that podium, saying the sort of things Trump was saying, not to mention the way he said it.

.. They’d call him the Manchurian Candidate. They’d accuse him of treason. They’d call for an armed insurrection or something close to it. They’d say he hates America. And they wouldn’t be wrong. Here is a president of the United States who repeatedly blames America first; who takes the word of a former K.G.B. agent over his own intelligence agencies; who promises to work constructively with a despot whose regime

  • kills journalists,
  • shoots down civilian airliners and
  • uses nerve agents to assassinate its enemies abroad;

and who aims his rhetorical fire on an opposing party instead of an enemy government. And the Make America Great Again crowd, with an exception or two, says pretty much nothing, or averts its gaze, or switches the subject.

.. John Brennan has noted, “people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late.”

.. The thought that the government — our government — just put this child through that trauma for no other reason than Jeff Sessions’ fantasy that it will “deter” desperate migrants or otherwise help Stephen Miller work out his manhood issues turns my stomach as nothing else has in a long time. That a majority of Republicans support the policy turns it even more.

In some ways, this worries me a lot more than whatever Putin and his cyber-armies might be trying to do to us. Putin is a former KGB agent, so at least he’s playing to type. It’s the trashing of democratic values from the inside that concerns me even more.

.. During his press conference in the U.K. with Theresa May, he warned Europe to watch out for immigration because it was “changing the culture.” It was such a pathetic call for racism to rise up. And then of course he blamed Sadiq Khan, London’s Muslim mayor, for encouraging terrorism.

.. I guess that, as horrific as I find the stories about those poor kids being tormented at the border, I’m even more disturbed by the way our president is trying to promote this kind of ideology around the world.

..  it’s also important to understand why they’ve gained so much strength recently. The key is their ability to traffic in half-truths, to pick up on a legitimate issue and put it to an illegitimate end.

.. That’s why I think calls in the United States to “abolish ICE” are so dangerous: They create the impression that Democrats want unregulated migration, as opposed to a generous but lawful immigration policy. And that just helps Trump and the Bannonites.

.. Gail: For most Democrats, “abolish ICE” is just shorthand for getting rid of the Trump anti-immigration agenda. Although I do agree we could use a better code. Perhaps involving a quote from the Statue of Liberty.

..  in California, their state of nearly 40 million people is only going to be represented by two senators, which is exactly the same number as Wyoming, population 579,315. I keep harping on the fact that the real division in this country is between the empty-places people and the crowded-places people. Us crowded folk are virtually disenfranchised.

.. I think Democrats need to find a way to change the conversation about immigration, in two ways. First, stop feeding the perception that immigration is an act of humanitarianism by the United States. It’s a matter of self-interest: Newcomers mainly bring energy and drive and imagination and ambition to this country. Second, accept the premise that we need to police our borders, while making the case that we can police them better with a much more liberal system that diminishes the incentive to come into the country illegally.

.. Gail: And maybe we can get somebody from Mar-a-Lago to testify on how hard it is to get affordable help.