Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the Angelic Hierarchies?
–Rainer Maria Rilke
Now Trump’s love of insult and violence has given us this: the massacre of Jews in their synagogue. It was bound to happen. Eventually, inevitably, in this atmosphere created by his demagogic politics.
It is not the Holocaust, not even Kristallnacht, but a line has been crossed in our country and we can’t go back, cannot undo it. Call it our own climate change, of the political kind. And, yes, caused by humans.
We woke up this morning, after a week of bomb attacks aimed at Donald Trump’s critics, and found the canary dead. Out of the window things looked the same—a gray, late October morning, cars on the street, people walking their dogs. But our world was changed forever. A soft, leafy neighborhood in Pittsburgh had become the site of a bloody massacre of worshippers simply for not being Christians, and our memory of the bombs mailed in the same week to Trump’s critics was almost forgotten.
I’ve been said to cry wolf. Well, the wolf is at our door. Eleven Jews lie dead in the synagogue. Fifteen bombs have been mailed to Democrats including two former presidents. Two people were murdered in Kentucky for being black. All of this in a week. We can no longer delude ourselves that our democracy cannot be destroyed, turned into an autocracy, that it can’t happen here. It is happening here before our eyes. And Trump is joking about his hair.
The president pronounced his perfunctory call for national unity then proceeded to divide again, blaming journalists as the “true enemy” and casting himself as the victim, complaining that President Obama had not been associated with the killing of nine black worshippers in Charleston, S.C., but he, Donald Trump, was mentioned in connection with bombs sent to people he had insulted. Not fair.
Julia Ioffe in Sunday’s Washington Post offered the clearest explanation of Trump’s association with these crimes. Her family had experienced pogroms in Russia and reluctantly decided to leave in 1988 when her mother realized that again a pogrom was “truly plausible.” The state had not ordered violent acts. It didn’t have to; it had set the tone. Someone else did the deed, plausible deniability was preserved, and everything was fine.
We had nearly forgotten that a Washington Post journalist was murdered and dismembered only weeks before and Donald Trump was not disturbed by that. He continued to call journalists the “true enemy of the people.” Three pipe bombs were sent to CNN, and Trump did not object.
When he spoke of the bombs he was unable even to mention the names of former Presidents Clinton and Obama or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Asked later whether he had telephoned them to express his concern he said he would “pass.”
That was dispicable. It conveyed to potential gunmen and bombers that if they carry out more political violence the president won’t lift a finger. Hannah Arendt called it “the banality of evil.” Ordinary people perform evil acts because they think it acceptable. Adolf Eichmann, on the fringes of the Wannsee Conference, saw socially acceptable people discussing a “final solution” to a perceived “Jewish problem” and felt his own moral responsibility change.
In our democracy the fault is not Donald Trump’s alone. While he is a banal tool of evil, the greater fault lies with those who enable him, the patriarchs of the Republican Party who see Trump setting the tone for immoral acts, have the power to prevent it in the U.S. Congress, and do nothing for fear of losing their jobs. Chief among them are Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, but there are too many others to name.
They have been called upon repeatedly through the last two years to publicly denounce such inaction, to confront the president either legislatively or even rhetorically to hold ourselves to a higher moral standard, and they have done nothing.
So now we face the futility of our crying out.
We have one cry left. We can—we must—vote them out of office everywhere.