Posted by Ryan Suto on October 29, 2018 in Blog
On Thursday a white man failed to enter a black church in Kentucky and instead killed two black patrons at a nearby grocery store, later stating that “whites don’t shoot whites.” The next day, law enforcement officials in Florida arrested a suspect in connection to the mailing of thirteen bombs sent to politicians and public figures who have all been singled out by President Trump in speeches and tweets as liars, corrupt, or anti-American. A day later an armed man, associated with anti-Semitic social media posts, opened fire at a Synagogue in Pennsylvania, killing 11 worshipers.
This three-day string of shootings and assassination attempts, weeks before a midterm election, has left the country reeling. But when the luxury of time allows us to reflect upon this ugly episode in our history, it must be taken as an opportunity to discuss both how the country arrived at this moment and what can be done to shape our future.
Both suspected shooters have made bigoted statements and the suspected perpetrator of the mail bombs lived in a van plastered with pro-Trump stickers. His social media presence is littered with recitations of President Trump’s condemnations of CNN and other politicians, and he has attended Trump rallies in the past. Given this context, the allegiances and actions of all three suspects of last week’s horror place them squarely among a recent wave of “Rightwing Extremists” which, according to a 2009 Department of Homeland Security report, took up arms in reaction to the election of a black president—Barack Obama. They began to recoil at the demographic changes occurring in the U.S., and sought to slow the tide by any means necessary. Attempts to disenfranchise voters, mostly minorities and the poor, ballooned across the country beginning in 2010, and while gerrymandering has been occurring for centuries, 2012's Republican advantage in the House was historic. Four years later, racial resentment motivated many mainstream white voters to unite with this reactionary current to support Trump as president in 2016.
Since his campaign, President Trump's proudly nationalistic rhetoric and discriminatory policies have increasingly pushed white Americans to be even more xenophobic. Trump has also habitually stoked political violence against journalists and critics alike. The president saw “very fine people on both sides” after the alt right’s deadly coming out party last year under the shadow of a Confederate monument in Charlottesville, Virginia. All the while, nativist violence has increased, as well as the number of white supremacist groups; hate crimes against most minority groups have been steadily climbing.
Since taking office, the Trump Administration has been finding innovative ways to halt all flows of immigration to our country and make U.S. citizenship nearly impossible to obtain while attempting to purposefully undercount minority populations on the 2020 census. Going into the 2018 midterm elections, many Republican candidates are actively stoking racism to obtain or maintain power, and Trump’s midterm campaign appearances have focused on white Christian identity politics. The final act for all the demographically divisive rhetoric and targeting of minority communities, of course, is switching off the strained whisper of their political voices.
But many Americans already know this, having watched the best intentions of our country perpetually stuck in the quicksand of bigoted scapegoating. This is especially true for the millions with family and friends who have been directly impacted by some form of lone-wolf animus or state-sponsored xenophobia. The recent wave of hateful violence has regrettably added even more to those ranks.
The question for us now is how does one react to this horrible, and yet, contextually predictable, spate of right-wing violence? How does one react to violent efforts to protect exclusionary rhetoric and erase already marginalized communities? What should be done when millions of Americans feel the country is changing too quickly and turn to violently regressive policies and politicians who promise to turn back the clock?
Change the country faster.
This violence should be taken as a call to change the country before another Supreme Court seat is stolen. To change it before more families are cruelly torn apart at the border. To change it before another desperate refugee is turned away. The 2018 midterm elections may be the last chance to halt our nation’s slow march from a half-century of liberal democracy toward a structurally-ordained white Christian oligarchy.
But politics—especially partisan politics—cannot bring about all the necessary change required to move our country forward. The suspects of last week’s violence, of course, are not politicians. This wave of violence has created a moment where the country must call for cultural changes, as well. We must change the country faster so that another white person will not feel entitled to tell a fellow American family to 'go back to their country'. Or another woman does not need to post #MeToo on social media. Or another family does not have to mourn a loved one who was merely #LivingWhileBlack.
Reflecting on his own progress in office and the election of President Trump, former President Barack Obama once wondered, “Maybe we pushed too far… Maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe.” Obama was right, in one sense: many Americans indeed wish to exist solely among their “own tribe” and live comfortably in a monochromatic fantasy which not only has never really existed but is becoming increasingly impossible. But he was also wrong in another sense: the push was actually not far enough against latent and actualized racism and xenophobia, and was not enough to ensure that bigots or those who stoke political violence would never lead, or speak on behalf of, the American people again.
If there is even a momentary pause in the movement for greater political empowerment among minority groups, women, immigrants, and their allies, it will only validate political violence as an effective method for retaining a stranglehold on the status quo and our country’s avenues of power. This episode of our nation’s history has made clear the stakes of the 2018 and 2020 elections could not be greater, and now it is the time to show the perseverance necessary to regain past progress made toward a politically, economically, and culturally egalitarian future.