When politics is synonymous with perpetual rage
Two recent mass slayings within 24 hours, one in El Paso, Texas, and the other in Dayton, Ohio, traumatized the United States, in particular because no one has any idea how to stop them (all the calls for stricter gun control notwithstanding). But the response of the American political class portends even worse for the country than the slayings themselves.
Our political discourse has become deeply degraded. Both political parties devote much of their energy to keeping their respective bases in a state of perpetual rage. A combative president with an acerbic Twitter habit certainly does not help. And for more than a decade, the Democratic electoral strategy has been to balkanize America into a multiplicity of minority grievance groups, cheered on by woke, white urban elites. The Democrats' identity politics depends on turning ever larger numbers of Americans into aggrieved victims.
The degradation of our discourse and the irresponsibility of our politicians was on full display in the wake of double shootings. The El Paso shooter told authorities that he targeted Mexicans, and he had written a white supremacist manifesto. Former El Paso congressman Beto O'Rourke immediately seized the opportunity to revive his floundering presidential bid by rushing to blame President Trump for the shooting by "inciting racism and violence."
Somehow Democratic theories of causality always go missing, however, when the shooter identifies with the "anti-fascism" of Antifa — a group of violent, black-hooded thugs, whom not one Democratic presidential hopeful has found the occasion to condemn — as did the Dayton shooter. The Dayton shooter also professed his admiration for Democratic front-runner Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Similarly, when a sniper attempts to pick off Republican congressmen at a baseball practice and almost succeeds in killing Republican House Whip Steve Scalise, or another shoots at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in San Antonio (after repeated denunciations of ICE by Democratic politicians), one waits in vain for any Democratic politician to ask whether perhaps their rhetoric has gotten out of hand.
In the immediate wake of the El Paso shootings, San Antonio congressman Joaquin Castro, the twin brother of Democratic presidential hopeful Julian Castro, doxxed (i.e., publicized the personal information) a list of Trump contributors. They deserved to be exposed, he implied, because they "are fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as invaders." Castro thus labeled the half the country that voted for Trump, or at least those who contribute to his campaigns, as deserving of being held up to opprobrium. (He was subsequently embarrassed when it turned out that a number of those whom he exposed had contributed to his or his brother's campaigns.)
Moreover, by revealing the donors' personal data, including their home addresses, Castro was deliberately setting them up for campaigns of harassment and possibly worse. Not exactly the spirit of Lincoln's First Inaugural: "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies."
The bitter divide in American society is both a cause and a result of the loss of credibility in the eyes of the public of traditional bastions of authority. Once the three major networks — CBS, NBC, and ABC — offered the nightly news with an air of studied neutrality. Even the mainstream media today is fully mobilized: CNN and MSNBC on the left and Fox News on the right. Formerly, the liberal New York Times preserved a strict distinction between news and opinion. Today, no effort is made to maintain even a pretense of objectivity. The very concept no longer exists.
President Trump spoke after the two mass slayings. He denounced white supremacism and called for red-flag laws to prevent mentally ill people from obtaining guns. When a hapless headline writer at the Times provided an anodyne headline, "Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism," he triggered a crisis at the paper. Angry readers called in, canceling their subscriptions over a headline that did not castigate Trump.
The offending headline was soon replaced by a suitably critical one: "Assailing Hate but Not Guns." Executive editor Dean Baquet called a staff meeting to apologize for the initial failure. Not for one moment, he suggested, should the Times desist from nonstop denunciation of the president, whether it be in the news pages or the opinion pages.
Had the Times' editorialists and opinion page writers written that the president cannot escape responsibility for divisive words with one conciliatory speech or criticized his proposed solutions to gun violence, that would have been fine. But the distinction between opinion and news no longer exists at the paper.
At the same meeting, Baquet said that in the aftermath of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's failure to conclude that President Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election, the thrust of the paper's reporting must shift from collusion to the president's racism. But again the assumption was that the mission of the paper is to ensure that Trump is not reelected, and the news pages must be enlisted in that effort. No wonder that half the nation will give no more credibility to the Times' reporting on matters of race than its two years of reporting on nonexistent Russian collusion.
Also on full display in the week after the two mass slayings was the peril of Democratic identity politics. Former Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren, one of the current Democratic front-runners, used the fifth anniversary of Michael Brown's shooting by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, to fan the flames. "Michael Brown was unarmed yet he was shot six times," she declared. "We must confront systemic racism and police violence head on." Kamala Harris, another Democratic hopeful, followed suit.
Their statements were deeply irresponsible. Warren deliberately ignored the finding of the Obama Justice Department that police officer Darren Wilson had shot in self-defense after the 300-pound Brown first reached into his squad car and started pummeling him, and subsequently charged at him, despite repeated orders to stop.
Writer Heather Mac Donald, who has documented the disastrous impact of the Ferguson effect on inner-city policing, further debunked Warren's charge of systemic police racism. She cited a recently published report of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrating that white officers are no more likely to shoot black civilians than are black and Hispanic officers. Indeed, in some cases the opposite: A 2015 Justice Department study of the Philadelphia police force showed that black officers were 67% more likely to shoot an unarmed black suspect than white officers, and Hispanic officers 145% more likely. The narrative of "racist policing," Mac Donald argued in the National Review, distracts from the far greater problem of black-on-black homicide. Murder is the most common cause of death among black males, and the rate of death by homicide among blacks is eight times that of non-Hispanic whites.
A deeply divided American society, in which those who hold opposing views are not just wrong but deplorable, will not be able to address the multiplicity of challenges going forward. And politicians who irresponsibly fan the divisions for political gain will find that any victory thus attained will be a pyrrhic one, for they will be unable to effectively govern in the wake of those divisions.