Sunday Opinion

It’s almost time to vote … if you do

With Election Day, some perspectives on the direction of the nation from the left right and center. Two cartoons, and columns from Bob Franken and Rick Lowry. And make sure you remember to vote.

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The Violent Presidency of Donald F. Trump

Republicans have always justified their preferential treatment of the super-wealthy by trotting out the bogus “trickle-down theory.” They argue that as the rich get richer, they will spend more on jobs, etc., and the financial benefits will “trickle down” the economic scale. It’s a total con, of course. A sham.

But now we are witnessing a trickle down that’s for real. The man who has taken over the Republicans spews ignorance, hatred and violence every time he opens his mouth or pecks on a smartphone. His malice indeed trickles down — actually, more like a gushing — as Americans for and against him act on and react to the poison of Donald Trump.

It explains the horrifying slaughter at a Pittsburgh synagogue on a recent Saturday — the Shabbat, when Jews would be packed in as they came to worship. Robert Bowers, who allegedly mowed them down, was an outspoken and virulent anti-Semite. It would be overstating it to pin that label on Donald Trump. However, he certainly has pandered to those who are emboldened to crawl out of their dark hiding places and proudly display their fanatic hatred of Jews and everyone else who’s not a heterosexual white Christian. Trump inspires them with his unceasing dog whistles.

By the way, Bowers had made it clear in his social media rants that he was not a Trump supporter. Not so for Cesar Sayoc, the passionate Trumphead arrested for sending out crude pipe bombs to just about any liberal who had ever crossed his idol.

Donald Trump has created a presidency with his brand of destructive politicking that literally triggers violence. The brutality now flows freely from both sides. The 2017 shooting and near killing of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise during an attack on GOP congressmen as they practiced for a baseball game against the Democrats was another case in point. The perpetrator was someone from the left who had become inflamed into a homicidal rage. What also was regrettable is that the annual game is one of the few shreds of bipartisanship that remains.

Trump’s poison cascades downward, and tears us apart. Violence is a predictable result. And now he has the chutzpah to declare that what our country needs is to “unify.” He blames the media. One recent tweet reads: “There is a great anger in our country, caused in part by inaccurate and even fraudulent reporting of the news, the fake news, the true enemy of the people, must stop the open and obvious hostility …”

That is an invitation to violence against journalists if there ever was one. Or perhaps depraved responsibility. Meanwhile, his sycophants on the right are still peddling the story that the entire pipe bomb episode was a “false flag” subterfuge. It was really a “Democratic operative,” thundered Rush Limbaugh to his remaining dozens of radio listeners, “Republicans just don’t do this kind of thing.” How about Trumplicans, Rush?

This quote may be familiar, as I’ve used it before: “‘Cheer up,’ they said. ‘Things could be worse.’ So I did, and sure enough, they were.” Unless we rediscover that political debate means exchanging points of view as opposed to shouting at one another; until our leaders get a twinge of conscience, the growing fire will finally consume our country. The national will to extinguish it will have become a pathetic trickle.

Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.

(c) 2018 Bob Franken Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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America’s loser problem goes on and on

It’s not any less awful for being so familiar.

The last three high-profile attacks that have convulsed the nation, two in recent weeks, have been carried out by fringe loners who fit the stereotype of the perpetrators of such crimes precisely — they didn’t fit in, they were “off,” they kept to themselves.

The word that comes up again and again in accounts of their lives is “alone,” always alone.

The life of Cesar Sayoc, who mailed crude pipe bombs to Democrats ranging from George Soros to Hillary Clinton to Robert De Niro, was a pitiable wreck. His father abandoned his family as a child, and after dropping out of college, Sayoc lived with his grandmother. Then he went from place to place, performing as a male stripper. He compiled a record of petty crime, lost his home, declared bankruptcy. He was estranged from his family and resisted its pleas for him to get help. Sayoc lived out of his van, bizarrely festooned with pro-Trump stickers.

Not much is known about Robert Bowers, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, besides his vile social media postings. A childhood friend called him “pretty much a ghost.” He may have dropped out of high school. As an adult, he lived alone in an apartment, and no one ever came to see him. One neighbor said she couldn’t remember Bowers ever talking to anyone.”

The Parkland school shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was left with no parents after the death of his adoptive mother. He was expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where he was an outcast. He was reportedly depressed and had other behavioral problems. Police were called constantly to his home. A defense attorney called him “a broken child.”

None of this, of course, is to excuse in the slightest the heinous crimes of these men, or to deny the existence of pure, unadulterated evil. Murderous haters and kooks have been with us forever, as has anti-Semitism. Yet the social pattern is clear.

The phrase “deaths of despair” has entered the nation’s vocabulary to denote the rise of mortality among a subset of working-class whites from suicide, drugs and alcohol. Its declining longer life expectancy is one of the most stunning trends in American life. The at-risk population tends to be unmarried, disconnected from civil society, marginally employed and largely on their own.

One way to look at recent mass killings (or attempted killings) is as the handiwork of a very small, violent fringe of the socially disconnected. Their destructiveness is directed outward, in cowardly acts of mindless malice, rather than inward. They marinate in hate and proudly share their lunatic obsessions online, in a twisted simulacrum of community. They seek their identity in political extremism, Jew-hatred or the hellish idolatry of school shootings.

Their crimes are, in their diseased view, feats of grandeur. They give them a chance at perverse consequence and notoriety otherwise not available to them in their marginal lives and social isolation.

It’s evil and pathetic, infuriating and sad, and, by the looks of it, a persistent feature of 21st-century American life. What Emile Durkheim called anomie has been weaponized, and it’s horrifying to behold.

Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review. (c) 2018 by King Features Synd., Inc.

 

Categories: Sunday Opinion

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