Opinion

Trump Didn’t Pull the Trigger on Jews in Pittsburgh, but He Certainly Prepped the Shooter

The massacre in a Pittsburgh synagogue is the result of Trump’s constant endorsement of hate against the other, a hate-and-fear-mongering which has brought America to a very dark place

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the shooting in Pittsburgh, under the wing of Air Force One at Indianapolis International Airport, in Indianapolis, IN, U.S., October 27, 2018
REUTERS/Al Drago

In the past week, America and the world have witnessed the metastasization of Trumpism.

The process has been on-going since even before the U.S. president was elected, but it accelerated once he assumed office.  

We saw it in the first attempts to bar refugees from the United States on the basis of their religion. We saw it when white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia. We saw it when the people of Puerto Rico were denied the full support of their federal government in the wake of a devastating hurricane - and the president’s history of anti-Latin racism was clearly a contributing factor.

SWAT police officers respond after a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 27, 2018.
\ JOHN ALTDORFER/ REUTERS

We have seen it in the president’s active support of ethno-nationalist leaders and regimes from Israel to Eastern Europe. We have seen it with the Republican Party’s active embrace of voter suppression targeting black and Latino voters.  

But this week, days before a potentially pivotal American mid-term election, we have seen an acceleration not only of the president’s hate-and-fear-mongering, but of its devastating consequences in American society.  

We have seen a bomb plot without precedent in U.S. history in terms of it scope - targeting two former presidents, a former vice president, a former secretary of state, a former director of national intelligence, a former CIA director, a former attorney general, senators, congresspeople, a prominent philanthropist, an activist movie star and CNN.  

We have seen a double homicide in Kentucky in which the shooter had sought to enter a predominantly black church moments before, presumably with mayhem in mind.  

U.S. midterms

And we saw the bloodiest act of anti-Semitism in American history, one that claimed 11 lives at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

While none of these acts came at the direct instigation of the president or the leadership of the GOP, it is undeniable that they were manifestations of a changed climate in America of which the current U.S. president is the most prominent author.  

Indeed, in the same week they took place, the president and those closest to him in his party, held rallies at which the fury of crowds was deliberately stoked with chants targeting two of the targets of the bombing, Clinton and CNN. The president’s own rhetoric targeted others, like Representative Maxine Waters and George Soros

>>Soros, CNN, Obama and the Clintons: Trump's Incitement Turns Into Real Threats

The mention of Soros is, of course, part of an anti-Semitic trope that is heard across Europe, these days, with Soros standing in for past Jewish bogeymen like the Rothschilds in the eyes of conspiracy theorists. So too, are attacks on "globalists," one of which came from Trump just moments after the pipe bombing case was wrapped up.  

First responders surround the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, October 27, 2018
Gene J. Puskar,AP

The week also saw the president returning to his anti-Latino fear-mongering with him ginning up reports of a "caravan of migrants" "threatening" the U.S. southern border.

Trump defenders, hearing the attacks on the president for creating the mood that led to these attacks, responded lamely with defenses that ranged from false-equivalencies ("Sure, the bomber was a rabid Trump supporter who drove a van plastered with Trump photos and slogans, but Democrats were uncivil too…for example, when they treated Republican officials rudely in restaurants") to the most flaccid and hackneyed of responses regarding the president stoking anti-Semitism ("His daughter and son-in-law are Jewish and he moved the embassy to Jerusalem" - as weak rejoinders go, just a stone’s throw from "Some of my best friends are Jewish.")

>>The Trump Civility Debate Isn't New. In the 1930s, America Debated Whether It Was Civil to Shun the Nazis

There is no denying that Trump has sought to inflame divisions in America as no president before him.

He is the president who said that there were "very fine people" among the neo-Nazis who chanted "Jews will not replace us" in Charlottesville (and reportedly declared that being pressured into "cleaning up" his remarks were "the biggest fucking mistake I've made.") 

He is the one who called Mexicans rapists, embraced "America First” as his slogan despite its anti-Semitic past, recently declared himself a "nationalist" despite its echoes with very dark chapters in world history.  

The GOP under his leadership has refused to repudiate such statements. Indeed, they have supported it. That has included everything from statements like House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s now deleted tweet suggesting that Soros, businessman Tom Steyer and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg were trying to "buy" the upcoming election, to GOP Representative Steve King’s recent endorsement of a neo-Nazi Canadian politician - just the latest example of King’s ugly embrace of anti-Semitism.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s now deleted Tweet suggesting that Soros, businessman Tom Steyer and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg were trying to “buy” the upcoming election
Twitter

Trump surrounded himself with aides equally dedicated to the marketing of hate for political gain, like former top strategists Steve Bannon, and mastermind of the president’s draconian border policies, Stephen Miller. He refused to repudiate the support of white supremacists. He made the politics of over-the-top personal attacks on television and via Twitter his political signature.

Trump did not put the bombs in the mail or pull the trigger in Pittsburgh or Louisville, but he has contributed to a mood in which anti-Semitism has soared in America under his leadership, with anti-Semitic incidents rising 57 percent in 2017 alone, according to the Anti-Defamation League. That is the largest year-on-year increase in over four decades.  

He has made institutionalizing discrimination against people of color, whether at the border, or by making it harder for them to vote, a centerpiece of his administration’s policies. 

Even if, as appears the case, the Pittsburgh shooter suspected Trump, too, was under the thrall of the Jews, it is the behavior of Trump and those around them that has given permission for the haters to step out from the shadows, and into a more visible role in American public discourse.

A woman asks for status update from Pittsburgh City firefighters near the site of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue on October 27, 2018.
AFP

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dispatched a minister to Pittsburgh and decried the attack, no doubt both out of sincere outrage - but also to show solidarity with Trump, and help defuse the inevitable attacks that lay responsibility for the current American mood at Trump doorstep. But the effect of his support to those who are aware of the facts, may be the opposite of what is intended. 

Because it is clear one of the reasons Trump and Netanyahu have bonded is that both have ridden waves of hatred to political success, both have shamelessly vilified "the other" within their societies, both have sought to institutionalize the divisions their supporters seek, and both have capitalized on tensions at their borders even as they have inflamed them.  

In other words, to those that who are paying attention, Bibi’s embrace of Trump does not absolve the president of blame, but instead confirms the flaws in Trump’s character that have brought America into this dark chapter, because those very same flaws have done the same in Netanyahu’s Israel.

David Rothkopf is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and host of the Deep State Radio podcast