What Happens When “Terrorism” is Us?

My last column raised a simple question: Is leftwing terrorism making a comeback?

It seemed to me an obvious thing to ask.  In the last year, we have seen three random attacks on police officers in apparent solidarity with (though not collusion or connection with) Black Lives Matter.  Top that off with last week’s mass shooting in a DC-area park by a gunman who hated Republicans, and the question seems obvious.

I knew it was a provocative point and I was fully prepared for a storm of responses.  Nor was I disappointed.  I heard from many Republicans who, amusingly, feel themselves victims of “hate speech.”  Then, there was the individual whose email said, in its entirety, “Terrorism has always been perpetrated by the left with no exceptions.”

Yeah.  Because it was tree huggers in the Ku Klux Klan who bombed 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, right?  And the guy who bombed the Atlanta Olympics, wasn’t he angry about global warming?

More interesting than those, though, were the tweets and emails from liberals affronted by the idea that the left can commit terrorism.  Some were willing to go to truly prodigious lengths to rationalize.

Indeed, one person dismissed the idea that there was something morally wrong in shooting Rep. Steve Scalise, who is, in the writer’s estimation, a bigot and homophobe.  Putting aside that I wouldn’t want to live in a nation where bigotry and homophobia were capital crimes, two police officers were also wounded in the shooting.  Were they bigots and homophobes, too?

Another individual wrote that the shooting did not constitute terrorism, but, rather, “spasmodic violence on the part of oppressed people whose mental state cracked and failed them.”

I couldn’t help thinking how forgiving that is, how terribly understanding.  I wonder if that compassion will extend to the next Muslim who shoots up a street full of tourists.

Terrorism is defined as violence (usually indiscriminate) aimed at terrorizing a population in the name of some social or political point.  It’s a pretty simple definition, but I find myself struck, not for the first time, by how ready some of us are to believe that it can’t be terrorism if the terrorists look – or think – like we do.

That’s why news media are routinely slow to identify white terrorists as terrorists.  It’s why some liberals who don’t think twice about labeling Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph a terrorist contend that last week’s shooter was just a guy with a  good heart who “cracked” under pressure.

But that’s bull.

But in my humble opinion, if you are not willing to hold your own to the same standard you demand of others, you forfeit any right to the moral high ground.  These are angry and politically perilous times, yes.  We find ourselves saying, doing and feeling things we never thought we would, yes.

But in the midst of that maelstrom, it is as important as it ever was – in fact, more important than it ever was – to hold on to that high ground, to hold on to right.  Because otherwise, what’s the point?  If you become what you abhor in order to defeat what you abhor, what have you really won?

We all draw the line in different places, mind you.  But I’d like to think we can all agree on this much:

When you find yourself making excuses for a mass shooter, you’ve probably gone too far.

It Can’t Happen Here?

Did you hear?

Today came news that the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia have filed suit against Failed President Trump.  They’ve charged him with violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution – that’s the one that prohibits a president from receiving payments from a foreign government.

The Great Trumpkin, of course, has, indeed, violated that clause with gusto, refusing to let go of his luxury hotels, which are frequently patronized by foreign officials.

News of the lawsuit brings to mind something that fascinated and troubled me last year, as I listened to an audiobook of Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here.  As you may know if you stayed awake in English class, Lewis’ book, published in 1935 as Hitler was building his war machine, imagined a dystopian future in which fascism came to America.  The intriguing thing about Lewis’ story was that when authoritarianism comes to this country, it comes, not by force of arms but, in a very real sense, by force of apathy.

In other words, as the established norms and laws, the things that theoretically make America America, are trampled upon by the incoming dictator, a populist presidential candidate named Berzelius Windrip, there is a sense of America shrugging in response.  For all the newspaper editorials fulminating against this outrage, there is a sense of ordinary people  looking the other way, sheepishly surrendering their rights, freedoms, and national identity in exchange for the candidate’s magical promises.

It’s a narrative that suggests how fragile our institutions really are.  It’s a reminder that they exist only because we all agree they exist, have force only because we agree they do.  And that they are threatened the moment we don’t.

Lewis’ fear was that that unspoken agreement, the social covenant by which we live, would prove unequal to the task of restraining a brazen and charismatic strongman.  Which is precisely the situation we now face.

The good news is that our institutions are, in this early going at least, proving more formidable than we might have thought.  The courts have decisively stopped the failed president from implementing his Muslim travel ban.  Though Trump fired its director, the FBI is still looking into whether his campaign improperly colluded with the Russians and seeking to ascertain whether the failed president himself sought to derail that investigation.  Congress, albeit with morally supine Republicans dragging their feet, is doing the same.  Now comes this news out of Maryland and DC.  

The best part? For all his brazenness, for all he has done to undermine these institutions, Trump not yet signaled a refusal to be bound by them.  It suggests that the things that theoretically make America America are actually rather resident.  In an alarming political season where truly good news has been hard to come by, that offers a reason for guarded hope.

Maybe it truly can’t happen here.  At least, not yet.

 

 

Dear Donald: Just Say No

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Donnie, Donnie, Donnie.

Are you really so dense, Donnie?  You think news media want you to not use Twitter?  Au contraire, mon frere, if a Twitter account cost money, the Fourth Estate would ante up to pay your tab.

Make no mistake: as concerned Americans, we in news media are duly appalled at your Twitter habit, your periodic outbursts of pure id, the way you spray your predecessor, your former opponent, our international allies and the mayor of London with the indiscriminate recklessness of a gang member firing an assault rifle on a crowded sidewalk.  As thinking people, we are deeply concerned for the damage you are doing and will do to our country.

But as journalists?  As people who live for the story?

Donnie, your failed presidency and the tweets that regularly provide such a fascinating glimpse into it, are like a Christmas Day that lasts all year.  Like learning that chocolate cake causes weight loss and prevents cancer.  They are like puppies and birdsong, like baby smiles and grandma’s cookies, fresh from the oven.

They are, in a word, a gift.

Those people who are “working so hard” trying to get you off Twitter?  That would be your staff, which desperately wants you to grow up and start acting like a real president.  And it would be your lawyers, who are working hard to keep you from being impeached.

Those are the people who are begging you to give your thumbs a rest, Donnie.  You know, the folks who work for you and, theoretically, have your best interests at heart.

Not to worry, though.  I’m sure there’ll be a bus along any minute for you to throw them under.