The tragic murder of at least 11 Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue in the latest act of white supremacist terrorism should be an easy lift for any leader. You express sympathy for the victims, condemn anti-Semitism and despicable attacks of this sort at any place of worship, and vow to bring the perpetrator to justice.
Apparently, this was too much for President Trump in his initial response, who instead called for armed guards and lamented the slow pace of death penalty executions. Trump simply cannot bring himself to be a unifying force even briefly no matter the occasion. Even his later response avoided using the word “terrorism,” which is a totem for the right and Trump when such acts involve Muslims.
David Frum’s critique of President Trump’s response to today’s murders makes a devastating comparison:
There’s no politician to blame for the ideas in the synagogue murderer’s head. There are plenty to blame for the weapons in his hands. And at the top of that list is Trump, whose response to the killing was to blame the synagogue for not having armed guards of its own. In his famous letter to the Jewish congregations of Newport, Rhode Island, the nation’s first president pledged to them a country that would fulfill the biblical prophecy: “Every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
Trump is an unworthy successor to George Washington who feeds off fear, normalizes it, and exploits it. He’s done it again today. This crime is not his fault at all. And yet he nevertheless found a way to use this crime to add to his own accumulating shame.
I’d go further than Frum and say that, even if Trump largely avoids direct anti-Semitism in favor of attacks on Blacks and Latinos, the regular stirring of white supremacy and the bile that goes with it along with his steady praise for violence has played a role in stimulating people like the shooter and the bomber.
Frum himself points out, “There is plenty of coded anti-Semitism in the United States: Every Jew knows who you mean when you castigate ‘globalists.'” There are lots of legitimate reasons to debate trade. But we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think that fear of the foreigner animates much of the opposition to it.