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A scary time in America

Less than 24 hours after authorities arrested a man accused of terrorizing the nation with mail bombs, anoth...

Posted: Oct 29, 2018 10:37 AM
Updated: Oct 29, 2018 10:37 AM

Less than 24 hours after authorities arrested a man accused of terrorizing the nation with mail bombs, another man, shouting anti-Semitic slurs and armed with an AR-15 assault rifle and three handguns, opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, killing 11 people and injuring six. The suspect, Robert D. Bowers, 46, was captured at the synagogue.

President Donald Trump called the attack "pure evil" and said "our nation and the world are shocked and stunned by the grief." Then he headed to Illinois for a campaign rally 10 days before the midterm elections. ("I don't want to change our life for somebody that is sick and evil.").

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The trail of anti-Semitism and other hate speech on the suspect's social-media accounts was a familiar marker of domestic terror, wrote Jay Parini. "Racism gathers into its dark embrace haters of every kind. Their victims can be of any minority group -- Jew, Muslim, Latino, black, gay." For a country "awash in guns, hate erupting into murderous violence is a chronic condition." And while the President is no anti-Semite, his "rhetoric has fueled and empowered racists of every stripe...Americans: wake up, please! Remember why we exist at all: we were founded by immigrants fleeing persecution abroad..."

Writing in the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin warned of the mainstreaming of right-wing, "blood and soil" nationalism in the United States and Europe. The shooter may be responsible for this act of mass murder, she wrote, but politicians who "celebrate 'nationalism,' or declare the United States is a 'Christian nation'... are consciously or unconsciously channeling and amplifying anti-Semitism."

Twin terrors

The slaughter at the Tree of Life Synagogue followed days of anxiety and furious debate over who might have been responsible for sending package bombs to a range of people -- mainly prominent Democrats.

On Friday the apparent answer came. Cesar Sayoc, a 56-year-old Florida man with a long criminal history, was arrested in Plantation, Florida, and his van, plastered with right-wing slogans and pro-Trump stickers, was hauled away.

President Trump had been complaining on Twitter earlier in the day that "this 'Bomb' stuff" was slowing down Republican momentum in the midterms. He instantly pivoted to condemning "these terrorizing acts" before cameras at the White House, praising the speedy work of law enforcement.

That was teleprompter Trump talking, suggested Paul Waldman in the Washington Post, and it didn't last long: "after reading some perfunctory remarks about unity, he played the victim, saying 'Who gets attacked more than me?'" -- before returning to campaign talking points, like his plans to halt the migrant caravan, moving through Mexico, when it reaches the US border.

Wrong threat, wrote Julian Zelizer. "The caravan Americans should be worried about is already here. It is the white van that the alleged, attempted mail bomber Cesar Sayoc was driving." The President errs in focusing on "allegedly dangerous people who are part of the movement of immigrants seeking safety within our borders," when "a real concern for the country should be the potential for violent domestic political extremism to flare among people who live here and who perceive themselves to have an ally in the White House."

Indeed, despite a brief, telepromptered condemnation Wednesday, the President had downplayed the steady stream of pipe-bomb packages that had sown terror from New York to southern Florida, while some of his supporters pushed the idea that the bombs were a "false flag" sent by liberals to discredit the right.

"On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh asserted Republicans just don't do this kind of thing," wrote Peter Bergen. "That is simply false ... there is, in fact, a long history of political violence emanating from the far right."

The suspect's motivation is yet to be spelled out, but there was no denying what the targets had in common, wrote John Avlon. "They've all been targeted by President Donald Trump and made into bogeymen for the far-right, often on Fox News by opinion anchors like Sean Hannity" with astonishing frequency. Since he became President, "Trump has attacked CNN 63 times on Twitter ... tweeted attacks on (Hillary) Clinton 109 times ... mentioned (Rep. Maxine Waters) 73 times in speeches, press statements and tweets since March of this year," including to call her a "low IQ individual."

Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat urged "reasonable elements within the GOP (to) take a second look at the real-life consequences of the hate speech that has overtaken their party. On this issue, breaking with Trump would truly be a civic duty, and one that might save American lives and democracy in the future."

Hold on, wrote David French in the conservative National Review, before the arrest of Sayoc: "it's worth repeating that we don't have any evidence at all that Trump's words matter to the bomber. Yet for some, regardless of the evidence (that) emerges in the next several days, Trump's responsibility will remain an unfalsifiable belief." It will take "moral courage to follow that evidence wherever it takes us -- even to the darkest places in our own political movements."

And former FBI agent Josh Campbell cautioned that "this is not a Republican or Democratic issue. It is much larger than partisan politics. This is a serious life-and-death matter of public safety."

'"I'm sorry" just doesn't cut it,' Megyn Kelly

In a panel discussion about Halloween costumes on Tuesday, the NBC host Megyn Kelly wondered aloud why blackface would be a bad choice for white people. "What is racist?" she asked, posing one of the most ill-advised rhetorical questions ever. The next day there were reports that she was likely toast at NBC. Kelly apologized. Too late, wrote Roxanne Jones. The former Fox host "fell into the trap ensnaring a lot of undercover bigots in America today. ... They think they can redefine the meaning of racism by arguing that they don't believe in being PC -- which to me means that they want to be free to deny the humanity and equality of others who are not like them." By Friday, NBC had dropped Kelly's morning show.

But Kelly didn't get a fair shake at NBC, wrote Joe Concha in The Hill. She "never seemed particularly welcome nor given a true chance to succeed." In the end, NBC chair Andy Lack "threw Kelly under the bus when things got inconvenient."

Course correction?

Historian Tim Naftali noted that national polls show that the GOP, "now the Trump Party, does not represent the desires of a majority of Americans" on the key issues of the day: health care, women's rights, climate change and immigration. On paper, at least, November 6 should bring "a major course correction in American politics." But if, instead, the "outcome of the struggle in the current three-person race among center-left anger, Trumpist rage and widespread apathy" is a victorious Trump, he warns, then "our political system will face its strongest stress test in the modern era."

A video that popped up on social media Monday roiled the tight Georgia governor's race. It showed Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams participating in the burning of the state flag at college in 1992. Don't be fooled, Jill Filipovic said. The video was "aimed squarely and transparently at riling up a racist base" -- by defending a racist flag. This flag was not "some storied part of Georgia's history," but was adopted in 1956 in response to desegregation. Its Confederate symbol was "a big, deliberate, and clear middle finger to African-Americans."

Chris Pine shows his all in a Hollywood movie

The actor's private parts make a cameo in "Outlaw King," an upcoming Netflix movie about a 14th-century Scottish ruler. To Twitter and the media this is a big deal (or at least no small thing) because, as everyone knows, women appear frontally nude in movies regularly, and men hardly ever. It's a disturbing double standard, wrote Holly Thomas, but that's not really the point. The outsized furor over "his stripping off ought to be read as a symptom of injustice for all genders in the movie industry," she observed. Better still, "the democratization of nudity on-screen would be hugely advanced by moves toward equality off-screen" -- more women on and off camera, and more respect "for all actors who take their clothes off in the line of duty."

Lottery billionaire, watch out

The frenzy over the largest-ever Mega Millions jackpot -- $1.537 billion -- ended with the drawing Tuesday of the winning ticket, bought in Simpsonville, South Carolina. But by week's end, no one had claimed the prize. Just as well, wrote Kate Maltby: "bear in mind the number of lottery winners who've met grisly ends after the news of their winnings spread." There was the guy who won $30 million in Florida in 2006 and was found "buried under a concrete slab" (his girlfriend wanted to manage his winnings herself); and the Powerball winner who blamed his sudden wealth for the drug deaths of his daughter and granddaughter ("I wish that we tore the ticket up"). Says Maltby: "Count your lucky stars and pray that you don't win."

Khashoggi's death awakens a lethargic world

Nearly a month ago, Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi's brutal murder at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul shook the world out of its "outrage lethargy when it comes to human rights violations," observed author Gayle Lemmon. "What was it about this one horrific tragedy against a blood-soaked collection of so many others that made it stand out?" Lemmon asked. "The world's most vulnerable children face sexual abuse in a refugee camp and barely a reaction is received. Thousands of Yazidis -- among them mothers and children -- remain missing, and those who have returned have only tents to call home. But the world has moved on; no one seems to feel they can do much of anything to make a difference for much of anyone."

Sandra Day O'Connor's brave goodbye

The first woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, announced that she is in the early stages of dementia. "After a life of service to justice, to women and to those caring for and living with Alzheimer's, we owe her our thanks and well wishes for the long goodbye," wrote Jay Newton Small, who lost her own father to dementia. O'Connor had stepped down from the court in 2006 to care for her husband, who, suffering from Alzheimer's, forgot her and took up with another woman in his senior community. "The decision to be public with such a private episode," to raise awareness and confront stigmas about the disease "was very much in line with O'Connor's quiet activism all her life."

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