Rising signs of hate in the US

Three alarming incidents in the past week in the US – the pipe bombs sent to a number of individuals and companies, two black people shot in a grocery store, and the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting – have raised concerns that hate crime is on the rise.

President Donald Trump has inevitably been included in discussions in reaction to these incidents. It is difficult to judge how much Trump may have encouraged this sort of hate violence, but how he responds may make a difference – and while he has played lip service to outrage and condemnation, his actions continue to be troubling.

This apparent rise in hate crimes, the tip of a large iceberg of online intolerance and hate, is happening on Trump’s watch.

NY Times editorial: The Hate Poisoning America

What is going on in this country? Can’t we be safe in our homes, in our schools, in our most sacred places? Once again, Americans are left to ask each other these sorts of questions, after a gunman burst into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on the Jewish Sabbath and opened fire on families in the contemplation of their faith.

The attack came a day after a man was arrested in Florida for mailing pipe bombs to politicians and journalists across the country. In both cases, the suspects had nourished their animus online, on social media platforms where they could easily connect with people who shared their hatreds.

After the attack on Tree of Life, Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder and dean of Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Times, “I’m afraid to say that we may be at the beginning of what has happened to Europe, the consistent anti-Semitic attacks.”

Alongside anti-Semitism, anti-black hatred appears to be rising. It has been expressed recently not only in incidents in which white Americans have harassed black Americans for gardening, coming home, swimming, working or campaigning for public office, but in deadly attacks like the one by a bigot who shot two black people at a Kentucky grocery last week, after he tried but failed to enter a black church.

At least some of the hate behind attacks like this is fomented online.

The suspect in the Pittsburgh killings, Robert Bowers, had found a home for his hate on Gab, a new social network that bills itself as a guardian of free speech, unlike somewhat less permissive platforms like Twitter. There his online biography read, “Jews are the children of Satan,” a statement of personal values that he evidently expected to earn him not opprobrium but followers.

Mr. Bowers’s hatred of American Jews was apparently motivated in part by the generosity and empathy many of them have shown for non-Jewish refugees of conflicts worldwide. In their humanity, he found cause to dehumanize them. “It’s the filthy EVIL jews Bringing the Filthy EVIL Muslims into the Country!!” he wrote online.

Gun laws come up again after mass shootings, but little ever seems to change. And guns are just tools of extreme merchants of hate, many of whom build their bravado online.

What can be done? Certainly, common-sense gun safety regulation might make attacks like the one on Tree of Life synagogue less deadly— universal background checks, red-flag laws that take guns away from the mentally unstable, bans on high-capacity weapons like the AR-15 rifle that the alleged killer wielded.

Measures like these would help contend with the hardware of hate. It is far harder to disable the software, the ideas that now spread so readily.

It is difficult to confront online hate. Some of it ferments in protected bubbles.

Leadership that is unequivocal about condemning intolerance and hate would help.

Good speech may not be enough in itself, but that doesn’t mean that American society couldn’t benefit from much more of it today, particularly from its leaders.

So it was reassuring to hear President Trump condemn the attack in Pittsburgh, as he did the pipe bombs. And it was disappointing to see him immediately head back out on the campaign trail, as he did on Saturday, to disparage his opponents and critics all over again.

Until next week’s mid-term elections it seems that hate and division as tools of politics will continue.

It isn’t simply a Trump issue, but as the leader and commander-in-chief of the country he must take some responsibility for the escalations and do more than speak out of both sides of his mouth.

But there are alternate views, like this opinion from Steve Hilton from Fox News who blames it on Barack Obama: Trump and his supporters are being blamed for a climate of rage and hate – but here’s the truth

Predictably, the establishment is blaming President Trump and his supporters for a climate of rage and hate.

But let’s be honest, a lot of Americans have had a lot to be angry about for an awful long time.

This anger we’re seeing, it didn’t start with Donald Trump. I think it goes back at least a decade.

In 2008 you saw the elite bail themselves out while working people paid the price for their recklessness and incompetence.

And you saw a new tone enter our politics.

Reagan, the Bushes, Bill Clinton, Bill Clinton perhaps a bit too much – they weren’t haters. You got the sense they loved everybody.

But then we saw something new. A cultural elitism came in. Condescension. Even contempt.

Remember when then-presidential candidate Barack Obama said on April 6, 2008, “They get bitter, and they cling to guns or religion.”

How about when his wife Michelle said this on February 18, 2008; “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country.”

We saw hate and divisiveness — from the top. And remember, from the left, not the right. From the elitists, not the populists.

What he claims is debatable (very much so) but there is one truth that can’t be denied – the current levels of division and hate are happening on Trump’s watch.