Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

America: Our Shared Responsibility

 Tree of Life Synagogue, Pittsburgh

Tree of Life Synagogue, Pittsburgh

While sending one’s “thoughts and prayers” to victims and survivors of mindless, horrific, hate-filled acts of terrorism is certainly a decent and understandable thing to do, it is simply not enough; these acts cry out for positive, purposeful responses. Sending out “heartfelt prayer and condolences is akin to merely hoping and praying that a patient survives a bout of Sepsis (that’s blood poisoning) where a proactive protocol of, say, vancomycin and Merrem would be of far greater value and immediacy. Of course, the specific act of mindless, horrific, hate-filled terrorism we have in mind is yesterday’s lethal massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, which as of noon, today (Sunday October 28) left 11 dead and 6 injured.

Responses to this base act of anti-Semitic terrorism have ranged from the heartbroken and speechlessly distraught to the insanely conspiratorial. Fingers have been pointed from both sides of that civic chasm which is America in the early Twenty-First Century. Predictably, the crazies of the psychotic right have blamed the real victims for forcing the perpetrator to act as he did in order to protect their world - i.e. white Christians - from being annihilated by international Jewish conspirators who, they unflinchingly believe, control both the media, and global banking. From the other, less crazy, fringe, fingers point at the POTUS for rhetorically creating an atmosphere which gives tacit permission to psychotics of all stripes to get off the sidelines and enter their evil game of with lethal vengeance.

For many of us who are Jewish the long-held belief that America is different - that here, we can live both openly and safely as Jews - has taken a tremendous hit. Yesterday’s attack at Tree of Life is likely the single-worst, most overtly – and lethal - anti-Semitic attack in all the 364 years we’ve lived in die golden medina . . . “the Golden Land.” Oh sure, there have always been Jew-haters in the United States. Our “otherness” has been of concern to blue bloods and bigots alike for a couple of hundred years. But despite this fact, we’ve succeeded, have made overwhelming contributions to American society and have, for the most part, eliminated overt hatred for the Children of Israel from our country. Where once it was as difficult for a Jew to gain admittance to an Ivy League college as for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, today the presidents of Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Cornell (respectively, Lawrence Bacow, Peter Salovey, Christopher Eisgruber and Martha E. Pollack) are all Jewish. And yet, at the same time, all of their campuses have at one time or another been papered with anti-Semitic posters and anti-Israel protests on behalf of BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) groups. Yes, even the Ivy Leagues.

While expressing his sorrow and revulsion regarding the murders at Tree of Life Synagogue, POTUS also stated that in lieu of fighting for tighter gun laws, “If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better. If they had some kind of protection within the temple it could have been a much better situation. They didn’t.” It was a point he repeated several times in his remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrews a few hours after the shooting. In response, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto told a packed press conference “I’ve heard the president’s comments about how we should arm guards in our synagogues, our churches, our mosques. I’ve heard the conversation over the past year about how we should arm security guards in our schools . . . . We shouldn’t be trying to find ways to minimize the dangers that occur from irrational behavior. We should be working to eliminate irrational behavior and the empowerment of people who would seek to cause this kind of carnage from continuing,”

This past Wednesday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) posted a tweet (deleted just after news of the Pittsburgh terrorist attack was made public) warning that three wealthy Jewish Democrats are “buying” the midterm elections for their party. McCarthy’s post appeared after liberal billionaire philanthropist George Soros ―  one of his targets ― had been sent a pipe bomb. McCarthy’s tweet also named former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and California businessman Tom Steyer. Is this a “dog whistle” for anti-Semites and White Nationalists or merely the rhetoric of an unthinking politician? I rather doubt the latter . . .

President Trump, Rep. McCarthy and a host of Republican politicians may well not be anti-Semitic themselves. However, in the words of Florida Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum who, responding to charges that his opponent, former Republican Representative Ron DeSantis is a racist - a charge which DeSantis vehemently denies, pointedly said "Now, I'm not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist, I'm simply saying the racists believe he's a racist." The same can be said about POTUS: We’re not calling the POTUS (or any number of the president’s most ardent supporters) anti-Semitic; we’re simply saying that many anti-Semites believe he’s one of them.

On the other side of the aisle, there have been renewed calls for banning assault-style weapons (such as the one which spewed so much death in Pittsburgh), severely limiting the amount of rounds in any single ammunition pack, and doing everything in our power to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of bigots, racists and white nationalists. While offering up these basic solutions is both obvious and easy, enacting and putting them to work is not. That’s where we, the great unwashed public, have a powerful role to play.

Most potential mass-murderers - especially those motivated by hatred of African Americans, “Liberals,” Jews, Muslims, the so-called Hispanic Caravansary, et al - are rarely silent about their extraordinary delusions and fears or their plans to do something about them. The alleged Pittsburgh shooter (whose name I refuse to write) posted a steady stream of hate-filled tirades on his Gab site, the last of which stated “HIAS [the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] likes to bring invaders in to kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people be slaughtered. Screw your optics. I’m going in.” Groups such as ADL (Anti-Defamation League) and SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center) are staffed by some of the best cyber counter-terrorism experts in the world. They are constantly monitoring and sharing what they find online. Believe me: there were undoubtedly hundreds - if not thousands or tens of thousands - who read the Pittsburgh shooters posts prior to his going on his deadly rampage. The problem is that no one reported what they were reading to responsible authorities. If they had, things may well have turned out differently. We are all responsible for keeping our eyes open . . . for being watchful and eternally vigilant.

We are living through what historians might term an interregnum - a terribly difficult period between the king (or society) that was and the king (or society) that will one day be. And he (or she) who rules during the interregnum (the interrex), is but a provisional ruler. In British history, that would be Oliver Cromwell; in American history it is undoubtedly Donald Trump. Cromwell (1599-1658), in literal fashion, killed off the old regime by signing King Charles I’s execution order; but Cromwell’s rule didn’t represent a new era. Driven by a belief that he was God’s chosen instrument of Protestant redemption, Cromwell purged Parliament of dissenters and royalists, many of whom fled to Ireland. He then invaded Ireland, massacring thousands of Catholics and deporting many more to the colonies. In England, he imprisoned thousands of his political enemies without trial. When Cromwell died of an infection, he passed his title of Lord Protector on to his son, Richard. But Parliament rebelled, and within two years Charles II became king. In 1661, three years after Cromwell’s death, his body was removed from Westminster Abbey, and he was posthumously tried and “executed” for high treason, his severed head displayed on a pike outside Parliament. Out of this chaos, the modern English constitutional system was born. By 1689, the British Bill of Rights had been signed, laying down limits on the powers of the monarch, setting out the rights of Parliament, and guaranteeing free elections and the freedom of speech.

If Trump is a transitional figure like Cromwell, then the new that is struggling to be born is a complete realignment of American party politics - as well as the relearning of civic engagement in the cyber age. This new alignment will have to take account of what America has become - a nation whose ruling elite is no longer exclusively white, Christian and largely male; an America which has, for too long, been far, far more beholden to the whims and will of big money donors than the vox populi — the “voice of the people.”

If we are to one day find ourselves living and thriving in an America which truly lives up to the values and dreams of its founders, we will have to finally, finally realize that this nation is a shared responsibility. We will have to learn to reject the pomp and cant of the wealthy, the celebrated and those with the best press agents. We will have to remember that the preamble to our Constitution begins with the words “We the People,” and not “They the Elite.” Today, and increasingly in the future to come, “We the People” are going to be more Hispanic, Asian and Middle Eastern, and less White, Christian and Male.

America is indeed, our shared responsibility.

Midterm elections are a mere eight days away. Make sure you vote for our future . . . our shared responsibility. History . . . and the good folks of Squirrel Hill . . . will thank you.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone