"President’s rhetoric looms over Tex. rampage" read the headline in The Washington Post, one of the many news outlets — broadcast, cable and print — President Donald Trump has chosen to call the enemy of the people in an attempt to marginalize and demonize critics of his policies and his presidency, including his characterization of immigrants as murderers and rapists.
I read that headline the morning after I had joined my wife in watching an episode of Madam Secretary she picked at random as part of a binge-watching Sunday night. It featured a plot about the rise of white nationalism and the unreasonable hate and fear of immigrants and “others” that fueled a deadly attack, in this case on the White House itself.
In the episode, three real former secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton, Colin Powell and Madeline Albright, guest-starred to provide some bipartisan counsel to the TV one about the importance of treating diversity with an embrace, not a raised fist. That is still one of the foundational principles of this imperfect union, they pointed out, and at the heart of understanding what is so dangerous about a nationalistic view that is equated either calculatingly or mistakenly with “patriotism.”
Words continue to have consequences, the president’s more than most. “These tragedies expose fault lines that are tearing apart our country — growing levels of white nationalism [and] racial and ethnic hatred,” said the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Faced with two mass shootings in as many days, the president said of his administration’s efforts to stop the killing: “[W]e’ve done, actually, a lot. But perhaps more has to be done.” That was just a “perhaps” short of the right thing to say. Then, with time and a teleprompter, the president did find some of the right words, but he needs to find more of them more often.
The reality is that what the president tweets about immigrants and journalists, or says as he hops into his copter — regular White House briefings have gone the way of civility — has realworld consequences. The political kabuki dance around that fact must end.
Rhetorical attacks on the institutions of government, as well as on the journalistic checks on those institutions — attacks that are often personal and ugly and hateful — pose an existential threat to the foundational principle of “from many, one.”
Of the Texas and Ohio shootings, the president said, “Hate has no place in our country.” That includes the White House.