This week has been difficult beyond belief. The Pittsburgh shooter yelled “All Jews must die” and proceeded to kill. Another shooter in Kentucky earlier in the week, tried to enter a black church, and when he was unsuccessful, instead shot and killed a black man and woman at a grocery store in cold blood, and opted not to shoot someone else, saying, “Whites don’t kill whites.” Both of these are disturbing enough, but coupled with the bomb threats that were sent to hurt those who President Trump has called out, it is impossible to deny the intolerance that is gaining ground in the United States.
I think he encourages intolerance (e.g., mocking someone disabled, making up names to vilify and characterize those he doesn’t like, etc.), emboldens haters to act (e.g., this article recaps quite a few instances in addition to his statements that if Democrats were to take Congress in the midterms, angry violent mobs will take over) and gives tacit approval to extremists (e.g., by calling them very fine people and by not distancing himself from extremists who publicly support or endorse him).
All these acts create a combustive atmosphere, one in which, I think, those who hate in their hearts are more likely to act now because of it. The Anti-Defamation League created a heat map to show all extremist acts of intolerance. I filtered for 2002-2015 and then for 2016-2018 and the number jumped from 372 to 4340 events. Read those numbers again.
I am very much aware that extremism and intolerance reside at both side of the spectrum. The left hates the right and the right hates the left. No one is embracing anyone. As Jews, we especially see how today’s anti-Semitism comes from both sides.
But filtering the map further shows that the majority of these acts are from the far right. Today’s emboldened climate of intolerance, combined with easy access to weapons and a legislature resistant to changing either condition, means, to me, we will only see more and more hate-driven bomb threats and shootings. This is the America we live in.
I think the fact that is a time for all groups who are not mainstream white Christian to have to be extra vigilant against intolerance and against those who act on their hate is something that should worry all of us. This does not make America great. It makes it dangerous.
It is time to actively decide to be kind to everyone we meet. One group in Pennsylvania, called Politics, Facts and Civility has as its purpose not kindness but driving the importance home of having an open mind and listening to each other.
A few years ago, a massive campaign was launched in Israel. Called “Gossip (literally, bad tongue) doesn’t speak to me,” it used videos of everyday people and celebrities to explain the hurt that unthinkingly written or spoken words can cause. It was widespread and included merchandise, so people could wear the slogan and help spread the word.
I don’t know what clever means we could use to help bring people together to practice kindness, but we need something. We need to teach empathy in this country. Children who cannot put themselves into others’ shoes grow into adults who and quick to judge and believe they count more than others.
And this week, we’ve seen too many examples of where that takes us
Pictured: Screenshot of ADL Heat map for 2016-2018