In October 2018, Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, armed with an AR-15 style assault rifle, and opened fire on the praying crowd while shouting anti-Semitic slurs and murdering 11. Even when he entered the hospital after being shot by the police for treatment by Jewish doctors, he was still yelling, “I want to kill all Jews!”
The echo of Trump’s rhetoric in Bowers’ xenophobic complaints about the invasion of immigrant outsiders in the United States was evident, though the Trump administration’s rejection of Trump’s words had inspired the shooting, nonetheless.
We all remember the breathtaking and terrifying images of the torch-bearing white mob singing “Jews Will Not Replace Us” in Charlottesville, Virginia in the summer of 2017. And we remember Trump’s refusal to condemn them, which loudly shouted the tacit approval of anti-Semitic white supremacists from the highest office in our country. There were “good people on both sides”. That was the verdict Trump gave to all American ears, from those from developing infants to those formidable teenagers to the ears of adults who wanted to be encouraged, including a teen like Kyle Rittenhouse who shot and killed two people who were against An African American protested the shooting by the police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
And then, in August 2019, a 21-year-old white man opened fire on shoppers at a Walmart in the Texas border town of El Paso, writing in his manifesto that “this attack is in response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” and repeated Trump’s repeated references to “invasions” by immigrants.
If Trump is not directly responsible, if he has not powerfully inspired this violence, he has certainly encouraged the killers and legitimized the hatred.
And let’s not forget that Trump is the guy who invited his supporters to his rallies to beat up anti-Trump protesters and insists he would pay their legal fees. He’s the guy who called a convoy of looters trying to drive a Biden campaign bus off a Texas freeway as “Patriots”. He’s the guy who, when asked to do so in a debate, can’t emphatically and unequivocally reject white supremacy. Instead, he calls on the white nationalist Proud Boys to “step back and stand by”. This is the guy who can’t just say “Black Lives Matter” and who turns US forces against peaceful protesters so he can take a picture.
Wow – just cataloging those few cases, just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Trump’s inflammatory and hateful rhetoric and politics, fears me. We will all be very busy dealing with the post-traumatic stress syndrome of Trump’s toxic presidency.
However, democracy, the simple act of voting, has proven to be an effective weapon of defense.
After shooting the Tree of Life, my wife Terrie helped organize a vigil in a neighborhood park in Chicago to mourn the deadly episode, remember the victims and collectively mourn the violent and deadly tide of hatred in our nation .
She spoke to the many who, because it was a rainy night, crowded into the basement of the old park district; and her clearest line for me that stays with me is when she says in an inspiring, hopeful and joyful tone amid the desolation, “Let’s make the vote great again!”
This election demonstrated how great and life-affirming voting can be. I have to admit I misspelled the above – you might have noticed. I have called the vote a “simple act”. It is absolutely not. For many it was tedious having to wait in long lines for hours; having to wait en masse during a pandemic; and dealing with misdirection by Republican activists, such as Republicans installing bogus ballot boxes in the state of California, are among the other challenges posed by voter suppression efforts.
But voters came out in record numbers, many who had never voted and who didn’t seem to understand their power and ability to make a difference.
And that vote, in order to defeat Trump’s hatred and murderous rhetoric and behavior, had to overcome historical gerrymandering, intimidation, oppression, misinformation and more.
And it was heroic. If you had told me that Trump would get 70 million votes in this election, I would have cried instantly and collapsed with the sure prospect of Biden’s defeat.
But the voters were against all obstacles.
No, voting is not an easy act, even if it should take place in a nation that claims democracy and seeks to respect it.
But we have to see that voting save lives. it can make life important.
122,000 new cases of COVID-19 infection were reported last Friday. And yet, Trump and his administration have shown no concerted effort or even a willingness to take action against the pandemic that left more than 230,000 Americans dead.
He and his deputies, including Donald Jr., continue to downplay his deadly virulence.
So we can see voting issues, and I believe the full power of voting is beginning to dawn on Americans, especially those who cannot.
My 14 year old son expressed frustration as he waited for the votes to be processed that so much of what affected his life was in the hands of others because he was not eligible to vote.
The other day I saw a commercial with several young people from America who were not yet eligible to vote and asked those who can vote to keep an eye on them and their futures. These children are thirsty to vote, like my 16 year old son who acted as an electoral judge. They know so much about their life, their future, the world we elders leave for them, depends on the vote.
Historically, with a good turnout for a presidential election, perhaps 60 percent of eligible voters actually cast a vote. Imagine if all who could vote did it. Candidates would have to be much more cautious and respond to all sections of the population in craft platforms to reflect the interests of all voter segments.
It was clear this year that so many issues in this election are a matter of life and death. It turned out that voters depended on it because they saw that voting can actually save lives and make them important.
Tim Libretti is a professor of American literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A longtime progressive voice, he has published numerous academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, and the National Federation of Press Women and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.