What’s happening now in America isn’t normal — and we shouldn’t accept it as such
Max Boot – washingtonpost
When, shortly after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, I wrote a columntaking President Trump to task for encouraging right-wing extremism with his violent rhetoric, I expected to get a lot of blowback from his followers. And I was not disappointed. What I did not expect was to also hear outrage from so many progressives.
I was deluged with criticism from readers responding to one of my tweets featuring a few sentences from the article: “Political terrorism and sectarian bloodletting—these are the horrors that occur in the Balkans or the Middle East. Not here. Not in the land of the free. We’re better than this. We’re Americans. Except now the horror show has arrived on our shores.” A small sample of the reaction:
• “i’m sorry yr hat is cutting off the circulation to yr brain and making you forget that america has about 400 years of political violence as its core you dunce.”
• “This country was founded on white supremacist terrorism, state sanctioned and otherwise. It’s in our DNA, it’s literally the principle of its colonization. All the high-minded freedom s––– is marketing.”
• “With all due respect, you should read some books about slavery, Jim Crow, and the KKK. This sort of terroristic violence is what sustained white supremacy for centuries, and it was widespread, not isolated in pockets.”
• “What a filthy supremacist tweet. No, America is not better than the Balkans or the Middle East.”
I suspect some of the critics did not bother to read the article, which noted that “Tolerance for political and religious differences … has all too often been honored more in the breach than the observance” and that “extremism has been present in America for a long time.” But my language was also clumsy. I should have made it clear that my words were aspirational — this is how America is supposed to operate. I realize that all too often the reality hasn’t lived up to the ideal.
If I wanted to read a book about the Ku Klux Klan or violence against Native Americans, the one I would pick up is called “Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present.” It includes two chapters on the Indian Wars, from 1622 to 1890, and one on the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan. The author of this historical tome? Some guy named Max Boot.
And, yes, I know that violent extremism is not simply ancient history in America. I know that African Americans were murdered by white supremacists in the 1960s — and such killings continue to the present day. I know that the Weather Underground set off bombs in the 1970s. I know that Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City federal building in the 1990s. I know that abortion clinics have been attacked for decades.
Those are all indisputable facts. But so is this: Not since the 19th century have we seen the kind of widespread sectarian bloodletting that has occurred in recent decades in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Rwanda, Congo, Sudan and the former Yugoslavia. So please don’t pretend that there is nothing out of the ordinary about last week’s attacks. The shooting spree by Robert Bowers inside a Pittsburgh synagogue was the deadliest attack ever against American Jews. And if the mail bombs allegedly sent out by Cesar Sayoc had detonated, the result could have been the most widespread assassinations of high-profile political figures in our history. This is not normal, and we should not accept it as such.
Ironically, by focusing on America’s sordid history, left-wingers are minimizing the horror of what is happening — and they are siding with their arch nemesis, President Trump. He told the New York Times in 2016: “When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.” I strongly disagreed with Trump then, and I strongly disagree with progressives today who deny that there is anything exceptional about America.
Every country in the world has a long history of violence and oppression. Racism, ethnic cleansing and slavery were not invented in America. What is different about America is that we were founded on a promise that we could rise above such ugliness to “form a more perfect Union … and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
More than two centuries later, we are still struggling to fulfill the lofty language of the Constitution. It has been a long, hard, bloody slog — and we have not yet reached our final destination. Racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia remain very real. But we have made progress. African Americans aren’t forced to go to the back of the bus. Japanese Americans aren’t locked up in internment camps. Gays aren’t denied the opportunity to marry. Jews aren’t blackballed from country clubs. Women aren’t denied admittance to college.
It is precisely because we have come so far that I am so heartbroken that Trump and his followers are dragging us back into the swamp of sectarian conflict. While there is ample historical precedent for what he is doing, we should not be captives of our past. The very fact that we can aspire to something better is the continuing gift that the Founding Fathers gave us — and one that I remain immensely grateful for even though I am keenly aware of all their flaws and shortcomings.