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Horowitz: Pittsburgh & Pipe Bombs

Tuesday, October 30, 2018


Our increasingly poisonous and divisive politics took a deadly turn over the last week with a deranged, white supremacist Trump supporter sending some of the biggest targets of President Trump’s caustic and over-the-top personal attacks pipe bombs through the mail and a self-proclaimed anti-Semite killing 11 Jewish Americans and injuring 6 others during a worship service at the Tree of Live Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately, these are not merely isolated and random incidents. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) there was a 57% increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes in 2017--the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency.  Bias incidents in general also jumped up significantly last year.   A recently released comprehensive analysis of online activity conducted by the ADL, which included interviews with Jewish social media experts, reports that, “Those interviewed spoke about the rise of an emboldened anti-Semitic community online and consistently correlated this rise with the election of Donald Trump.”

Whether the president intends it or not, one consequence of his rhetoric has been the emboldening of the Alt-Right, White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis and bigots of all stripes. This is not to say he is responsible for the violent acts of a deranged few. But his refusal to clearly and consistently renounce bigotry and his continued nodding and winking to the fringe right has made an already fraught situation, even worse.

The polarized, partisan and increasingly tribal nature of our politics, however, preceded President Trump and in fact created fertile soil for his divide and demonize approach.  Fixing this is not just the responsibility of our leaders; it begins with us.  Research shows, for example, that both self-identified Democrats and Republicans are much more likely to view members of the other party as not only wrong, but evil than they were 20 years ago.  Too often, we live in our own silos, consuming media that reinforces our own beliefs, convinced of our own righteousness and persuaded that we have nothing to learn from people with whom we disagree.

We must all work to change the tone and focus more on what brings us together as Americans-rather than what tears us apart. We must reward elected officials who search for common ground through principled compromise-rather than punish them for being insufficiently pure. If we reward constructive problem solving and civility at the polls, self-interested politicians will provide more of it.

It is especially important that we all think about the roles we can play because we can expect no assistance from our president in healing our divisions. President Trump’s reaction to the pipe bombs was telling and predictable.  He took no responsibility for improving the tone of the political debate and blamed the media. Even worse, his reason for blaming the media was not a merit-based reasoned appeal to all media whatever its’ ideological perspective to be more respectful of the opposition and tone down vitriolic attacks; it was that media was too critical and unfair to him. 

President Trump is simply never going to look in the mirror-at least not to do anything other than admire his reflection. He is simply not going to appeal to our better angels. That makes it all the more important that we all look inside ourselves and reach out to our fellow Americans, whether we agree or disagree with their politics. It is up to each of us to get back in touch with our common values and heal our nation

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island. 


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