After every horrible mass shooting, when we should be mourning together, looking for solutions to stop future attacks, consoling the families of the victims, there’s an immediate rush to make sure conservatives know they do not belong to that wider American community feeling the pain. Worse, there’s a constant allusion to the fact that those on the right are responsible for the slaughter. Republicans spend the time following these attacks not in mourning like they should be but beating back the sickening idea that they inspired the shooter.
With the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the message from the Left is that it’s President Trump’s rhetoric that is to blame. While Trump indeed uses irresponsible language and inflames the country’s division with his words, blaming him for a crazed shooter is one step too far.
As James Robbins pointed out in his column in USA Today, the shooter actually believed Trump was part of the Jewish conspiracy he imagines controls America. “Bowers was explicit in his dislike of the president, saying he did not vote for him and had never ‘owned, worn or even touched‘ a (Make America Great Again) hat.” Challenging the media narrative that President Trump praised Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville in 2017, Bowers agreed with another extremist that the president had “betrayed” right-wing radical protesters by “comparing them with a violent mob.”
That he hated Trump is irrelevant to the accusers harping about Trump’s rhetoric. Trump is still to blame.
This insta-blame has roots in the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in Tucson in 2011. The blame happened so swiftly that it took conservatives by surprise. Before any information whatsoever was known about the shooter, the mainstream media pushed the story, created on the left-wing site Daily Kos, that Sarah Palin was to blame. A map her political action committee had produced had Giffords’s district in crosshairs. That kind of imagery had long been used to denote what electoral districts the other party should target. But now it meant that Palin had wanted Giffords dead. The idea that the shooter saw the map and decided to kill Giffords was taken as gospel. It was disgusting. And it was just the beginning.
When it became known that the shooter had not actually seen the Palin map and had been obsessed with Giffords for years, no one took back the sickening accusation. In fact, six years later, the New York Times was forced to apologize for an editorial that still linked what happened to Giffords to Palin. Facts just didn’t matter when the target was so juicy.
It doesn’t end with just Trump or Palin or whichever Republican official. It inevitably trickles down to blaming their supporters and then just anyone who doesn’t align with one particular political side.
After the shooting in Las Vegas last year, Jimmy Kimmel first blamed Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House speaker Paul Ryan for the shooting and said “they should be praying for God to forgive them for letting the gun lobby run this country.”
But he didn’t stop at just blaming politicians. The very next night on his show he said that Republicans know “in their hearts” that they bear some responsibility for the massacre because of their Second Amendment support. Just a late-night talk-show host ever so casually blaming half the country for the murder of 58 people.
The message is always: You’re not part of this. We’re upset and we’re angry. You don’t have a right to be.
Salena Zito, a reporter known for her sympathetic profiles of Trump voters, found this out when she was in Pittsburgh last weekend covering the aftermath of the shooting. She tweeted: “In middle of a somber moment at staging area while I was talking to a member of the Jewish community this @guardian reporter started screaming at me that I was an anti-Semite/that I caused shooting because I reports on Trump & to leave and kept screaming in my face to get out.”
That Guardian reporter was Mike Elk. He tweeted back “My apologies if you were offended by what I said. I grew up in this neighborhood and as a Jew, have long dealt w/ anti-antisemitism [sic] in Western PA. It was an emotional time to see Jews from my neighborhood murdered for merely being Jews. My apologies again if you were offended.”
If you were offended that I said you hated Jews and were responsible for mass murder, I apologize. That foul accusation is made against someone who is a reporter, not a political operative or a politician herself. But Zito is the wrong kind of reporter, the kind that doesn’t seethe with hatred for Trump, so this is all her fault.
GQ writer Julia Ioffe also found a target for her blame: Jews who approved of Donald Trump’s moving of the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. She tweeted: “And a word to my fellow American Jews: This president makes this possible. Here. Where you live. I hope the embassy move over there, where you don’t live was worth it.”
For this she got space in the Washington Post to promote her “the president did this” line and an invitation to CNN to discuss how terrible online discourse had gotten. Her own discourse was not mentioned.
In the aftermath of terrible events, there are calls for unity, calls for Americans to come together. For Republicans, it’s always except you. Those on the left purposely pushing their political agenda in moments of national grief should be held accountable. Their divisiveness stops us from healing after tragedies. Political shots shouldn’t be worth it.