The power of words
March 15, 2019
Posted in Politics
I am trying to get my head around this latest mass shooting in Christchurch (not ironic), New Zealand by trying to understand “why.” In most mass shootings the why is clear. Some loner thinks he has been wronged and so shoots up his place of employment, school, or public place. Or, some person feels that their country has been wronged by some other country and some act of terror is the only way they can strike back. This shooting doesn’t quite fit either of those explanations. All the details are not in yet, but it seems this shooter was an Australian who traveled to New Zealand to shoot up some mosques as a protest against all Muslims. He does not claim that he was keeping his family or country safe (after all he was in another country), that he was settling some score because he had been wronged by these particular Muslims, or that he was retaliating against New Zealand oppression of Australia. He was lashing out against the Muslim diaspora in defense of an imaginary transnational entity called “the white race.” One could argue that whoever commits these mass murders for whatever reason suffers from a mental illness that prevents him from having empathy or even sympathy for others. One could argue that they are sociopaths or even psychopaths. However that doesn’t get us very far. There are many sociopaths and psychopaths who do not commit mass murder. What makes these different?
As a kid I always was amazed that a minister could say some words over two people in a marriage ceremony and their child would come out looking like both of them. He must have been a powerful person. Suppose he said the words while some random people walked by or used his power for evil? Maybe it was the words themselves that had the power and anyone could say them with frightening consequences. This brings me to Donald Trump. The shooter mentioned Trump’s advocacy for “the white race” as a contributing factor in his decision to kill, according to the latest figures I have, 49 people, to wound scores more, and to plan to blow up others (a plot that was fortunately foiled.) Trump and his supporters will argue that he is not responsible for the actions of a mad man who twisted his words into reason to carry out a vendetta against some defenseless “others.” Yet the “threat” that Muslims pose to whites is part and parcel of his words and policies e.g. travel ban, harassment of even American born Muslims, fear of non-whites in general. It is of a kin to his denigration of Mexicans and plans to build a wall when no one except his base supporters want it and even Congress thinks it is a waste of money.
Has Trump’s use of the American presidency “bully pulpit” caused the number of harassing incidents towards “the others” to rise in the United States and now around the world? Are his words so powerful that people are being harassed or even dying because of them? I would argue yes. Many white supremacists other than the Christchurch shooter have said how they have been encouraged or emboldened by Trumps words, actions and tweets. Trump himself will never publicly take responsibility for any of this. I don’t know if privately he does nor whether he thinks it is a good thing, his responsibility, or just a ploy to rally his support. Perhaps it doesn’t matter what he thinks if he thinks at all before speaking or tweeting. What matters is do we think any responsibility can be traced back to Trump. Trump himself is unlikely to change and will continue to irresponsibly spout off whatever he thinks will get him re-elected no matter the cost to “others.” Trump supporters are unlikely to change as well or to even consider the idea or, if they do, to regret their responsibility in these matters. It falls to us who oppose Trump, what he preaches, and stands for, to stop his reign of terror against those who are different. I hope enough of us have the courage to do so.