Donald Trump’s first (and hopefully last) term as president of the United States has now reached the midway point. In just two years, he has done incredible damage at home and abroad without suffering any consequences, but with just a week before the midterm congressional elections, it appears his cruelty, arrogance, and ignorance might finally be catching up with him. The stock market took a plunge last week, erasing all of the gains Trump had been crowing about as evidence that he was “making America great again.” This is likely due to more people realizing that Trump’s imposition of tariffs on China will result in lost jobs and higher prices for basic goods in the United States. Trump’s intemperate and racist tweeting and rally speeches have drawn increasingly critical attention as hate crimes shocked the country over the last week.
Just four weeks ago, Trump was feeling invincible: the stock market was soaring and his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, had been confirmed against incredible odds and the will of the American people; he was enjoying campaigning across the country, railing against the “enemy of the people” (the media) and the dangers of immigration, and casting aspersions on his favorite targets, Hilary Clinton and George Soros, to the loud applause of his crowds. Trump and the GOP still have every confidence that they will hold on to the Senate after next week’s elections, and in the wake of the Kavanaugh hearings, it looked like the GOP might also hold on to the House, given that Trump’s base was invigorated by the Democrats’ and progressive movements’ opposition to Kavanaugh. But by mid-month, Trump’s fortunes began to slide–all due to his own crass behavior and short-sightedness.
The disappearance of U.S. permanent resident Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey on October 2, and later, the revelation by Trump’s key ally in the region, Saudi Arabia, that the dissident journalist had been murdered in their Istanbul consulate building, suddenly turned congress against Trump, and also unleashed some of the harshest mainstream media criticisms of the president. Domestically, this made the president look bad, but from a foreign policy perspective, it put his vaunted Middle East strategy into doubt. Jared Kushner, a conceited young man of dubious intelligence who knows nothing about diplomacy or history, had pinned all of his hopes on Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman in devising the Trump Administration’s Middle East policy strategy. And now the U.S. media was taunting MbS as “Mr. Bone Saw” and publishing cartoons of a grinning crown prince with bloodied hands. Kushner has been keeping a low profile, and Trump is too tone-deaf even to realize that his administration’s big boasts about Middle East policy triumphs are now viewed as ludicrous and empty.
Vladimir Putin has been paying attention, though, and recently said of the United States, in the course of a foreign policy speech, that “empires often think they can make some little mistakes … because they’re so powerful. But when the number of these mistakes keeps growing, it reaches a level they cannot sustain….A country can get the sense from impunity that you can do anything. This is the result of the monopoly from a unipolar world … . Luckily this monopoly is disappearing. It’s almost done.”
In the absence of any decorum or decency from Washington, the U.K., Germany, and France took the diplomatic lead and the moral high ground in the Khashoggi affair, and Turkey emerged as a standard bearer for international justice and human rights in the region. Even Netanyahu sniffed a change in the air, and suddenly showed up in Muscat, perhaps looking for a Gulf replacement for the discredited Saudi crown prince. All Trump could focus on, however, was money: The Saudi weapon sales were good for business, thus good for America. Even republican leaders in the House and Senate recoiled at the president’s deficient moral calculus.
But October’s unrelenting drama was not yet over. Last week’s top news story was the pipe-bombs mailed to Trump’s biggest critics, beginning with financier George Soros, then Hilary and Bill Clinton, CNN, a number of congressional representatives and former federal officials, Robert Deniro, former Vice President Joe Biden, and another progressive financier of Democratic party candidates, Tom Steyer, in California. The floodgates of the mainstream media’s long pent-up anger burst open after CNN was targeted by the mysterious mail bomber–particularly because one of the incendiary things Trump encourages his crowds to chant while rallying voters is “CNN Sucks!” All of the television networks (except Fox News) pounced on Trump and sharply drew the connection between his intemperate language and the targeting of individuals he continually insults. Almost lost in the media melee over the pipe bombings was another shocking hate crime: two African American shot down in cold blood by a racist shooter in a Kentucky grocery store, who shouted that “Whites don’t kill whites!” The same man had been spotted on surveillance cameras recently trying to enter a Black church.
Responding to media coverage of these hate crimes, Trump and his supporters blamed the Democrats, casting the entire mail bombing scare as a hoax devised by the Left to make Trump look bad. No sooner had the mail bomb panic begun, than it suddenly ended with the arrest of a Trump supporter in Florida. The alleged bomber’s van was plastered with decals and stickers that broadcast his white supremacist and anti-Semitic views. After a half-hearted attempt at unifying the nation with softer rhetoric and unconvincing platitudes about civility, Trump was back on the campaign trail, behaving crassly and rallying his base, who continued to shout “Lock her (Hilary) up!” and “CNN Sucks!”
Then came Saturday morning’s news bulletins about a possible mass shooting in Pittsburgh (this writer’s home town). Mass murder by gun is so common now in the United States that it doesn’t seem like a big news story anymore, especially after four days of mail bomb coverage. Ensuing reports soon indicated that this shooting was especially horrific in the context of Trump’s nationalist and bigoted tweeting: A gunman shouting “All Jews must die!” had burst into a synagogue and opened fire on the congregants with an AR-15 assault weapon. When police arrived, the gunman shot at them, too, before being hit and injured. By the end of the day, the U.S. had seen the worst ever attack on Jews in the nation’s history: eleven dead and several wounded, among them policemen. This massacre would have been horrific enough at any time, but in the context of Trump’s and his supporters’ racist and anti-Semitic tweets and rally chants, it took on a more sinister tone. Vigils have been held for the dead in every major city, and in the comments and discussions following this heinous crime, disgust at Trump’s incivility and crassness is inseparable from outrage and sorrow at the deaths of people shot in cold blood while praying.
Yesterday, dozens of leaders of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community penned an open letter to Trump saying that he would not be welcome in Pittsburgh until and unless he renounces his nationalist and white supremacist views: “For the past three years, your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement. You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence….Our Jewish community is not the only group you have targeted. You have also deliberately undermined the safety of people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. Yesterday’s massacre is not the first act of terror you incited against a minority group in our country.” Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s Muslim community raised over $50,000 for the victims’ families, and many Jewish activists and writers are now wondering when American Jews, such as billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who have enabled Trump will speak up and denounce him and all that he stands for.
No one dares say ‘it can’t get any worse” in America right now. After all, this horrible month is not yet over.