What Do These Pipe Bombs Tell Us About This Moment in America?

We are two weeks from the most important election on our country in recent history.  High stakes and a losing hand can create desperation when you are afraid and have been primed to be more afraid. 

A series of pipe bombs were sent to many of the targets of Trump’s overheated rhetoric.  Hillary Clinton.  Barack Obama.  Eric Holder.  Joe Biden. George Soros. John Brennan.  Maxine Waters.  Robert De Niro.  Cory Booker.  James Clapper.  Fortunately, none of these Trump critics were injured.  And no one else was either.  No Secret Service agent or postal worker was hurt.  Yet.  But this anger in our country, stoked by a man who is desperate to have power above all else, who MUST WIN; this anger is the way Trump had planned to counter the blue wave in the run up to the election on November 6th.  I am not convinced he will really change course even though he might read from a teleprompter today or tomorrow and say we need unity in our country. 

Teleprompter Trump is not able to hold back Rally Trump.

Trump understands how deeply fearful white America is today and he is stoking the anger in his rallies and tweets.  Trump knows that people love to chant “lock her up”.   Trump knows he can juice his base using fear mongering.  He can move the needle and counter progressive energy.  But he also knows he HAS to do it this way.  This is the only way that it works; stoking the anger and fear of a nation in transition full of people who are afraid of change and afraid of the future. Fearmongering works.  Stoking grievance works.

We are going to find out who mailed these pipe bombs given all the evidence that our FBI and police have to work with, including fingerprints, fully intact bombs, numerous delivery points and the ability to track back, locate and obtain video content.  When we find out who this person was, his internet activity will help to explain the reason for his actions and how he came to have these particular targets. 

It is not a leap too far to assume that his motivation had something to do with Trump’s incendiary rhetoric, since these targeted people are all the same people Trump has been railing against at his hate rallies.  Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, and others on the rabid right are already putting out their conspiracy theories, saying that Democrats did this to themselves to make it hard on Republicans.  Really?  Really?  Are you guys that morally bereft?  Don’t answer.  We all know that answer.

Trump, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity and this bevy of Republican enablers and minders who are stoking hatred were very lucky so far because no one died.  There would have been martyrs if the pipe bombs had successfully detonated their human targets.  But this is what you get with hate talk.  This is the price you pay for electing a man without a moral core, empathy or a true love of country.

I am tired of hearing the excuses for hate talk.  I am also tired of the equivalency talk- don’t tell me the Democrats have been doing and saying equally inflammatory things.  They have not. 

But one thing is certain, if we are ever going to get out of this neo-Civil War we are in, where people are enraged at other people because of their politics, say hateful, totally uncivil things to each other, and even plot to kill their “enemy”, we are going to have to start by reaching out to those who might be willing to have a conversation.  We are going to have to get better at having difficult conversations in a civil way and not being afraid of them.

When I post online in various Facebook groups there are occasionally very nasty replies that are sometimes shocking personal attacks.  The response I see online from other members of the group often is an attack back.  Someone in the group will throw out a GIF that is a take down or will ask the person to get out of the group.  “Why are you back here making trouble in our group, you Russian bot?  Get a life!”  Etc.  It might make the person in the in-group feel good for the moment, but it doesn’t advance any kind of conversation with the “intruder”. 

What I have taken to doing may not be the best or the only way to respond, but it is at least an attempt to reach out across the divide. 

The first thing I do is to delete the offensive comment. 

Then I go to the “intruder’s” personal Facebook page and look at their lives.  Often these people (all have been men so far) seem to have very full, happy lives.  I see them smiling in photos with their family, their favorite friends, drinking beer at the game with other people.  I can see their hobbies and music they like.  I can usually see how old they are, whether they are working and what they do for a living, where they went to school and where they live now.  It is very interesting.  We have not met online.  We have no connection.  But I feel a bit closer to this person.  And I am very sure that if I met this person in “real life” he would not have spoken to me the way he did online.   

Then I Direct Message him.  Here is an example of what I say,

“Based on your comment to my post, something I wrote about must have upset you very much.  I am sorry I upset you.  I am not sure what it was I said, but I would like to talk about it with you.  I have deleted your comment from my post in the group because it was upsetting other people in the group, but I really do want to know what you are reacting to.  I have been on your Facebook page and you seem to have a pretty good life.  I see you have a happy family and a good job and a great looking dog and a boat!  I bet that if we met in person you would not have said what you said online to me.  I cannot tell why you are so angry, but you do seem to be angry.  Do you know why you are so angry and upset?  If that is a mystery to you, have you thought about talking with someone who could help you?  I am not being snarky here. Therapists, priests and counselors can be really helpful.  And, as I said, I am very open to hearing from you about what I wrote that upset you.  I look forward to having that conversation with you.”    

So far, no one has DM’d me back.  But if they did I would be open to a conversation.

Sometimes I respond online to a “troll” and the conversation takes place in “public” in the group.  I have had some interesting “conversations” with people who started off very angry, but if I interact with them with respect, we have gotten into some thoughtful and useful interchanges.  I learn about what they are concerned about.  I am open to understanding what they are feeling.  I do not demean them.  That does not mean I change my mind, but the other person feels heard because I affirm what I can about the other person’s concerns and legitimate fears.  They have a right to those worries.  I may not share them, but I can acknowledge how much their fears upset them.  

One person I had an online conversation with is deeply opposed to Roe v Wade on moral grounds because it is “killing babies”.  I can understand how someone might feel that way and I said that to him.  But I asked this person to think about how we know when a baby becomes a baby.  I asked him to imagine what would happen if the government decided to pass a law that criminalized killing babies in the form of sperm. 

“What if you jacked off and by law that was determined to be the death of thousands of possible babies who could have lived but because you jacked off, they died.  Don’t laugh.  That could be a law someday.  Would you want the government to have the right to lock you up in jail for jacking off and killing all those potential babies?  When is a baby a baby?  Who gets to say when a baby is a baby?  Roe v Wade actually did a good job of deciding when the government has a strong enough interest in the unborn child to intervene and make rules about what could be done with something that is part of a very personal private thing-namely, your own body.”

I asked him to think about these ideas.  Maybe he did.  I did not hear back from him after that.  

We can learn from each other.  We need to learn from each other.  We also need to realize that if we had a president who truly wanted to be a unifier, he could be.  Trump is not that president.  It is not only not in his DNA to bring people together, he keeps his head above water in the polls by being divisive. 

Trump cannot take responsibility for his own actions.  He cannot say he is sorry.  For anything.  And without that ability, he will not be able to help us reach out across the uncivil divide that he has deepened even if he did not solely create it.   It will only be a matter of time before he is back to riling up the crowd by blaming others for behaving badly.  Never himself.  In fact, I see he did that at his rally yesterday evening and again in a tweet this morning.  Blamed the press as the reason we got the pipe bombs.  Didn’t take long at all. 

Our country will be divided as long as Trump is president.  But that does not mean we cannot start to have difficult conversations with people who have ideas that differ from ours.  Some people are too far gone, it is true.  They have gone over to the dark side.  Fox News has taken its toll.  But others would rescue us in their boats if there was a hurricane in Texas and we needed help, because that’s what people do in in this country.  We still help each other out in the snowstorm or rescue each other in a fire. 

And now we have a new challenge.  We need to learn how to rescue ourselves from Trump.  He is a disasterous president.  We really need to get a check on him and his administration.  Work hard to get out the vote so we can get that much needed check on this administration and start the work we need to do to reclaim our country.