In response to Donald Trump

At the end of a long phone call my friend in Zambia says, “I have one more question. Do you follow politics? What do you think of Donald Trump?”

Just this morning I listened to the Diane Rehm show on NPR, an hour devoted to Mr. Trump and the response to his latest comments suggesting a temporary halt to Muslims entering the country. What alarmed me were the latest polls showing Mr. Trump’s growing popularity and the panelist and callers who agreed with his plan on this—the same day, the New York Times reports: Colorado Shooting Suspect Declares — “I’m guilty. There’s no trial,” Robert L. Dear Jr. told a startled courtroom here on Wednesday. “I’m a warrior for the babies.”

It strikes me that a “warrior for the babies” is as misguided and dangerous as warriors for ISIS and we are foolish to think we can seal our borders to prevent any extremists from reaching us. That Mr. Trump and his supporters fail to realize his rhetoric and their happy consumption of it fuel ideologies of hate, concerns me all the more.

This semester, several of my students wrote about the corruption of our justice system, the way we exalt revenge in our retributive system, and continue to tolerate institutionalized racism and classism. Heartened by their nascent indignation, I pushed them to transform it into thorough research so that even a skeptical reader might be persuaded to consider the prevalence with which we miscarry justice.

But for each eighteen-year-old in my midst, there are scores of adults ranting along with “The Donald” about sealing our borders, condemning people based on religion or worse, the acts of others, and holding fast to the notion that eradicating “bad guys” happens at the business end of a gun. I hate to think the logic of Robert L. Dear, Jr., Dylann Roof, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik makes sense to so many Americans who decry their acts but engage the same reductionist thinking: eliminate the violence we oppose by random killing. 

In Chicago where Mayor Rahm Emanuel apologized yesterday for the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, that followed the 2012 death of Philip Coleman, and the fatal shooting of Ronald Johnson in 2014, two other black men who perished at the hands of Chicago police, I can’t help but wonder if Chicagoans were to follow Mr. Trump’s line of thinking, would they propose a ban on police officers? Jewish mayors? Or just white people with power?

These are troubling times. Like the economic instability of 1930s Germany, the current political instability of Syria and Iraq, foments discontent and the discontented seek scapegoats and relish a cause that affords purpose and solidarity. Be it Nazism or an apocalyptic vision inspired by a suffocatingly extremist reading of Islam, the dispossessed and disaffected among us will continue to respond and though World War Two ended the Third Reich, it did not quell a new, albeit much smaller, iteration of the Aryan nation mostly in diaspora.

The forensic psychiatrist James Gilligan wrote in his book Violence: Our Deadly Epidemic and Its Causes, in 1996,

All violence is an attempt to achieve justice, or what the violent person perceives as justice for himself or for whomever it is on whose behalf he is being violent…thus, the attempt to achieve and maintain justice, or to undo or prevent injustice, is the one and only cause of violence.

Robert L. Dear, Jr. sought justice for the unborn. Dylann Roof sought justice for the beleaguered whites he imagined under threat. Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik apparently sought to prevent the injustice of infidels in a nation ideologically opposed to their worldview. And the police officers in Chicago, New York, Baltimore, and every other city where the ground cries out wet with blood, apparently used violence to “to achieve and maintain justice.”

That’s the problem we face: every person with a gun—now semiautomatic weapons with huge magazines our founding fathers could not have imagined—feels justified using it, just as every politician who advocates building a wall and closing a border believes it’s possible to seal out danger. But danger like life gestates. It arises out of a particular context and if we don’t understand and address the contexts, the iterations of hate and terror will continue clad in their own banners of justice.