John Zaring | The Rational Center: The Ballad of the MAGA BomberJohn Zaring October 29, 2018 1 COMMENT
The bomber – a Floridian named Cesar Sayoc – was head-over-heels in love with President Donald J. Trump.
Is anyone really shocked?
Apparently, Sayoc had been driving around south Florida in a white van festooned with bumper stickers that lauded Trump and promulgated extreme, right-wing conspiracy theories juxtaposed alongside cross-haired pictures of Trump’s most prominent critics, including all of the people who received his bombs last week.
The darkness inside Sayoc’s mind was literally plastered all over the outside of his “vanifesto.” It was quite a menagerie of absurdity.
At Friday’s post-arrest press conference, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray made clear that these were not “hoax” devices or some “false flag” operation designed by Democrats to sink Republicans in the midterms. That theory was promoted across the right-leaning spectrum from Infowars to FOX News and repeated not only by Trump, but also by many Santa Clarita residents in the various Facebook groups dedicated to local politics.
Again, these weren’t fake bombs. They were poorly made bombs.
Since Trump’s election, I’ve had my share of rhetorical tussles on Facebook with people who’ve posted sentiments similar to those espoused by Sayoc, and while I wouldn’t be shocked if they sported a “CNN SUCKS” bumper sticker on their car, I never thought that any of them could become unglued enough to attack me or anyone.
A few weeks ago though, in a thread discussing one of my Proclaimer columns in the Santa Clarita Community Facebook group, one person threatened me – in a public post, for all to see – saying that I was someday going to end up with a bullet between my eyes.
I reported it to Facebook but as far as I know, nothing happened. He continues to post, which of course makes my wife nervous, but the people we have in common assured me that this married father from Canyon Country is “a nice guy in real life.”
Still, as is the case with Cesar Sayoc, how can anyone be 100 percent certain that this “nice guy” keyboard warrior won’t become an attempted murderer? Last I checked, Facebook happens in real life.
Let’s be frank: there’s anger on both sides. Trump has made zero effort to be president of all of us, leaving many on the left appalled by those who enable, if not encourage by their silence, his worst instincts. Meanwhile, the fringe right cheers loudly every time Trump smacks around his opponents – Democrats and the media – and gets inspired by his racial dog whistles.
Whether enraged or emboldened by Trump’s debasing and dangerous magniloquence, our elected officials have discovered it’s in their own best interest to stoke the political fires of today’s deeply divided America.
It starts with these leaders, but many of us are caught up in it too. As I said, I’ve sometimes unleashed spastic, sarcastic fits of political passion on social media, and I’ve got to do better. I don’t buy into the idea, however, that the malice is equivalent. After all, I’ve never threatened anyone (though I have assaulted them with indisputable facts and a reasoned perspective).
We’re quite lucky that no one died last week, but don’t kid yourself. This is a wake-up call, and I pray that Sayoc’s attempted mass assassination against fourteen (so far) Americans – a list that includes two former presidents, a former VP, two former first ladies and a secretary of state, a former attorney general and a sitting congresswoman and a senator – doesn’t unleash a rash of copycats.
What’s most astonishing to me is that about an hour before Sayoc was captured on Friday, Trump complained on Twitter that this “bomb stuff” was slowing momentum for Republicans in the midterms. That was only a few hours after his 3 a.m. tweet that attacked the media for criticizing his reaction and action (or lack thereof).
This is domestic terrorism, plain and simple; it shouldn’t be dismissed as “bomb stuff.” Every other president in America’s history would be focused on this unprecedented mass assassination attempt, but not Trump. All he seemed to care about was how it might hurt him and Republicans politically.
I find it morbidly amusing that President Trump never called those targeted, not even the two former presidents. In fact, he barely mentioned them, and when asked on Friday by a reporter whether he planned to call, he said “I think I’ll pass.” For Trump, ‘the show’ must go on, so he kept a campaign appearance in Wisconsin on Wednesday night – literally just a few hours after the bombs directed at the Clintons and Obamas were discovered – and another in North Carolina on Friday.
During the warm-up act In Wisconsin, the MAGA crowd chanted “Lock her up,” while in Charlotte he heard “CNN sucks!” He claimed he was “trying to be nice,” but he lambasted his political opponents anyway.
The crowd was chanting, of course, in response to Trump calling Democrats “an unhinged mob” and labeling the media “enemies of the people.” In reality, he’s the one most Americans find unhinged and who lies constantly. Ever since that fateful ride down a gold escalator in Trump Tower, has regularly inflamed and incited his followers into a frenzy and possible violence. In so doing, President Trump has degraded the civility of not only our politics, but society. It’s a really, really risky game, but apparently it is the only game he knows how to play.
In Les Miserables, Victor Hugo said: “In the darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who committed the sins, but he who has caused the darkness.”
Donald Trump is pouring lighter fluid on today’s America, and he therefore must bear responsibility when deplorables like Cesar Sayoc act out. He tries to deflect blame toward the media and on those of us in it who point out his many failings, but the old saying “Don’t shoot the messenger” comes to mind — literally.
This is not normal. Trump is never going to be a normal president. Many Democrats feel as if America is perched on a cliff, peering over the proverbial ledge into the abyss below.
On Nov. 6, we can back away to a (somewhat) safer distance.
It’s impossible to know if a “blue wave” will materialize but somewhat safer to predict the House will flip. I think Republicans have come to the same conclusion. They’re spending most of their money to protect the Senate, and during this bombing crisis have been leaning on conservative stalwarts such as Geraldo Rivera, Lou Dobbs and Russ Limbaugh, who spent the better part of the two days floating a false flag conspiracy theory based around the idea that these bombings were all part of a “Democrat plan” to make Republicans look bad in the final days before a crucial election.
It was a Trump lover, so one can only hope that the one thing Republicans anticipated correctly is that many Americans will realize that the environment of hatred and demonization Trump has fostered gives purpose to these nut jobs and license to act. Perhaps if the attempted bombings aren’t enough, the murder of 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh at the hands of an anti-Semitic white nationalist – which happened as I write this column on Saturday – will get their attention.
One thing is very clear: our democracy is at a dangerous crossroads. Will this be the inflection point?
Many Americans made a Faustian bargain – which Britannica defines as “a pact whereby a person trades something of supreme moral or spiritual importance, such as personal values or the soul, for some worldly or material benefit, such as knowledge, power, or riches” – in supporting Trump, but on Nov. 6 they will have an opportunity to correct their mistake.
Will the “MAGA bomber” or the racist Pittsburgh killer be enough to get rational people to do what’s best for the country instead of their party?
The Santa Clarita Valley Proclaimer’s opinion section does not represent the official opinions of Radio Free Santa Clarita, its board and its supporters.
John Zaring has lived with his family in the Santa Clarita Valley since 2000. He describes his politics as center-left, as in “the rational center,” and while initially a college Republican, has been a Democrat since 1992. The LA County Democratic Party named him the 37th Assembly District Democrat of the Year in 2010.