This weekend, America’s right wing, from the 2016 GOP candidates to its media echo chambers on cable TV, online and talk radio, have unleashed what may be their most hate-filled, fear-based, war-mongering fusillade since 9/11.
A former GOP congressman taunted U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to arrest him after threatening American Muslims on air; RedState.com is encouraging people to shoot the Saturday edition of the New York Times for its editorial calling for a ban on all militarized weapons and then post the image online. Such attacks are just the tip of this latest rage-filled response. Ex-New York Gov. George Pataki, a going-nowhere GOP 2016 candidate, also called for “war on radical Islam” and taunted Lynch. Fox News is berating moderate Muslims to “fix this,” while other right-wingers mock their spokesmen.
This wave of hyperbole comes in the wake of Friday’s law enforcement leak that Tashfeen Malik, the Pakistan-born wife of Syed Farook, had pledged allegiance to ISIS on Facebook. Then ISIS—master media manipulators—called the pair “supporters” on Saturday, throwing more fuel on the right-wing firestorm.
The American public, legitimately shaken by yet another mass shooting, is being subjected to a bottomless season of nastiness, racist hate-mongering and war fever, in which any viewpoint urging cooler heads and non-violent solutions is belittled by Republicans or their propagandists.
Hillary Clinton’s post-San Bernardino remarks that new federal gun controls are needed was mocked by 2016 GOP hopeful Marco Rubio as “typical of the political left.” In the Senate, Bernie Sanders said militarized weapons should be banned and gun access restricted, adding that more attention has to be paid to treating mental illness.
The escalating right-wing hyperbole is not just irresponsible but dangerous, as it promotes undue fears and offers more confrontations and violence as a solution, such as calls for all Americans to carry guns. What’s forgotten in that line of thinking is that many people won’t, or don’t want to use guns.
The GOP presidential candidates, in contrast, relish the thought of war with ISIS. One after another, at Thursday's Republican Jewish Coalition summit in Washington, they declared the nation was “in a time of war” (Ted Cruz), facing “terrorist attack” (Chris Christie), “they’re already here” (Lindsey Graham) and the feds should spy on anyone, anywhere, anytime: “Edward Snowden is without a doubt a traitor and should be tried for treason” (Carly Fiorina).
These trigger-happy remarks mimic racist frontrunner, Donald Trump, who has said U.S. Muslims should be registered and tracked by federal authorities. Other candidates, playing the juvenile game of “I’m-the-toughest,” have mocked Black Lives Matter and been xenophobic, especially on the issue of admitting Syrian war refugees. Protesters at Trump events have been ejected, spit upon or beaten up by mostly white crowds.
What’s lost in all this deliberately fanned chaos and ugly noise is the reality that getting control of America’s epidemic of gun violence—especially the harm by militarized arms—is critically important. Last week saw another failed attempt by Senate Democrats to push for a modest expansion of federal gun laws: increased background checks and banning sales to those on the FBI’s terrorist watch list. Instead, the San Bernardino massacre is expected to drive up gun sales, arms industry officials told reporters.
There’s “fear in the air,” the Times reported Friday, echoing a national poll released Thursday finding 83 percent of Americans expect a major terrorist attack. Meanwhile, overseas, the U.S. is deepening the military response to ISIS following the Paris attacks, and NATO allies that had limited their involvement are now sending troops, planes and ships.
In other words, contrary to what the GOP presidential candidates would have the public believe, the U.S. is very much at war in Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, they and their propagandist allies are opposed to removing weapons of war from individuals at home.
Americans who don’t believe the answer to violence is to carry a gun anytime they step outside find themselves in an escalating climate of fear-mongering, panic-driven gun sales and an urge by many to strike real or imagined foes.
What is lacking are people who can put these latest events and trends into perspective, historic contexts or offer wise responses—although the New York Times ran its first front-page editorial in decades on Saturday morning, urging Congress to ban militarized weapons and calling the recent domestic gun-caused slaughter terrorism. Most of the TV news, however, is reading a different script, hyping the FBI announcement that it was investigating the San Bernardino shootings as a terrorist incident.
That trend in the news business—if it bleeds, it leads—poses a larger challenge for everyone. The Southern California killings may end up as no more of a global conspiracy than the mass shooting by deluded loners at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, or at Fort Hood, Texas. What’s clear is too many in the media and political life are obsessing on threats from abroad while ignoring threats at home, namely gun violence.
That upside-down mindset fosters a public belief that such violence is normal and to be expected. The GOP is doing all it can to ignore the gun carnage, turn away Syrian war refugees and thwart the Obama administration’s climate change policies, even as a global conference on that very real threat is unfolding in Paris and experts say it will worsen the global refugee crisis.
The White House has ignored most of the noise coming from Congress and the 2016 campaign trail, making reasonable remarks that are quickly overshadowed by hyped headlines. The lack of a stronger, clearer and wiser countervailing presence from Obama has had serious consequences, however. It's created a void filled by an onslaught of irresponsible GOP hyperbole and right-wing propaganda. Ironically, Obama is allowing the end of his presidency to be colonized by exaggerated fears and darkness, though he was elected by a majority of Americans seeking a far more hopeful future.
Editor's note: Late Saturday afternoon, the White House announced that President Obama would give an address to the nation on Sunday at 8pm Eastern Standard Time, about "keeping the American people safe."