Danger To America Is Already Among Us

How many times have we heard in the last two years some form of, “America is divided” “we are more politically polarized than ever”? It is true. Listen to cable news pundits yell over each other on television, read the comments section below a Post-Journal article online, watch one of our president’s rallies. Our political rhetoric has rotted and turned bitter. The discussions about our common issues, especially online, carry violent overtones and hateful symbols.

It can feel unbearable, hopeless even. With so much noise and negativity it is tempting to check out. Our only hope is if we stay checked in. Tuesday, we will have a chance to decide what kind of politics define us. Those who seek to divide or distract us only succeed when we end the conversation about the truth.

No more evidence is needed for the hatred driving our politics than last week’s atrocities. Dozens of bombs were sent to frequent targets of the President’s ire by a right-wing extremist. Then fewer than 200 miles away from Jamestown, in Pittsburgh, a crazed white nationalist slaughtered 11 Jews in their place of worship in the worst anti-Semitic attack in American History. No one person can be blamed for the atrocious acts of political wing-nuts, but some of the most powerful people in the country are fertilizing the soil with lies and conspiracies through which vitriol and violence continue to sprout.

The threat to our way of life is not marching toward the southern border or flying from the Middle East. The very real, dangerous threat is already lingering among us. White supremacist, nationalistic ideology is on the rise. Right-wing conspiracies fester in the dark corners of the internet then slowly creep into the mainstream through social media. A conspiracy about Jewish financiers behind the “caravan” of migrants approaching the U.S. is what drove the Pittsburgh shooter to act on his insanity. This man was terrified by the idea being spread by the president and on Fox News that violent criminals were coming to replace whites in America.

In high school, when I read about the rise of fascism in Germany in the 1930s I remember thinking, “well that could never happen here, not in America.” Now we are confronted with the dark reality that indeed it can. Anti-Semitic attacks up ticked 60 percent from 2016 to 2017 according to the Anti-Defamation League. Days before we learned of the mail bombs the president proudly proclaimed, “I’m a Nationalist!” to a thunderous roar from his drooling admirers. The president and his media allies have deliberately blurred the line between lies and truth by instilling fear and anger toward each other. What results is an environment where maniacal white nationalists feel emboldened.

Words matter. Especially when they come from our leaders and most powerful media outlets. Inflammatory rhetoric is bound to lead to violence when it comes from the top. Decades from now we will be asked what we did in this dangerous, uncertain time in history.

We are responsible for resisting the divisiveness. America is exceptional because we don’t do politics through rage, bombs and bullets. Our politics is at the dinner table, on the front porch, in the ballot box. Suffragettes in the 1920s and civil rights activists in the 1960s risked their lives for the ability to vote. Today, in Georgia, thousands of registered voters are being arbitrarily purged from the rolls. Other states gerrymander districts or enact voter ID laws to discourage citizens from turning out. People would not have sacrificed so much for the right to vote if it didn’t matter. Nor would there be such an effort to increase the difficulty.

No excuses remain. Those who do not act are complicit. It may get worse before it gets better, yet we cannot lose hope — hope for what we know America can be. Absentee ballots can be postmarked as late as November 5th. If you have the time, volunteer for a candidate you believe in on Election Day. Employers are required to allow workers time to cast their ballot. Vote like your life depends on it: because it America…it does.

Derek Smith is a Frewsburg resident.