It’s a straight line from the shooting at Tree of Life, New Light, and Dor Hadash to the violent, murderous mob that tried to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6.
It’s a straight line that extends back to calling Mexicans “killers” and “rapists” — slandering and vilifying people based on their race or national origin.
It’s a straight line that includes the president implying that gun rights advocates might want to use violence to make political policy, as he did during the campaign, when he said, “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know.”
It’s a straight line that extends back to staffing the White House with those on the alt-right — Steve Bannon and Seb Gorka and Steven Miller — who immediately used the opportunity to start issuing “us versus them” statements and policies against Muslims and immigrants.
It’s a straight line from that to the gathering of tiki-torch Nazis at Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us,” and the killing of Heather Heyer, and the president validating and subtly winking and nodding at their behavior by saying that there were “very fine people on both sides” — to those same people showing up again in Washington D.C. with the intent to destroy democracy and overturn an election.
It’s a straight line from there to taking the children of rightful asylum-seeking migrants away from their families, housing them in squalid conditions, and then expelling and losing track of their parents, because the entire policy was rooted in the belief that some human life is worth more than others — that some people’s lives are expendable.
It’s a straight line between the hateful, violent, and careless rhetoric, and the acts that ultimately follow. When he tweets, “They stole the election from us,” despite all evidence to the contrary — when he encourages rallies and mobs to “take action” to “stop the steal,” it should be no surprise when then they take violent action in an attempt to do just that.
It should be no surprise when they erect a gallows on the Capitol steps and chant “Hang Mike Pence.”
It should be no surprise when Proud Boys and fascists bring swastikas and Confederate flags into the Capitol rotunda.
It should be no surprise when terrorists try to break down the door to the speaker of house’s office while her staff cower under their desks, praying to God they won’t be lynched for showing up to do the people’s work.
It should be no surprise that they beat a cop to death. In the United States Capitol building.
The direct path the president and his farthest-right supporters have put us on is a crooked one, twisted with hate, and encouraging violence. Those that excused the hate or stood idly by can turn their backs on it and walk away swiftly. But they have precious little time to do so.
The path they took was “straight” in a sense, because it was swift. But it was twisted all along. Those who led it must be punished and removed. Those who followed must change course. There must be accountability, and apology and change. The straight line we’ve been on for the past four years was crooked and ungodly, and the lies sown led us to a bad place of violence.
It has led us to the doorstep of despotism, to the brink of the death of our democracy.
The prophet Amos told us, “For they know not to do right, said God, who store up violence and robbery in their palaces.” The prophet Isaiah said, “Make straight in the desert a highway for God… and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” This is the task of America now. To make a crooked path straight, and fair, and truthful, and just. PJC
Mark Asher Goodman is a rabbi, teacher, and writer. He leads a congregation in Erie, Pennsylvania, and lives and teaches in Pittsburgh.