Terry H. Schwadron
June 30, 2018
President Trump didn’t shoot the journalists in the Annapolis Capital Gazette newsroom. That was a crazed gunman with a particular problem against the newspaper’s accurate coverage of a legal, stalking case that had gone against the eventual-gunman.
Still, the president has set a tone about journalists, the role journalism in our society and his constant, irritating claim of “fake news” to decry any coverage he finds negative to his highly polished self-image.
He has made journalists the express “enemies” of the would-be Trump state. He regularly calls them out, just for doing their job, which is to hold his words and actions to the fire of public attention, to say nothing of trying to explain policy by tweet, and insulting tweets at that.
More broadly, Trump has fueled a fire of contempt in this country, launching all kinds of countermeasures that have changed the nature of public discourse. When linked to a continuing demand for retribution from our institutions in a nation swimming with guns, it is easy to understand that there will be incidents that veer out of control. Those calls for civility you hear constantly really represent a desire to keep the policy debates within a set of bounds that do not fan flames of hate.
Simply put, you can’t have the President of the United States campaigning daily to undermine the validity of the American news industry — along with other institutions and traditions, from education and science to the friendship of international allies — and expect that there will be reaction, no violence that results.
Almost every journalist I talk with has gotten hate mail, even me, with more than a small dose of ethnic or identity putdown as part of it. Hey, I’m paying attention to what is happening around me, and giving you my take. You’re free to move on to only listen to flowery approvals for what your own opinion set was before you started to read.
We have no idea what the politics of this particular gunman are, or whether he was motivated by the fake news campaign, but we can be sure that across all the institutions of our society, there is a decline in civility, an increase in protest that too often comes near crossing a line of bodily harm, or insulting dehumanization.
The continuing combination of the off-hand calls for throwing people in jail, of punching opponents in the nose, of endorsing police brutality that we see at Trump rallies and in Trump speeches has had the effect of de-humanizing the violence from the words that encourage it. That was the lesson of Charlottesville, Va., and that is the moral repugnance of hearing Trump supporter Corey Lewandowski “whomp, whomp” a discussion of ripping a child away from a migrant parent.
Yes, that is the message that leads to leftist protesters confronting Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen of the Department of Homeland Security in a Mexican restaurant, and that leads the owner of that Red Hen restaurant in Virginia to ask Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave the restaurant. That is the message that Rep. Maxine Waters, D-CA, has co-opted into calling for more confrontation of Trump officials in their private lives.
It’s bad enough that our congressmen point fingers at FBI investigations, that senators accuse each other of lying, that the Supreme Court narrows the decision on Travel Ban to ignore the president’s years-long rants against Muslims.
The debasing of our debates into hate talk is troubling. Worse, it is an inevitable invitation to join a path that leads eventually to a crazed gunman walking into a newsroom and letting loose with a shotgun, leading to five deaths in Annapolis.
Admittedly, this particular mass shooting affected me as one who spent his entire career in newsrooms, where heatedness hardly even leads to fistfights. These were people going about doing their jobs when a deranged man walks into their midst with a loaded gun and a attitude of having been wronged by the institution.
President Trump had nothing to do with this shooting — except for helping to create an atmosphere in which hate crimes are up, confrontations are up, free speech is considered a weapon, where protests are okay if they are anti-gun regulation, but not okay if they involve taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. Trump had nothing to do with this incident except for daily insults against a news industry that tries to tell citizens what its government is actually doing instead of what it is saying.
President Trump was sympathetic — again — with the dead and with law enforcement, ignoring — again — the idea that some mentally challenged guy is able to buy a gun and ammunition in the state of Maryland.
The remaining staffers at the Gazette used Twitter to get out the news, and gathered in a garage overnight to put out a paper. That makes sense to me. That’s what we did during hurricanes and storms, electrical blackouts and major earthquakes. The people I know as journalists are not fans of “fake news,” and they are not particularly more “political” than seeing if they can prove a good story showing hypocrisy among elected officials.
Maybe that makes them good, soft targets.
What President Trump is succeeding at is a campaign to undermine confidence in every institution we know and trust, from the FBI to the media to allied treaties. Only in a totally disrupted world is the Word from the Authority to be trusted.
This shooting in an Annapolis newsroom was predictable in just such a world.