Is Donald Trump responsible for the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton last week?
Laurence Tribe, famed Harvard Constitutional law professor, seems to think so, as does The New York Times. In a tweet on August 4, Tribe said, "How many more people have to die violent deaths at racist hands before impeaching the president for inciting white nationalist terrorism and violence is taken as seriously as impeaching him for obstructing justice? The real national emergency is Donald J. Trump’s terrorism."
The New York Times, examining a manifesto purportedly written by the El Paso shooter, acknowledged that the document states that the shooter’s views "predate Trump," but nevertheless proceeded to assert that "if Mr. Trump did not originally inspire the gunman, he has brought into the mainstream polarizing ideas and people once consigned to the fringes of American society."
Some of the Democrats seeking the nomination to oppose Trump signed on to the notion that he was partly responsible for the horrific carnage wreaked by the two mass murderers.
All of this probably tells us more about Tribe, The New York Times, and the Democratic candidates than it does about Trump.
Trump himself declared that "there is no place for hate in our country."
One can actually find admirably palliative material in his speeches, such as his remarks three weeks ago when he said that "We want to make sure that everybody loves each other, if that’s possible. And, maybe, I really believe it is. Someday it will be."
Perhaps the president is a Rorschach blot, and one sees in him what one wants to see, but it is more likely that the two shooters are victims of mental illness than Republican politicians, though the possibility that a national cultural climate that prioritizes individual gratification and rejects a traditional Judeo-Christian morality of charity and restraint, cannot be completely discounted as a cause.
Less rabid partisans ought properly to understand that the president’s campaign call to Make America Great Again (MAGA), had a benign element of restoring just that traditional deference to morality and virtue.
Why then, professor Tribe’s crazed tweet?
Tribe has been advocating the impeachment of this president since May, 2017, and was one of those who explored the possibility of getting Trump’s Electoral College majority to cast their votes against him.
What is it that makes one of our leading constitutional scholars display such rabid Trump disdain?
Could it be that what divides our country is not Trump, but an ideology embraced by Tribe and The Times? Trump’s rhetoric is undeniably heated, and when he rails against the "fake news" purportedly spewed by the Times, the Washington Post, CNN and other mainstream media organs it is understandable that committed followers of those media outlets see a problem.
Jonathan Haidt and others have remarked on the near impossibility of conservatives and liberals understanding each other, since their value systems are now so radically different.
At progressive conferences, and one suspects, on progressive campuses, it is increasingly common for people to introduce themselves by announcing their preferred pronouns, and this extreme individualism is stranger and as divisive as Trumpian rhetoric.
One seeking to understand the triumph of Trump and his likely reelection ought to be able to grasp that his appeal is, actually, to a shared morality and a shared national purpose grounded in the past, but still holding promise for the future.
Hyper-individualism and self-actualization is a prescription for the kind of chaos that Aristotle associated with the excesses of ancient democracies, and that realization is what led the Framers to give us a Republic rather than a pure democracy.
For Jean-Jacques Rousseau the essence of a republic was that it followed the rule of law.
For progressives like professor Tribe and his onetime Harvard colleague (now Senator) Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., constitutional interpretation is creative and the meaning of that document ought to change with the times in order to allow redistribution of resources, and in order to permit an increasingly intrusive federal bureaucracy to supervise and control our lives.
That sort of elite paternalism is what motivated the administration of the Harvard Law-trained Barack Obama, who once served as Laurence Tribe’s research assistant.
Hillary Clinton sought to carry that banner forth, and much of the country’s rejection of elite progressive domination is a great explanation for Trump’s victory against her.
As we move into the increasingly-heated political debate that will precede the 2020 presidential election we ought to recognize that hatred of this president, and indeed, hatred itself is the enemy of all of us.
We ought to be debating the cultural and political principles that we must now choose between, and even Harvard professors ought to be able to move beyond ire and loathing and focus on actual choices before us.
Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). Presser was recently appointed as a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado's Boulder Campus for 2018-2019. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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