Rob Rogers is an editorial cartoonist who was fired in June after 25 years with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. His departure, he said, came after weeks of tension with a publisher who wanted a more pro-Trump stance.
“We’re living in a very dark time,” Rogers told the local NPR station, “in terms of who’s in the White House and in terms of embracing what would otherwise be thought of as despicable racism, despicable thoughts.”
So it seems grimly fitting that one of the most arresting visual comments on last week’s carnage in Pittsburgh — 11 Jews killed by a gunman at the Tree of Life synagogue — came from Rogers, now working freelance. The image is of a window marked “Tree of Life Congregation — Pittsburgh,” which has been shot full of holes, glass littering the ground. The caption reads: “Day of broken glass …”
It is, of course, a reference to the night, 80 years ago in November, when Nazis went on a rampage throughout Germany, destroying synagogues, looting Jewish businesses and murdering Jews. It was called “Kristallnacht” — the night of broken glass. It was the opening bell of the Holocaust.
Well, another bell rang last week. None of us can yet say what it signified, what opened in America. But that something fetid and evil stirred itself seems beyond dispute.
It wasn’t just the synagogue killings. It was also the explosive devices sent to Democratic critics of Donald Trump and to CNN, the news network he despises. And it was a white gunman who, after trying unsuccessfully to get into a black church in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, killed two black patrons at a supermarket.
It all added up to one hell of a bad week. Worse, it was a bad week in the context of years that have seen mass murder at a black church in Charleston and the killing of an anti-racism activist in Charlottesville. Suddenly, Marvin Gaye’s famous question from almost 50 years ago feels freshly relevant: What, indeed, is going on?
Is our toxic political dialogue to blame? Is that what has loosed this era of political, racial and religious violence upon us? Are we reaping this from the diarrheic mouths of “leaders” whose entire message is to fear “them”?
No, said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She claimed that Trump — the chief offender — desires to “bring our country together.”
She spoke on Monday. That same day, her boss called Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum a “thief,” and a band of refugees moving through Mexico in search of sanctuary, “an invasion.” This was after calling activist Tom Steyer “a crazed & stumbling lunatic.” Trump also voiced contempt for journalists, blaming the “great anger in our Country” on “the Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People.” If media were nicer to him, he suggested, there would be “Peace and Harmony.”
It seems the man is congenitally unable to understand that it is not news media’s job to be nice to him or to keep him company in his alternate reality. He also doesn’t get — or doesn’t care — how corrosive it is when a president speaks nothing but invective, self-interest and lies. A president sets the tone. The tone this one sets is poisonous.
Kristallnacht saw over 7,000 Jewish businesses vandalized and 91 people killed. So no, a cartoonist’s hyperbole aside, last week was not Kristallnacht.
Except in the sense that Kristallnacht was a line, drawn across history, beyond which lay a very different country and an unimaginable disaster. This might be another one. If so, we need to find our way back across.
Assuming it isn’t already too late.