Where violence comes from – maybe: from the Oval Office

In the 1991 film The Fisher King, Jeff Bridges plays a shock jock named Jack who rails against yuppies and cajoles a listener to lash out, leading him to carry out a massacre in a popular New York bar (killing the wife of Parry, played by Robin Williams, who later loses his mind and becomes homeless, only to save Jack from being killed by street thugs).  Jack’s crude personification of a segment of society is seen as the catalyst of the murders committed by the listener and his life subsequently spirals downward, leading to the bizarre relationship he has with Parry.  He learns a valuable lesson and becomes a better person.

Oh if only the same could be said of President Trump.

In the wake of the crude pipe bombs delivered to several politicians and leading personalities over the past few days there has been a lot of speculation about what this means and who is behind them.  As an update, a bomb was intercepted at the office of actor Robert DeNiro (and one was destined for former US Vice President Joe Biden).  The intended recipients all seem to be Democrats or ‘lefties’.  There are still a lot of gaps on what happened and I hope we will all learn more in the days and weeks to come and it is hence premature to draw conclusions on all this. Nevertheless, there is a larger issue worth talking about, even if it turns out that the perpertator(s) have little to do with what I want to address.

What I am getting at is the creation of an atmosphere of hate, intolerance and vindictiveness  in the US in recent years, a time period that happens to coincide with the election of President Trump.  I am not so naive to construct a 1-to-1 correlation between the two, but there are some worrying relationships.

It is not rocket science to suggest that the current occupier of the Oval Office is responsible, at least in part, for some of this hate, intolerance and vindictiveness referenced above.  He has often – and with obvious relish – made comments that target the media, women, racial minorities…in a word anyone who does not like him.  Is it going too far to draw parallels with Jack from The Fisher King?  Just as Jack urged a guy to kill yuppies, is it a stretch to suggest that Trump’s words can be interpreted as licence to attack the perceived list of enemies?  Am I off base here?

As much as the President tried to appear ‘presidential’ in the wake of the discovered bombs, here is what he tweeted recently (a return to his more normal, true feelings?): “A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News. It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!

How is there any other way to interpret these words other than to conclude that they declare open season on the ‘mainstream media’ (CNN was one of the targets)?  Similar remarks have been made against the Democrats (in fairness, all is fair in politics and the Democrats have been equally nasty) and women – the latter are completely unacceptable.  Is it not possible – hard evidence is yet to appear – that the person(s) behind the pipe bombs was inspired by Trump’s rhetoric?  Yes it is.

What I am not arguing for is censorship.  Going down that road is fraught with challenges and it is far from easy to agree on what should be censored and why.  But is it asking too much to tone down the rhetoric, to think twice before expressing targeted hateful remarks, to avoid praising violence?

I fear we will see what we see in the wake of a mass shooting.  Everybody will express their horror and offer ‘thoughts and prayers’ – and nothing gets done until the next incident at which point everybody will express their horror and offer ‘thoughts and prayers’…ad nauseum.  Do we have to wait until someone builds a functioning bomb and kills someone before anything is done, or are we destined for more ‘thoughts and prayers’?

The US is going through a difficult time now.  Maybe the upcoming midterm elections are part of the reason for the nastiness but it is likely that this atmosphere of hate will last past the vote.  Is there any way to divert these expressions of intolerance (cheeky comment: is Trump a closet Wahhabi?)?  I am not sure but  maybe someone should get a copy of The Fisher King and make the President watch it: I hear he watches a lot of TV.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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