American Massacres: From Pittsburgh to Thousand Oaks

Thursday night, November 8, 2018

It’s been a week since I’ve posted on my blog, and some things have changed, and others keep somersaulting in the same predictable arc.

Linda and I drove up to Santa Paula this past weekend to attend the wedding of her niece, Sarah, and her beloved, Margaret. The event was held in a large, open space adjacent to the cottages in which the vineyard’s workers live. Well over 100 people from both sides of the couple’s families attended, ranging from Linda’s nephews (Mason and Luca) to the son-in-law of Linda’s sister, Karen (who is Sarah’s mother. In the late evening, we drove back towards Thousand Oaks and stayed at a motel on Thousand Oaks Blvd. The next morning we visited Linda’s sister, Sharon, and her mother, Noreen, who live in a house that is also occupied by a young student from France named Margot. We chatted briefly before the student left for her Sunday morning jaunt.

The traffic on the way home was heavy, and we were quite tired when we arrived back in Long Beach. In addition to dealing with wet bedding from Rupert’s decision to urinate on our bed to express his displeasure at our absence, we also had to address the fact that we had been rear-ended on the way to the wedding, and it turned out that the other party had a “coverage problem,” according to the person at the second company who called us in response to our inquiries.

This morning, I woke up early to learn that a massacre had taken place at a bar that was less than 1000 yards from the motel where Linda and I had slept on Saturday night. When I called Sharon around 7:30, it turned out that she had been awake for five hours. At 2:30 a.m., Margot had knocked on the front door and rung the door bell until the noise roused Sharon from her sleep. Margot had gone dancing at the Borderline Bar in Thousand Oaks and had been in the bar when the shooting began. She had gone there before she was heading back to France to celebrate the holidays with her family on Friday, and her friends had wanted to see her before she left. In escaping from the bar, she left behind her purse with her keys and cell phone, and was unable to make her way back to her residence until 2:30 a.m.

President Trump wrote in a tweet that he had been “fully briefed” about the massacre, and ordered flags to be flown at half-mast in honor of the victims. “God bless all of the victims and families of the victims.” That is the sum total of his public leadership in response to the latest massacre, which follows all too closely on the devastating murders at a Pittsburgh synagogue by an anti-semitic follower of President Trump who seems to have felt empowered by the innuendoes of Trump’s rhetoric. The tepid, boilerplate response of the Commander-in-Chief is hardly of a caliber that will persuade the mentally ill in our society to refrain from acting out their pathological scenarios of revenge. “God bless all of the victims….” What the living hell is that supposed to mean, Mr. President? What does trotting out words that you don’t actually believe in accomplish for any victim? To start with, put a number on “all” in that statement. My guess is that you don’t have a clue.

Linda and I have spent a considerable amount of time in Thousand Oaks during the past two decades. In fact, we were married in Sharon’s backyard on May 19, 2001. Somehow, the airplanes that flew into the twin towers in NYC a few months later seem to have obliterated more than just an architectural landmark. The still billowing dust has corroded the capacity of this country to breathe the truth without choking on it.

The haze seems unlikely to grow less hazardous.

I mentioned at the start that some things have “changed.” The Democrats may have retaken control of the House of Representatives, but that political shift is just a twitch. Yes, there are 100 women in the House of Representatives. Yes, one of them is the first lesbian Native American. Yes, the state of Maine has its first woman governor. Ask those who died at the Borderline Bar how much difference these “changes” will make in forestalling the spread of this epidemic of violence. They know all too well the extent of our indifference to their fate.

Part Two: The Massacre at a Pittsburgh Synagogue

Sunday, October 28, 2018

In the past week, several packages containing potentially explosive materials were mailed to prominent political figures, all of whom were associated with the Democratic political party. On Saturday, a gunman entered a synagogue and murdered eleven Jews.

It is Sunday morning, 9:52 a.m., in Long Beach, CA. I look outside a side window of the house my wife and I rent. It is still slightly damp and chilly outside, and there is little traffic. It seems like an “ordinary” Sunday in my neighborhood, and I suppose that many of my fellow citizens will find a way in the coming weeks and months to absorb the news of this massacre in Pittsburg and somehow relegate it to the status of an “aberration” in the American social fabric. I’m afraid it is inherently part of this country’s social DNA; if this is a democracy, its normality can only be described as “differently abled.”

I think back to various points during the presidential campaign of 2016, and how Trump as a candidate cultivated those who promoted violence against those with whom one disagrees. For instance, “Mr. Trump praised his New Hampshire state co-chairman, State Representative Al Baldasaro, who said recently that Mrs. Clinton deserved to face a firing squad over the F.B.I.’s investigation of her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.” This is not fake news, just as Trump’s suggestion that those who support the Second Amendment should take matters into their own hands, should Hilary Clinton be elected. The failure of the Secret Service to release a transcript of its interrogation of Mr. Trump on suspicion of threatening the life of a presidential candidate is a dismal reflection of how little power citizens have in moderating civic life and discourse. We had a right to such a transcript. Where were the Russian hackers when we needed them?

Trump cannot disclaim responsibility for generating a virulent pathology of antagonistic moods, although he began to do so before the yellow tape around the synagogue had been taken down. He blamed the incident on the victims themselves, in claiming that they should have had an armed guard at their place of worship. Among a multitude of other things Trump misses, he fails to note that it is his manipulation of ideological fanaticism that has fanned the embers of anti-semitic hostility and permitted their volatility to incandesce.

“Climate change” will have to find a way to become plural in its encompassing of the political ecology, if we are to have any hope of tampering down this conflagration of hideous animus.