Last night, a group of a few thousand people massed in a stadium to listen tot he President of the United States. When the President began discussing Representative Ilhan Omar, a chant started up: “Send Her Back!” It echoed Trump’s Twitter demand for deportation of a political enemy to the country of her birth, despite her status as an American citizen. The President did not correct them; he maintained a slight smile, enjoying the moment.
Now, this is normally the place where people speak out against Ilhan Omar’s own terrible actions. Here’s the truth: she’s a single Representative. She has far more political power than the average person, but nothing compared to the President, a Senator or even a Cabinet member. What she does is give voice to the opinions of those who vote for her. If I view some of those opinions as crazy or even offensively wrong, then with any luck the person who represents me will counterbalance her, and the vast majority of Representativess will support my views. That’s the way the American system… and any other Parliamentary system… works.
Also last night, a man set fire to an animation studio in Japan. He reportedly spread gasoline or another highly flammable liquid all around the building, set it ablaze, and screamed for the people inside to die. The latest reports have at least 23 people dead.
Authorities are, as yet, uncertain as to motive. That much is simple: he wanted people to die, and he felt that the gratification of his impulses was more important than the rights of others or the rules of a civil society. In this, he is exactly like the people who were chanting at the rally last night.
There are no excuses for behavior like this. “Others did it too” is a recognition that the mob, the madness of crowds, is more influential to a person than the rules of their country. It is a simple recognition that the people – many of whom were ironically wearing “Make America Great Again” slogans – either never have respect for America, or have a respect so shallow and transitory that it can be overpowered by the need to be perceived as part of a group. The eventual motive of the arsonist – whether it be an embittered ex-husband, a failed animator or merely a person angry at the world – does not for a moment even partially excuse the violence he committed.
It’s not that we, as humans, need to be better than this. It’s that we are, and have been, better. We should be guarding against sliding back into tribalism and anarchism, not embracing our degradation.