Shooting Synagogue

Deb Polk holds a sign as she gathers with others for a vigil in the aftermath of a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

I’m betting that most Americans of good will are heartsick at the past week’s news. First came the rash of bombs sent to high-profile Democrats and CNN, which thankfully did not go off, although it’s not clear whether that was by design or incompetence. Next came the devastating mass murder inside a Pittsburgh synagogue by an avowed anti-Semite.

I’m also thinking that most everyone wishes there was something they could do.

Here’s one suggestion for politicians, as we close in on next week’s midterm elections: Maybe try to get through the next week without invoking any boogeymen, without sending any messages to any unhinged person out there who may be listening that the certain people are enemies of our country and need to be taken out.

And how about they start by simply not talking about George Soros.

Soros, of course, is the billionaire Democratic donor who was targeted in one of the bombing attempts, and who has become an all-purpose villain in far too much Republican rhetoric.

He was allegedly behind the protests against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, according to farfetched conspiracy theories that found implicit support as high as the U.S. Senate. He is allegedly financing the caravan of desperate refugees slowly making their way through Central America and Mexico toward the U.S. border, the subject of many of President Donald Trump’s recent apocalyptic rantings, according to people who manage to find their way onto the Fox Business Network. Sunday, the network disavowed one such guest and said he would not be back. Neither of these theories is remotely true.

And — this matters in context — he’s Jewish, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor who is regularly invoked in poorly disguised code about “globalists” and such, designed to invoke ugly stereotypes as a scare tactic.

Here’s how Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, described the current reality on “Meet the Press” Sunday: “Political candidates and people in public life now literally repeat the rhetoric of white supremacists,” he said. “They think it’s normal and permissible to talk about Jewish conspiracies, manipulating events or Jewish financiers somehow controlling activities. And that is awful.”

It is awful, and yet it’s become commonplace, including in Louisiana.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin featured Soros in a campaign ad.

“If anyone interferes with Louisiana elections, from Soros to Putin, I’ll fight them all and win,” he said. Never mind that no American intelligence agency has said that Soros tried to infiltrate American voting systems, which is what they’ve all said about Putin.

U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins has a video up insisting Americans are “threatened,” including by “those who would destroy America from within.” He speaks those words as a picture of “Socialist Soros” appears on screen.

And U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise invoked Soros in an op-ed for Fox News that decried political violence on all sides — yet painted it as a distinctly Democratic problem.

Scalise, whose own experience as the target of a politically motivated assassination attempt could make him a voice of real moral authority, has taken this issue and run with it as he's tried to keep the House in Republican hands. He’s loudly decried rhetoric from people like former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters — three more bombing targets last week.

“Words have consequences and as all of these Democratic Party leaders know, they are in positions of great influence,” he wrote. “Their supporters respond to their leadership. But instead of using this authority to strengthen our democracy, their calls for bullying and harassment have undermined it and have incited violence.”

Yet Scalise has a willfully blind spot when it comes to Trump’s far more inciting words. Trump, of course, has made a habit of calling for bullying and harassment and even excusing violence. He’s encouraged supporters to take action against protesters, and regularly encourages rally-goers to chant about locking up his political opponents, including Clinton. As recently as Monday, he called the free press the “enemy of the people.” After Scalise’s op-ed came out, Trump cheered the actions of a Montana congressman who’d pleaded guilty to assaulting a journalist for asking a policy question.

Yet Scalise regularly excuses the perpetrator-in-chief and even categorized Trump’s comments about the assault on the reporter as a harmless joke. Please.

Scalise is right about this, though: Words do have consequences.

That goes for everyone with a public platform. And nobody has a bigger one than Trump.

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.