Reflection: Debating Through Tragedy

Elan Kainen ’19

Following the massacre that took eleven lives this past Saturday at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania were a slew of different reactions as to how such an event should be processed. Surely, every sensible and decent person quickly denounced the attack and considered its tragic consequences. However, differing perspectives within the Jewish community expose a rift at large. How should individuals acknowledge the likelihood that such an event would even happen in the first place? One need look no further than their Facebook newsfeed to view the slew of user commentaries and article links posing a response to this question.

Some people feel that Trump has blood on his hands; specifically due to the lackadaisical approach he has taken to denounce certain groups and people who have expressed their malicious intent. From blaming both sides at Charlottesville to sidestepping media scrutiny following David Duke’s endorsement of him, Trump has expressed, what I would euphemistically refer to as, a tepid disavowal of white supremacist activity. Therefore, it is not remotely far-fetched to assume that white supremacists would feel specifically more emboldened with Trump in office, even if he does not explicitly back them. For that reason, individuals on social media, political advocacy organizations, and the mainstream media, including but not limited to CNN, the Washington Post, and the Forward, have been quick to blame Trump for the shooting, for transitively arousing white supremacist activity during his presidency.

In the same vein, other individuals and media outlets, including the Daily Caller, Fox News, and USA Today, have been quick to denounce the blame placed on Trump. Other Jewish voices have expressed their open disdain with associating Trump with the attack, feeling that first and foremost, utilizing the tragic deaths of eleven individuals for political gain is dishonorable and in poor taste. Furthermore, certain individuals feel that placing the culpability on one polarizing figure disrespects the long, stained history of prejudice against Jewish people that has existed since time immemorial and serves as the consistent and unique theme for the cruel intent that we all witnessed this past Saturday.

I personally understand both sides of the debate and find myself completely unable to pick a side, mainly because deciding whether or not Trump truly has blood on his hands will not change what happened. It is not as if I do not see the disconcerting trend in this country under Trump, who (despite having a daughter who converted to Judaism), by default of his rhetorical approach and campaign strategy, seems to have reinvigorated open white supremacist expression. However, I am skeptical of engaging in debate regarding Trump’s potential complicity in the shooting.

We currently find ourselves in an extraordinarily bizarre period due to the hypocritical way we engage rhetorically, view political opposition, and subdue certain facts over others. Creating a rift, especially within the Jewish community, regarding Trump’s complicity only further fuels the strangeness of our political-rhetorical climate. I will eagerly listen and agree with those who blame Trump, and I will empathize and stand with those who do not want political gain to infiltrate bereavement. However, I am just not willing to submit myself to the debate. I do not see a collective benefit by engaging in such. I am not a martyr, nor are the people who died on Saturday.

Elan Kainen ‘19 is a Hispanic Studies major from Miami Beach, Florida. Contact him at elkainen@davidson.edu

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