Opinion | After national tragedies, resist indifference and turn to action

By Grant Van Robays, Staff Columnist

Days after former President Donald Trump announced his candidacy for 2024, his campaign entered damage control mode following his dinner date with Kanye West and white supremacist Nick Fuentes. To varying degrees, pundits and politicians from both sides of the aisle chastised Trump for legitimizing Fuentes, a Holocaust denier and ardent antisemite, and West, who has faced a barrage of criticism for his own recent antisemitic comments.

As striking as Trump’s antisemitic social hour is, it’s far from the most disheartening headline of the last few weeks. On Nov. 19, an alleged mass shooter killed five people and injured 19 at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The alleged shooter donned body armor and an AR-15-style rifle, replicating a scene all too common in contemporary American society. 

These two stories are objectively disturbing. They are affronts to human decency and the freedom to live in peace and security. To call these events shocking is an understatement, yet they are not surprising in the slightest. Yet the seeming inevitability of it all must not make us indifferent. It should compel us to take our feelings of shock and disgust and use them as a motivating force for positive change. 

Let’s start with the pre-Thanksgiving feast heard around the world. On Nov. 22, Trump held court at Mar-a-Lago with West, despite the rapper’s antisemitic baggage. West, now legally known as Ye, brought Fuentes along for the ride. Trump claims to not know Fuentes or that Ye planned on bringing Fuentes. 

Even if Trump truly didn’t know of Fuentes’ despicable views on Jewish people and racial superiority, he shouldn’t be excused. Ye expressed deeply disturbing views on Jewish people in the weeks leading up to the dinner. Trump knew what he was getting into by hosting Ye. Fuentes’ addition to the show only added another antisemite to the guest list. 

Trump’s denial of knowing Fuentes and his subsequent failure to disavow his racist views in a Truth Social post is entirely predictable. Who could forget his classic “very fine people on both sides” line at the Charlottesville white supremacist rally? Or when Trump supposedly didn’t know Klan leader David Duke and refused to condemn white supremacist views in 2016. Yet after these past events, the GOP remained loyal to their appointed leader. 

While Democratic leadership quickly disavowed the Fuentes meeting, many Republicans shied away from public comment at first. After several days of silence, Rep. Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Mitch McConnell said antisemitism and white supremacy don’t belong in the GOP. These comments fall on deaf ears considering the GOP is the party of Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar, who attended Fuentes’ overtly white nationalist America First Political Action Conference this year. 

Trump’s racist meet-cute is yet another chapter in the ongoing mainstreaming of far-right extremism. When sitting members of Congress and a former president ingratiate themselves in extremist circles, extreme ideologies gain legitimacy. And when media outlets parrot far-right talking points, hate infiltrates audiences far and wide. Continuing to platform hateful rhetoric is mere politics and big business for these actors. And why would they stop if they face a complete lack of consequences? 

But they must stop. The simple truth is that politicians and right-wing talking heads are playing with fire when they legitimize these ideologues and ideologies. In Colorado Springs, people got burned. 

While anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination is global, the deadly attack on an LGBTQ club — and not the first in the past several years — seems like a quintessentially American tragedy. Following months of public demonization of the queer and transgender community by far-right extremists and pundits, a radicalized white individual broke the seal and slaughtered innocent people for the crime of existing.

This cycle of hate and violence manifests time and time again. 

We denigrate and dehumanize a marginalized community and give people access to deadly weapons, who then use them to fight for some cause they deem as righteous. It happened in El Paso with migrant communities as the target. It happened here in Pittsburgh with the Jewish community as the target. Now it’s Colorado Springs with LGBTQ+ people as the target. As a society, we cannot feel surprised by these atrocities because we are responsible for setting them in motion. But we cannot feel numb to the suffering of marginalized communities. We cannot accept the normalization of hate in mainstream politics and society. 

We must convert our shock, grief and utter heartbreak into action. 

When elected officials legitimize extremists, we can either accept the new perverted status quo or mobilize to vote them out. This strategy succeeded in this very state when Pennsylvanians elected Josh Shapiro as their next governor, out-voting the far-right Doug Mastriano with ties to the Jan. 6 insurrection and the antisemitic social media platform Gab

When pundits, social media commentators and ideologues spread hate, we must call them out. And just because speech is free doesn’t mean we can’t attempt to induce a cost to bigots. This point is important to keep in mind amidst the social media hellscape that grows more hateful every day. 

We can organize against hate groups, support victims of hate, educate one another and advocate for stricter gun laws. Organizations such as Brady, Everytown and Squirrel Hill Stands Against Gun Violence here in Pittsburgh have countless resources and action items for people to utilize so that this type of disaster is prevented. 

Taking action against hate and the subsequent targeted gun violence that often follows is not easy. Complacency and acceptance come far easier. But if we fail to act, we lose the right to feel surprised when the consequences of our action — or inaction — come to pass. 

Grant Van Robays writes primarily about international affairs, social issues and basic human rights. Write to him at [email protected].