We are at a crossroads in this country. The tragic mass shootings we have just endured – in Gilroy, Calif.; in El Paso, Texas; in Dayton, Ohio – are a confluence of tipping points, melded together in a horrific perfect storm of hate and violence.
The sad part about this is that it was avoidable. The urgent part about this is that we can do something about it. If we don’t, it will be unforgivable and we all will have blood on our hands.
The issues at hand are threefold: the Republican party’s long-standing tolerance of politicians who spew bigotry and xenophobia, a president who is metastasizing that hateful cancer and a country that allows guns to be purchased by almost anyone.
It is easy to criticize President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE for divisive rhetoric that makes white nationalists feel as if they have an ally in the White House. He started by calling undocumented immigrants from Mexico “rapists” and “criminals” the day he announced his campaign for president, and he has infamously continued almost nonstop ever since. In one of the more recent instances, he laughed at a Florida rally when one supporter shouted “shoot them” after Trump asked the crowd what to do about “those people.”
But let’s be clear: Trump is not the first Republican to speak this way. He is, sadly, the first president to do so, at least in modern times, which is what makes him so dangerous. But GOP figures have ranted toxic rhetoric for years, and the party has done nothing about it.
In 2011, Virgil Peck, a Republican state senator from Kansas, suggested treating “illegal aliens” like feral hogs and shooting them from helicopters as a solution to the illegal immigration problem. Former Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cucinelli likened the immigration problem to pest-control policy; he is now the head of Citizenship and Immigration Services under President Trump.
And then you have Congressman Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingGOP brawls over Trump on eve of first Jan. 6 hearing Pence to visit Iowa to headline event for congressman Former Steve King challenger on rural voters in GOP states: 'They hate Democrats' MORE (R-Iowa), with years of xenophobic statements against Latinos, immigrants and people of color.
Republicans have been way too lax and accepting of this kind of rhetoric.
A USA Today study reveals that Trump has used words like “invasion,” “killers,” “criminals,” “aliens,” “predators” and “animal” more than 500 times at rallies attended by tens of thousands of people since his election.
These words have consequences, especially in a country where there are more gun shops than grocery stores, more guns than people, and where, in states like Texas, it is easier to get a gun than it is to register to vote.
The time has come for action. Trump has said he believes there is an appetite for passage of stricter gun-safely laws involving more comprehensive background checks. The problem is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse passes standalone bill to provide B for Israel's Iron Dome Pelosi vows to avert government shutdown McConnell calls Trump a 'fading brand' in Woodward-Costa book MORE (R-Ky.) has not mirrored that sentiment, and neither has the National Rifle Association (NRA). In fact, completely the opposite has occurred: According to reports, NRA head Wayne La Pierre told Trump that his base will not tolerate any restrictions on buying guns, including background checks.
We have been here before. After several tragic mass shootings in the past, Trump called legislators to the White House to push for action. He even belittled fellow Republicans for cowering to the NRA. In the end, he did the same thing – kowtowing to what the NRA wanted – and no action on background checks occurred.
But, now, it must be different. And we can’t rely on Trump to do what is needed because he has gone back on his word too many times. It is the people’s voices that will matter in this case.
Americans must hold their elected representatives accountable, to ensure that effective gun-safely legislation is passed. Republicans must be called out on why a Democratic background-check gun bill that passed the House of Representatives in February is in the legislative graveyard, on Mitch McConnell’s desk. The 1,500 people who marched to McConnell’s Kentucky office, organized by Mothers Demand Action, is a great example of what needs to continue.
But Donald Trump also must be held accountable. Not just to keep his word about doing something on gun safety and standing up to the NRA, but also to stop the toxic rhetoric that fuels the burning hatred of white supremacists who find comfort in his words – enough comfort to spur them to violent and sometimes deadly actions.
Republicans must account for their own passivity when it comes to the president’s words, and for their tolerance of intolerance within their own ranks. They must speak out more strongly, and act more forcefully, against the Steve Kings, the Ken Cucinellis and the Virgil Pecks among them.
If the GOP had done so early on, perhaps the nation’s growing threat from white supremacists could have been avoided—as could have the tragic shootings from which the country is reeling this week.
Now it is up to us. With our voices, we must demand action. And with our votes in 2020, we must demand the changes that will finally heal our country of hatred, bigotry and bloodshed.
Maria Cardona is a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a Democratic strategist and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.