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The next caravan: Facing a future our politics has failed to grasp

By Tom Baxter

What Ralph McGill so clearly described 60 years ago as “the crop of things sown” is coming in again right before a big election, so the human tendency is to focus on how the mayhem of the last week will affect the upcoming vote.

That, sadly, is the least of it. For many voters the election is already over. The murders in Kentucky and Pennsylvania and the arrest of the accused pipe bomber in Florida will probably motivate some to vote who wouldn’t have, but this year that is a dwindling pool. History will likely view this election as a minor detail of a longer, grimmer harvest.

Anyone who is concerned about the migrant caravan in southern Mexico or shocked by the massacre which the caravan touched off in a Pittsburgh synagogue — a description which covers the spectrum of American political opinion — needs to take a second, sober look at the report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released earlier this month.

Maybe 91 scientists from 40 countries analyzed more than 6,000 scientific studies and got it wrong.  If they haven’t, then the caravan which has become a political issue in this election is a mere ripple compared to the tsunami ahead.

The report envisions a time not far in the future when rising sea levels and collapsing tropical economies will make national borders “irrelevant,” driving waves not of thousands but millions of refugees.

The migrants in the caravan making its way toward the U.S. border today are driven by lawlessness and poverty in the Central American countries they are fleeing, but these conditions will grow far worse in a decade or so if the report’s predictions are accurate. It’s also safe to predict that if they do, so will the racial hatred and domestic terrorism which marked last week.

This is a larger threat than our politics has shown the ability to grasp. Of the thousands of political ads which have aired across the United States during this campaign season, you’ll be hard put to find many that mention climate change or the catastrophes that could come with it.

In his 2015 book, “Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning,” the historian Timothy Snyder argues that Adolf Hitler’s antisemitism was driven by his environmental obsessions. They were at least interconnected. Hitler believed that by introducing ideas of morality which interfered with the natural, brutal competition between races, Jews threatened to extinguish the human species. He coveted the lands to Germany’s east because he was convinced no agricultural improvement could meet the needs of a rising population.

Hitler hated the Jews not because they didn’t mean well, but because he believed they’d introduced the very idea of meaning well. Robert Bowers, the accused shooter in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, appears to have picked up the idea on an online chat group that the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society (HIAS) is behind the migrant caravan. This led to the twisted conviction that his own race was in danger of genocide, and he had to do something about it.

“It was not the face of villainy I thought I’d see,” said a congregant from the Tree of Life Synagogue who sat on the front row for Bowers’ first court appearance Monday. It seldom is.

A long-haul trucker who owned his own rig, Bowers comes off as another of those shooters who attracts almost no attention before committing mass murder. Remarkably few personal details about him have emerged in the two days since the shooting, but one stands out. According to some reports, he was raised by his grandparents and lived with his maternal grandfather until he died three or four years ago.

This is not the first time we’ve heard of a shooter with few human connections who has lost a close relative in the recent or fairly recent past. One example is Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland High School shooter. His mother has been called an enabler for allowing him to own a gun, but he didn’t use it until a few months after she died.

How many more alienated souls are there out there, who but for one human connection would be bent on bloodshed?

Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.


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  1. brainstar8 October 30, 2018 4:17 pm

    Media hyperbole at its worst. But emotion and drama apparently appeal to an increasing percentage of our population. I am not a Trump fan. Period. But Trump’s words or actions did not cause the synagogue killings – at least no more than Barack Obama’s inactions in Syria caused the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children in that country. (Not to speak of the rise of ISIS, the refugee crisis, BREXIT – maybe even Trump).

    If media want to relate actions to discrimination against Jews, maybe Obama’s treatment of Israel sent a stronger message than any words from the crude, inept Trump. After decades of a warm, reliable relationship with Israel, the Obama administration suddenly sent that connection sideways. Instead, he chose a relationship with Iran, a terrorist nation. He had lukewarm success with what was to be his signature achievement, affordable healthcare (which has really been more about insurance than health). The Iran Agreement was then set to be the centerpiece of his otherwise non-legacy.

    Forgive me, I was on a tangent. But I hope I have begun to make my point about a dishonest media that evangelizes rather than reports. As for the caravan, anyone who lives in the City of Atlanta (and other metro cities, for that matter) has witnessed the toll undocumented people have had – in schools, emergency rooms, on streets and roads, in our sense of safety and security. We have become a city, and a country, with too many people. As rich as we are, we are moving toward a breaking point. We are being over-run with people who do not have the ability to help themselves, and, in fact, are placing the citizens of this country at risk. Want to put this to the test? Visit any ER in and around Atlanta on a Saturday night. Then write your column.Report

  2. Greg Hodges October 31, 2018 1:46 am

    This is an example not so much of media hyperbole as it is of media hysterics. We learn that Hitler’s antisemitism was actually in fact caused by “environmental obsessions” Also, we are informed that a detail that “stands out” about the nut job synagogue shooter in Pittsburg was that he “was raised by his grandparents” ……as if that has never occurred before in this Republic.
    This thing is all over the map.
    Of course, the obligatory specter of those ‘rising sea levels’ get some press, too. The group of people (“caravan”) now headed to the US will (like millions before them) be turned back and asked to please respect the laws of this country……but of course doing that (which has been done for decades) just rubs some people the wrong way these days. Why can’t we just ignore the laws that we don’t like ? Speaking of illegal immigra….whoops….”undocumented aliens” …….border enforcement has suddenly become a ‘political issue’. BTW, during Trump’s first full year in office, 226,119 individuals were turned away at our borders or repatriated to their home country. On the watch of Trump’s predecessor, an average of 343,713 each year were sent back home……. but I guess that wasn’t really a “political issue” to a lot of folks. (Figures : US Immigration & Customs Enforcement.)
    Well, if there’s one thing we probably learned from this missive…..it is to keep a sharp eye on anyone who was raised by their grandparents……..ya just never know about those types.


  3. brainstar8 October 31, 2018 6:46 am

    Very refreshing, Greg. I would say, thank goodness for grandparents. We live in the City of Atlanta, DeKalb County, and see many children who are dependent on the love and support (financial and otherwise) of grandparents. Mostly, grandmothers. In our several decades here, we have seen sweeping changes in a city that is a shrine to developers and politicians. Along with job growth, there is the down side that our leadership has for years ignored: crumbling infrastructure, world-class traffic, rising crime, broken families, failing school systems, rising crime, homelessness, issues with AIDS and other diseases, and so on.

    Our leaders, especially in the City and DeKalb, have been more concerned with outward appearances. They want to attract Amazon, which would mean more development, traffic, etc. – with no real plan to deal with this. MARTA has been a joke from day one. They speak of crime under control, even though the APD reportedly has 600 vacancies. Mayor Bottoms’ time is consumed with what she hopes to be her centerpiece achievement – The Gulch. At least, so far, she’s not spending taxpayer dollars on pricey dinners and limos. If she is not watched, she will.

    Media gave Obama a pass because they apparently lacked confidence that he was up to the task of leading a country as complicated as the U.S. They failed to ask him hard questions or, in reality, hold him accountable. In eight years, Obama proved their worst fears.

    We would probably do ourselves big favors by paying less attention to politics and media, who now deliver opinions instead of news. We can be informed and active in the political life of our community and world, but we should not allow it to consume our lives. This is what is happening, and driven by profit-hungry media, has led to the heartbreaking division in our country – along racial, gender and political lines. We need to know how issues affect our lives and those of loved ones, and pay attention to these. Someone is always going to have a beef about inequality or (fill in the blank). We can tend our own gardens and allow these people to go their own way. At some point, we are not responsible for their welfare.Report

  4. Chris Johnston October 31, 2018 9:20 am

    Bravo! Well said!Report

  5. Greg Hodges October 31, 2018 9:49 am

    I was born at 550 Peachtree St, and raised about 7 miles from Five Points, as the crow flies. My mother’s birth was at 155 N. Howard St. in Kirkwood. Father born in nearby Fairburn. Over these many years I’ve witnessed a lot of changes in this community……both good and bad. (My brother & I still own that home place….he lives there now.)

    I am a product of the Fulton County school system, where I received what I think was an excellent foundation for my life’s journey to this point. I don’t think any Atlanta area schools then had (or needed) ‘resource officers’ (police) patrolling the hallways to prevent mayhem ….or perhaps a teacher getting stabbed by one of their students.
    The political forces that run things seem bent on pursuing the next big shiny thing….and perhaps leaving some sort of legacy for themselves. Meanwhile (as stated elsewhere) there are thousands of ‘affordable’ homes within the city limits of Atlanta, GA. Most of them are probably not in Buckhead, or in the latest neighborhood de jour along the ‘beltline’. But if criminals were aggressively prosecuted (and SENTENCED) , more people would probably be amenable to acquiring homes in these other Atlanta neighborhoods. But the ‘revolving door’ that has become a hallmark of the Atlanta/Fulton County criminal justice system will probably stifle this possibility. When we see a man waiting for a ride gunned down by a person who should NEVER have been turned right back into lawful society, or a miscreant being arrested 40 times (count ’em….FORTY !) and being shown the door to resume his ‘pastime’ on those 40 occasions, you just know things are badly broken, justice-wise.

    And there’s absolutely no doubt that much of this country’s media (both print and electronic) is now agenda driven, with ‘opinion’ having taken over from actual (and factual) reporting. Heck, I just read where being ‘raised by one’s grandparents” can possibly be a prelude to mass murder. Good grief. Your 3rd paragraph, brainstar8, pretty well sums up the “media’s ” fawning coverage of the previous occupant of the White House. I think it was a Newsweek editor who used the term “God” when referring to that individual….Barbara Walters was only slightly less complimentary…..”Messiah” was the description she used.
    Chet Huntley & David Brinkley…..where are you ?Report


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