If indeed Empire star Jussie Smollett has financed and staged a fake hate crime against himself, we should all be angry with him. And no one deserves to be angrier about what he’s allegedly done more than progressive people of color, people in the LGBTQ community, Muslims, really any group of people who feel increasingly unsafe in the era of Trump.
After all, he has single-handedly given the far right a cudgel to beat down our righteousness, and the reality that the kind of violence Smollett is said to have simulated is something many of us live with every day.
Right-wing pundits have been all too happy to promote this story, to shame celebrities like Cardi B and politicians like Sen. Kamala Harris for having the audacity in this post-#MeToo world to believe a purported victim’s story. Even the president of the United States—himself a Hall of Famer when it comes to trafficking in victimhood—has weighed in, tweeting on Thursday: “@JussieSmollett - what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!? #MAGA.”
To be sure, Smollett and the reaction to his transgressions will mark yet another sad chapter in the daily reality show of American life, since everything—including the success or failure of the next Marvel franchise movie—is now viewed within the prism of a win or loss for the left or the right. Smollett’s truly bizarre act of career self-sabotage (even Kanye couldn’t have pulled off a stunt like this) will be scored as a victory for their side.
And yet, where is the conservative outrage for the very real acts of violence being perpetrated in their name? The same day that Smollett’s story began to unravel and his eventual arrest became inevitable, Christopher Paul Hasson, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard and a white supremacist with delusions of mass-murdering liberals both known (“Poca Warren” was one his choice descriptors) and unknown, ostensibly in the hopes of creating his own ethnically-cleansed utopia, was captured.
MSNBC viewers were treated to the surreal spectacle of watching Chris Hayes report on the fact that he himself was on Hasson’s kill list. And of course, Hayes is a prominent, unabashedly progressive cable news show host, but what about the comparatively nameless eleven people gunned down by a man who reportedly “wanted all Jews to die” at a synagogue in Pittsburgh just a few months ago?
President Trump, who has a tendency to countenance and make anti-Semitic remarks on a regular basis, did not call it a hate crime when he first addressed that attack in public, but instead blamed the victims for not having armed guards in their place of worship.
It nothing else, the strangest thing about the Hasson news was the utter banality of it. (Full disclosure: My wife had to remind me of the synagogue shooting—which happened last October—because there have been so many mass shootings that I can’t keep track of them anymore.)
We live in a moment where a man can send mail bombs to two former presidents, a sitting congresswoman, an iconic movie star, a news organization, and a billionaire, and it will be greeted with a shrug by the right because the devices never actually detonated. The fact that the suspect, Cesar Sayoc, was John Hinckley-obsessed with Trump and his self-appointed political enemies would have been a problem for everyone a decade ago, now it’s instant culture-war fodder.
And lest we forget: the biggest mass shooting in American history happened less than two years ago, perpetrated by a fairly affluent, middle-aged white man whose motive is still unknown to all of us.
There are several real crises facing America that underscore the absurdity of Trump’s recent declaration that a multi-decade low in undocumented immigration at our southern border is a national security crisis.
But to a list that includes climate change, income inequality, gun violence and health care, we should also include a spike in racially motivated hate crimes, which rose 17 percent last year.
White conservatives are not solely to blame for this phenomenon; after all, the rise of hate crimes began in the Obama era. But there must be a reason why these kinds of violent men are mostly drawn to Republicans. David Duke isn’t drawn to Bernie’s message, but he sure does like Trump’s.
And if you are black, Latino, LGBTQ, Muslim—any group that the MAGA community despises and/or denigrates—and were to watch your president encourage people to be beaten at his rallies and declare that “fine people” hold torches and proclaim “Jews will not replace us,” wouldn’t you be predisposed to believe someone like Jesse Smollett could be targeted and abused?
If we are going to start pointing figures about hypocrisy and willful ignorance within our disparate constituencies, the right is certainly about to have their chickens-coming-home-to-roost moment.
If Robert Mueller’s report on the Trump campaign’s incestuous relationship with Russia is even half as devastating as it should be, conservatives of all stripes should be asked to explain why coordinating with a foreign power to steal an election is somehow not as venal and misguided as hiring two people to pretend to assault you.
Steve King is still an influential Republican Congressman. Odds are Jussie Smollett won’t be on Empire for much longer.
Coincidentally, Donald Trump has still not tweeted about the Coast Guard terrorist, but he’s fired off one Smollett tweet and counting.
By all means, if Smollett is guilty of what he is now accused of, he should be condemned—maybe not by the president, who should have more important things to do—but that condemnation should be proportionate to his actual crimes.
Regardless of how the Smollett case turns out, the hate-fueled violence is not going away and neither is the right’s complicity in it.