WEST BRATTLEBORO — This past week, the news was hard to bear. It doesn't make sense to just get used to it or to turn away, since it is real. I often tell my students that whether or not they pay attention to the news, the news is still paying attention to them.
On Oct. 24, a man with a gun tried to assault a black church in Kentucky, according to police. The doors were well-locked, so he reportedly went to a nearby Kroger store and killed Maurice Stallard, a 69-year-old black man who was buying poster board with his 12-year-old son for a school project.
Authorities say the gunman fled to the parking lot, where he shot and killed Vickie Jones, a 67-year-old black woman.
The alleged killer's name is Gregory Bush, 51, a white man, with a long history of online verbal racism.
Meanwhile, all week, a series of pipe bombs were mailed to Democratic politicians and some members of the press. As confirmed in a deposition filed in the Southern District of New York, 13 improvised explosive devices had been accounted for by the weekend, all lethal, but thankfully all intercepted.
The alleged perpetrator was a Florida man named Cesar Sayoc, who has a long criminal record. He was living out of a van plastered with Trump posters and bumper stickers with Democratic lawmakers in the cross-hairs.
The saddest thing was the murder of 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh, Penn.
Arrested was Robert Bowers, 46, whose social-media accounts were filled with anti-Semitic threats and ramblings.
One of those murdered was Rose Mallinger, a 97-year-old woman described in press reports as “spry” and “vibrant,” a warm and loving woman, according to her friends. She would have been about 13 years old when Hitler came to power in Germany.
Bernice Simon and her husband Sylvan were in their mid-80s. Perhaps it is a grace that they died together. A neighbor described them to the media as loving, giving, and kind, gracious and dignified.
David and Cecil Rosenthal were brothers, both in their 50s. By all accounts they were good men. They died together.
Six others - Joyce Fienberg, 75; Rich Gottfried, 65; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; Daniel Stein, 71; Melvin Wax, 88; and Irving Younger, 69 - lost their lives to the gunman.
* * *
I have lived through bad times and also times when it seemed things might be getting better. My own era was marked by assassinations, the Vietnam War, the civil strife of the 1960s, the era of Reagan and his racist dog whistles, and the rise of the yuppie.
This current moment is different. I see it in the news each day, read it in the articles of columnists who, despite being thoughtful men, seem to write with shaky hands and trembling thoughts. None of us has been through an era like this.
This is truly a dangerous time. Evil stalks the land, kills kind and innocent people, and gives all of us cause for fear.
Children are ripped from their parents at the U.S. border. No black man can travel on our roads without a sense of fear. The stories of women who have been assaulted or harassed are like a flood of anger and sorrow for which every man must account. Except in enclaves, people who are gay or lesbian or transgender must always wonder if they are safe, let alone accepted.
These truly are evil times.
* * *
It is easy to feel disheartened, and I don't judge my friends who seek to turn away from the news and find solace in friends and family, fun and art. For many of us, much is good in life, and losing that perspective is like losing track of the reason that any of this matters.
Personally, I'm not turning away or giving up. But we need to pay attention. We need to be prepared.
Even if Democrats win with a big blue wave, we still are stuck with the reality of a world where some people - a lot of people - hate blacks, disrespect women, fear immigrants, despise people whose sexual or gender identity does not accord with the norm.
It is also a world in which fewer and fewer people will do well economically, no matter how many low-paying neo-feudal jobs are available, and a world that is fundamentally sick when you look at the statistics for drug addiction and premature deaths due to suicide, guns, and substance abuse. This is America.
And if the Republicans hold both the Senate and House after the midterm elections, along with the White House and the Supreme Court, we will truly have some difficult days ahead.
* * * *
History runs in cycles and has odd turns, and I know this present moment will pass. In some ways, one can argue that the ugly, severe, and tragic nature of our current days is simply a matter of chickens coming home to roost - that we are forced to see ourselves for what we are.
Finding a center in these times is difficult, as if the choices were sheepish acquiescence or outright rage. There is a war going on in this nation right now - a cold war with skirmishes that sometimes erupt into public view, but a war nonetheless.
None of us are non-combatants. Being on the right side of history is a full-time job, and none of us should think we can just work part-time shifts.
One can argue that seeing a problem clearly is the first step toward solving it. It's true. Sometimes, though, problems are hard to solve, and I am not sure what we can do about the deep fault lines in our society.
We are tugged hard between civility and tribalism, and tribalism seems sometimes to be winning.