To the editor:
With the events of last weekend and the resurgence of gun control and white nationalism as powerful national issues, it is time to revisit identity and separatism, two things that have occupied New York Times columnist David Brooks, among others. The absence of a community voice that rises above separate regional and local voices creates a vacuum in which extremist voices and ideologies gain a following. The public interest is an abstraction and is not recognized. An example might be the governor of South Carolina discussing issues affecting his state and framing it in language that is appreciated by his supporters, a separatist message with the required bells and whistles. For him there is no other reality. Yes, this is partisan and is inflamed by anti-immigrant and anti-minority rhetoric, as former president Obama has made clear in his message of Aug. 5.
There is also a culture of violence and hostility to government that goes back to George Wallace’s campaign of 1964-1968 and before. It has been promoted by the president but has developed over time and has been given powerful support by social media. The screed issued by the El Paso shooter indicated a well-developed fringe association of white nationalist groups who feel threatened by immigration and pluralism in society.
Trump speaks to the disaffected and alienated at the expense of established norms of behavior and constitutional values.
Market forces acting through social media make use of individual and group identities that are gathered in the course of digital retail and then can be sold to others, perhaps white nationalist groups or foreign governments, for a profit. There is money to be made here, but who pays the cost? Russian penetration of our electoral system in the 2016 election was well-documented and was linked to social media. Advertising makes use of this data to focus selling and lobby against federal regulation.