After man accused of firing shotgun at Trump supporters, Maryland judge asks question on all our minds: ‘How did we get to this point?’ | COMMENTARY

William Null, right, stands in the gallery of the Michigan Senate Chamber during the American Patriot Rally in April to demand the reopening of businesses. Null is one of several men charged recently for allegedly seeking to storm the Michigan Capitol and kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
William Null, right, stands in the gallery of the Michigan Senate Chamber during the American Patriot Rally in April to demand the reopening of businesses. Null is one of several men charged recently for allegedly seeking to storm the Michigan Capitol and kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (Jeff Kowalsky/Getty-AFP)

Philip Tirabassi, a Maryland District Court judge in Baltimore County, asked the question millions of Americans, maybe even some supporters of President Donald Trump, have asked themselves throughout 2020: “How did we get to this point?”

The judge had just ordered into home detention a fellow named Douglas Kuhn, who is alleged to have fired a shotgun blast at a pickup truck displaying a large Trump campaign sign on Saturday afternoon. While Kuhn was placing a Black Lives Matter sign on his lawn in Kingsville, the truck, with two men inside, came by and honked at him. Perhaps there was more to the story — provocative words, maybe — but that’s all we have from the Baltimore County police so far.


Kuhn is charged with assault, reckless endangerment and using a firearm in a felony. He denies that he fired at the truck. Neither the truck nor its passengers were hit by the blast.

It was at Kuhn’s bail hearing that Tirabassi, 65 years old and a judge since 2005, asked that question: “How did we get to this point?”


Yeah, how did we get to this place where a guy fires a gun across the country’s wide political divide between supporters of Trump and supporters of anyone but Trump, the anyone being Joe Biden.

How did we get to this moment in time, with more than 220,000 of our people dead in a pandemic that has been foolishly politicized, complicating the crisis and collapsing the economy, pushing millions more into unemployment and poverty?

How did wearing a mask to prevent the spread of the virus become a sign of weakness or political correctness, even as the virus continues to infect and kill Americans at a depressing pace?

How did we get a president who, in the midst of this crisis, marginalized the nation’s leading infectious disease expert and called him a “disaster”?

How did we get to the nutty conspiracy theories of QAnon? How did white supremacists become our deadliest domestic terrorism threat? How did we end up with a paramilitary group plotting to kidnap a governor who tried to protect her citizens from the coronavirus infection?

How did things get so upside down in the wealthiest, most powerful country on Earth?

If you really want to know, your honor, the record shows the following:

We came out of Vietnam disillusioned and distrustful of the government. That was made worse by the Watergate scandal, and even worse by Ronald Reagan. As a candidate and as president, Reagan harped that government was a problem and not a force for good. He also gave us trickle-down economics, with tax cuts for the rich, launching four decades of increasing income inequality.

We lost industry. We lost good-paying union jobs. People grew frustrated. Many did not, or could not, adapt to the changing economy. People fell into despair. People fell into drug addiction. With the war on drugs, we ended up with the world’s highest rate of incarceration; it is still five to 10 times higher than the rates in other industrialized nations, according to the Equal Justice Initiative.

We never addressed the institutional racism that left so many people in poverty or right at its door. And we have loads of people, Black and white, who work yet still need food stamps. (Half of all households that receive food stamps have at least one employed adult, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.)

We got into a big, costly war that left even more Americans disillusioned. We suffer from gun violence, but with a Congress so divided or compromised it couldn’t find a solution to mass shootings even after the massacre of first-graders in Connecticut. People use guns to settle scores or to satisfy insane impulses all the time now.

We have an opioid crisis that continues to kill Americans in cities, suburbs and rural areas.


The world faces an environmental reckoning, and Trump took us out of a leadership role on climate change.

We are suffering the effects of both a pandemic and a president who walked away from his responsibility to lead the country through the crisis and now, with words and actions, makes the crisis worse.

How did we get to this point?

I submit, your honor, that, while Trump is the most reckless president any of us have seen, we did not reach this point in the last four years, but over the last four decades. Income inequality has been a divisive force, and we can see the consequences of the country’s stark class divisions in the pandemic. Another 8 million people slipped into poverty since May, according to researchers at Columbia University.

I submit that constant messaging against government foments lasting mistrust of government that, in a crisis, deprives citizens of the authority, direction and leadership we need.

I submit that we lack common purpose, and that too many Americans — the guys in camo who allegedly plotted to kidnap the Michigan governor, for instance — find meaning in twisted ideas that subvert this democracy. It seems as if we left the “United” part of the United States somewhere in the last century, with the partisan divide metastasized into something primal and tribal.

Something’s gotta give, your honor. We have to find a way back to rationality, decency, fairness, nonviolence and the common good. Americans need to take responsibility for their country or — never thought I’d say this — I swear we’ll lose it.

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