Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hate, violence, extremism: Krugman on the Arizona shooting

Just to drive the point home, allow me to quote Paul Krugman, who yesterday made the case that many of us have been making the past few days:

When you heard the terrible news from Arizona, were you completely surprised? Or were you, at some level, expecting something like this atrocity to happen?

Put me in the latter category. I've had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach ever since the final stages of the 2008 campaign. I remembered the upsurge in political hatred after Bill Clinton's election in 1992 -- an upsurge that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing. And you could see, just by watching the crowds at McCain-Palin rallies, that it was ready to happen again. The Department of Homeland Security reached the same conclusion: in April 2009 an internal report warned that right-wing extremism was on the rise, with a growing potential for violence...

It's true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled. But that doesn't mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate.

Exactly. I made very much the same argument here (my initial thoughts on the shooting) and here (my further reflections on the socio-political context underpinning the shooting). It's not so much (or not just) the violent, hate-filled rhetoric of the right but the extremist, incendiary conservative ideology behind that rhetoric -- that is, the ideology that finds an outlet in that rhetoric, via the partisan demagoguery of conservatives like Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh, the ideology that has found a home in the Republican Party.

Again, as we keep repeating, it's not that the killer, Jared Lee Loughner, is a straightforward conservative, a card-carrying member of the Tea or Republican Party. He does seem to be "deranged," to use a loaded and hardly clinical term -- that is, he does seem to be mentally disturbed. He is apparently an "independent," and, no, it does not appear that his agenda is specifically Republican. His views appear to be generally right-wing but on the fringe, though his paranoid conspiracy theories seem as if they could have been taken straight from Beck.

But it is wrong, I think, and as Krugman suggests, to treat him as a detached loner who acted in a vacuum of his own derangement. To do that is to ignore context, to ignore the bigger picture, the "national climate." And we do that at our own risk.

The potential was out there, and it was building -- and it continues to build. Anyone who was paying attention should not have been surprised at all.

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