Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Political violence in America: Let’s stop pretending we're shocked

I don't know. Is there anything that hasn't been said about Saturday's shooting in Arizona that left six dead and fourteen wounded, including Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords?

Some news coverage and partisan commentary has tried hard to place blame and draw connections or deflect blame and deny connections as the case may be.

It would have been better for progressives if the assailant were actually on a Tea Party group membership list or if he expressed his admiration for Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh in writings or other public statements. Maybe some of this kind of thing will be found. I doubt it.

It will of course be better for conservatives if little or nothing connecting the shooter to right-wing political ideology can be found. It will be better for them if information about him continues to pour in supporting the view that he is simply a sad and crazy young man.

In any case, at least for me, the motivation of this particular person is almost beside the point, much as we will go over and over it in the coming weeks.

What is more interesting is how many of our minds immediately drew the conclusion that this tragedy was the inevitable result of the pervasiveness of a kind of political speech through which we are currently suffering. It is the kind of speech that strongly suggests that those who disagree with the current conservative narrative are not simply political opponents of the right, but enemies of the state whose primary interest is in doing harm to America.

We are, apparently, a nation with a guilty conscience, which knew, at some level, that tragedies like Arizona would begin to occur as long as we continued to tolerate this kind of discourse. And, sorry folks, this discourse is coming from the right. It is the discourse of the Birthers, of those who call Obama a Muslim or a socialist, of those who suggest that the president and his Democratic allies are acting in defiance of our Founding documents and endeavouring to take away our freedom.

How is it possible to condone this kind of discourse without believing at some point that the most emotionally challenged among us wouldn't get the idea that someone should do something about this supposed assault on our way of life?

Speaker John Boehner recently refused to take issue with members of his own caucus who hold the view that Obama was not born in America. His argument was to the effect that people hold all kinds of views and that it was not his job to tell everyone what to think.

More to the point is that Boehner and his fellow Republicans know that they are riding a beast, which believes much of the nonsense about Obama and progressives being enemies of the state, and they don't want to alienate this active and influential minority.

Every time conservatives equivocate about the extent to which Democratic politicians love their country or have a legitimate claim to represent her in Congress or the White House, they provide support to those who see progressives as the enemy.

I would challenge you to sit through one Glenn Beck program, with its chalkboard conspiracy theory rants about how the left is trying to destroy America and everything for which it stands. I would ask you to consider how difficult it is to imagine some stupid bastard sitting there watching this tripe as he begins to calculate how he might pick up a gun and thus make himself a hero to like-minded Americans.

When so much of your ideological narrative is about how the other guys are not simply political adversaries, but enemies, can you really be surprised when a marginal few consider the rules of engagement to require violence? Can you be surprised, Glenn? Sarah? Rush? Bill? Sean?

This isn't about both sides using military metaphors or imagery or engaging in name-calling. That's trivial nonsense. This is about one side, the right-wing side, using the significant tools of mass media to paint progressives as a group that should be eradicated, by force if necessary, because they are a perceived threat to our way of life, to our nation. It is also about Republican politicians standing by and letting it happens, in the hope that they can ride the beast to victory without extensive collateral damage. They can't.

The incident in Arizona may not draw all the connections as neatly as some on the left would like, but if we continue on this path there will be a next time. I would suggest that we not be too surprised if that next time comes with solid proof that the perpetrator was acting in order to vanquish those elected officials he deemed un-American or not American enough.

I hope I'm wrong.

Frankly, I don't care if the tone of our political discourse gets chippy on occasion. That's politics in a free society. But if conservatives of conscience really want to do something to help ensure that events like this never happen again, I would encourage them to accept the fact that those who disagree with them politically love their country as much as they do. And I would also encourage them to turn off and tune out anyone who suggests otherwise.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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