Thursday, January 13, 2011
First, my view is that there is no hope of making a direct causal relationship between specific political hate speech and the actions of the crazy fellow in Tuscon.
That being said, however, it is obvious that there are indirect relationships quite apparent in the Giffords shooting. For one thing, and most obvious, the crazy fellow's target was explicitly a political figure who had been previously targeted by opposition politicians and commentators -- all of whom used language that could be compared with shouting "Fire" in a theater.
The point is that while there is no direct causal relationship here, the general atmosphere of elevated threatening rhetoric made it easy for Loughner to act out his fantasies and perhaps think he was acting within the spirit of Arizona politics. And while Loughner is crazy, the people raising the hate level of political speech are not. Eventually we'll get killers who, like those who kill doctors providing abortions, will to all legal appearances be sane. They will just be sane killers carrying out a "reasonable" agenda supported by the current wave of threatening commentary.
The general tenor and emotional atmosphere of American politics are polluted with vitriol, incivility, rage, and threats, and we all know it. We listened to terrible attack ads throughout the Connecticut primaries and elections. Nothing was too awful to for people to say. All Connecticut lacked were the "crosshairs" of political discourse, and if such threats were present here, I'd expect more gunfire here, too.
I can't help but take into account the atmosphere in America in my lifetime. The wave of assassinations and killings has been sunami-like. The four killed by our national guard at Kent State, the killings at Jackson State, the killing of Medgar Evers, John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and John Lennon -- just to mention the most obvious ones -- all took place in a political atmosphere intensified by violent statements. And one might notice which "side of the aisle" these figures represent. Is any liberal really safe in America today?
Add to this the reckless rhetoric claiming "blood libel" in reference to the shooting of a Jewish Representative. Add to all that the wild west fetish for Glocks and extended magazines. What you have is a return to the wildness of the early 18th century America and the loss of the civility that refashioned the America politics of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Of course, all through American history violence has marked politics and daily life, but there seemed to be a toning down of the atmosphere of political violence until recently.
The awful thing is that we know that nothing will now change. Those who rant and incite have become defensive and not contrite. They are in it for the money and thus will not change their strategies. Since they do not usually pull the trigger they do not feel a bit of responsibility.