10 January, 2011

Why We Should Not Let a Semblance of Normalcy Silence Us

My mind's still on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords's near-assassination.  It's hard to focus on anything else.  This has been one of the moments when the world changed, and a thin bright line separates before from after.

Life will return to a semblance of normalcy once again, for us.  Not for the families of the victims.  Not for the parents of a 9 year-old girl who won't ever have the chance to live her dreams.  Not for the wounded, who will not only have the physical scars and possible disabilities to remind them, but emotional scars that are just as real.  Even if they heal completely, even if the shooting makes them stronger emotionally, they will never be the same.  There will always be a chasm separating then from now.  Walking into a grocery store will never again be a simple act for them.  The world has changed.  Same for the witnesses, who will probably never go through the ordinary motions of life without consciously or subconsciously waiting for gunfire.

Life will return to a semblance of normalcy, but we can't forget.  We can't ignore.  We can't pretend this was a random act without further meaning.

We can't pretend that it was just one lone crazy who acted out.  Vaughan Bell knows this:
For many, the investigation will stop there. No need to explore personal motives, out-of-control grievances or distorted political anger. The mere mention of mental illness is explanation enough. This presumed link between psychiatric disorders and violence has become so entrenched in the public consciousness that the entire weight of the medical evidence is unable to shift it. Severe mental illness, on its own, is not an explanation for violence, but don't expect to hear that from the media in the coming weeks.

I encourage you to read his whole post.   It makes it that much harder to lay everything at the feet of insanity and be done with it.  And here's a little more food for thought - what looks insane on the surface isn't, always.  So don't be comforted by notions that this was just some lunatic, that no one had any control over his actions, that no one could've predicted.  None of that is the whole truth.

Context has meaning.  Here's an unbalanced man in a state where "There are guns everywhere here. The state government has made laws that make owning a gun as easy as buying a stick of chewing gum. People open carry into family restaurants here."  In a state where hatred has metastasized. 
Not too long ago I was driving back from Phoenix, by myself, at night. I turned on AM radio to keep myself awake. There was nothing but right wing hate on. I listened for a while. I was sleepy. I have never heard anything like it before in my life. Most of it was local. Shock-jocks from Phoenix spewing conspiracy and hate. Guns, guns, guns. No taxes, no taxes, no taxes. Obama’s a muslim, Obama’s a socialist, Obama’s a terrorist. I wanted to vomit. I turned it off. I wasn’t that sleepy after all.
Juniorprof lives in Arizona, but the state he's describing only vaguely resembles the one I grew up in.  It's gotten so much worse.  And just lately, the right's gone wild there: we all remember Arizona's noxious immigration law, quickly followed by discrimination against teachers and the purging of ethnic studies, neo-Nazis turning Cinco de Mayo into a hate-fest... and on and on, until we reach the point where Jan Brewer finds it perfectly acceptable to slash funding for transplant patients.  Meanwhile, the NRA's been going absolutely wild, screaming for MORE GUNS EVERYWHERE! on the same day over a dozen people were being gunned down in front of a Safeway:
As if it's not bad enough the NRA lobbyist is quoted endorsing more guns in more public places, the merchants of blood and death want confiscated arms and bullets back in circulation instead of being destroyed, and getting more weapons on school campuses. I don't get the sense the NRA is at all interested in pausing and reflecting on the death and carnage in Tucson, even if the Arizona Republic were to delay its story and take into account new facts that came to light after the story was submitted.
And, just like Republicans believe the answer to any economic woe is more tax cuts, I have the sneaking suspicion the NRA's answer to this mayhem will be more guns.

Incidentally, the gun Loughner used would have been illegal under Clinton era laws, but since the assault weapons ban passed, mentally unstable individuals who believe violence is the answer are now able to buy high-capacity clips so as to maximize the death and destruction they wreak, and it is legal.

And any time sensible gun laws are proposed, the right wing goes apeshit.  And the rhetoric gets yet more violent, yet more extreme, yet more paranoid. 

Then those who have been spewing the violent rhetoric, dehumanizing opponents to previously unimaginable degrees, who have painted targets on those they disagree with politically and talked about "Second Amendment remedies" and piously recited Thomas Jefferson's line about watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants after calling democratically-elected officials tyrants, then those people say, when someone takes them seriously, "This was a crazy person.  You can't blame us for what a crazy person does."

Because they didn't put the gun in his hand?  (Although they might as well have done - they defanged any gun law that might have kept a weapon that destructive out of his hands.)  Because they didn't literally tell him to go and shoot this Congresswoman and as many innocent bystanders as he could manage?  (Even though they paint crosshairs on their opponents, talk about them being "enemies of humanity" and hold up signs saying "WE CAME UNARMED THIS TIME" with the implicit threat that next time, the guns will come out.)  They can't see the connection.  And before this happened, even with the warnings given by so many, maybe that's understandable.  We can't always predict what impact our words will have.  But to deny any responsibility now, to refuse any soul-searching, to have created an environment in which a Republican who wants to discuss these things honestly feels he or she has to do so anonymously, that's reprehensible and irresponsible. 

How disconnected from reality do you have to be to say this:
"It is a very tragic event. Even more tragic is to blame Sarah Palin and the Tea Party."
 Lockwood responded the only way someone can respond to such blindness:
These things are "even MORE tragic" than the simple fact of Christina Taylor Green's cold, dead body? Not to mention the 18 other injuries and deaths? MORE fucking tragic?

And this is exactly the point. I'm sure the commenter didn't even think about what she was saying. She was on autopilot. She has been conditioned by Palin, O'Reilly, Hannity, Beck, Boehner, Brewer, and on, and on and on, that merely impugning the wonderfulness of "people like them" is more tragic, a greater crime, a worse humanitarian crisis, than hundreds of thousands of people dying annually from lack of health care, than millions of children who are mal- or undernourished every day, than tens of thousands of homeless veterans for whom it's well worth shelling out for showy car magnets, but not worth a nickel to actually get them shelter. I'm sure she is quite right that neither she nor her party's leaders "endorse" democrats or other undesirables being murdered outright. However, she has been well-trained to understand that when, God forbid, such a thing happens, the appropriate response is to defend the righteous, stay calm, put it out of your mind, and walk cheerfully forward into the the world that is being re-shaped for the right people.
And that mindset is so far developed that, on Sarah Palin's Facebook page, comments critical of Palin were removed within minutes.  But this comment was left intact:
a commenter posted the following at 18:12:

"it's ok christina taylor green was probably going to end up a left wing bleeding heart liberal anyway. hey, as 'they' say, what would you do if you had the chance to kill hitler as a kid? exactly."
even worse, further negative comments about palin were immediately scrubbed within a minute, but this comment was still left live on the facebook page.
Just for a moment, pause and consider what a warped worldview it takes to find criticism of Sarah Palin unacceptable, but the equating of a murdered nine year-old with Hitler, justifying her murder, fine to leave intact.

Maybe they're just blindly following the steps.  A certain blindness is required to not see what's wrong with a comment like that.

No, instead of soul-searching, too many are busy building walls.  Making excuses.  Pretending gunsights aren't gunsightsAttacking the sheriff who had the courage to speak out:

Too many on the right don't want to have this conversation, face the fact that when your most powerful political leaders, your media stars, your respected allies are all dehumanizing, demonizing and implicitly calling for the murder of those who oppose you, you must bear some responsibility for the target a disturbed young man chose.  Look to the right.  Some have been courageous enough to speak out against the violence and the eliminationist rhetoric, but far too many are busy trying to paint the assassin as either a deranged lunatic who engaged in a random act of violence or as one of the hated and inhuman gay leftist commies.  Those in the middle of those extremes are busy howling that we shouldn't politicize this.  But it is political.  There is no escaping that fact:
Shootings of political figures are by definition "political." That's how the target came to public notice; it is why we say "assassination" rather than plain murder.
That's the further political ramification here. We don't know why the Tucson killer did what he did. If he is like Sirhan, we'll never "understand." But we know that it has been a time of extreme, implicitly violent political rhetoric and imagery, including SarahPac's famous bulls-eye map of 20 Congressional targets to be removed -- including Rep. Giffords. It is legitimate to discuss whether there is a connection between that tone and actual outbursts of violence, whatever the motivations of this killer turn out to be. At a minimum, it will be harder for anyone to talk -- on rallies, on cable TV, in ads -- about "eliminating" opponents, or to bring rifles to political meetings, or to say "don't retreat, reload." 
I wish that last bit were true, but I'm afraid it's not.  I've seen little evidence that those responsible for the bulk of the eliminationist rhetoric see anything at all wrong with what they've done.  They'll continue to do it.  And it's doubtful the media will do anything to prevent them, or call them on it, or imply in any way that such things are unacceptable in public discourse.

So it's up to us.

Digby quoted Bill Clinton's speech after the Oklahoma City bombing, and a bit of it particularly struck me as all the more relevant to today:
Well, people like that who want to share our freedoms must know that their bitter words can have consequences and that freedom has endured in this country for more than two centuries because it was coupled with an enormous sense of responsibility on the part of the American people.

If we are to have freedom to speak, freedom to assemble, and, yes, the freedom to bear arms, we must have responsibility as well. And to those of us who do not agree with the purveyors of hatred and division, with the promoters of paranoia, I remind you that we have freedom of speech, too, and we have responsibilities, too. And some of us have not discharged our responsibilities. It is time we all stood up and spoke against that kind of reckless speech and behavior.
Life, for the rest of us, will return to some semblance of normalcy.  But we can't let that prevent us from discharging our duty.  The work will be long, and it will be hard, and we will suffer defeats, but we must make this country a place where eliminationist rhetoric once again has no place in public discourse.  We must work for gun laws that will prevent people bent on massacre from obtaining their weapons so easily.  We must work for a health care system that identifies and treats people with mental illness before they become such a danger to self and others.  And we must work to make sure that this country does not ever become familiar with political assassination.

Otherwise, what happened yesterday will not have been a wake-up call, but merely a prelude.

1 comment:

Suzanne said...

check this insurection timeline out dana.... chilling to say the least


i think we passed prelude a while ago i'm sorry to say