Today’s shooting at Republican Congressmen practicing for a baseball game is but the latest (and possibly most worrisome) example of ever-more violent rhetoric leading to more violent action. Our entire nation needs to take a deep breath and look hard at the road we’ve been traveling to this point.
Nearly a quarter century ago, shortly after Supreme Court Clarence Thomas was confirmed by the Senate, PBS pundit Julianne Malveaux infamously said on air ““You know, I hope his wife feeds him lots of eggs and butter and he dies early like many black men do, of heart disease.” A number of people on both sides of the aisle considered this sort of statement to be well beyond the pale.
How far we’ve fallen.
Politics has long borrowed military language: campaign, objective, tactic and so forth. It used to be understood these were metaphors. Then Sarah Palin put out a campaign graphic putting “crosshair” targets on key districts in the election. The Left went melodramatically berserk over her “eliminationist” message, trying to pin the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on Palin’s activity. (For the record, Gifford’s shooter turned out not to be a ‘right-winger,’ but rather, a mentally unstable person who had a bizarre fixation on her.)
Now the shoe is tied tightly on the other foot, and hopefully it pinches hard. The militant vocabulary used today is not a metaphor: there are two broad worldviews in competition in the U.S., and both increasingly see the other as a literal enemy (and for many, one that must actually be destroyed, not just voted out of office). I’m sure many Democrats were greatly disappointed when Wednesday’s shooter turned out to be a Bernie Bro and Rachel Maddow fan, instead of a militia member or such rot. (That didn’t stop their automatic pleading for more gun control.) Facebook apparently was quick on the trigger to take down the shooter’s page, but not before some of the wiser denizens of the web captured it all for posterity.
Trump is easily one of the most questionable occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and continuous scrutiny is prudent. That’s not what the other party offers. They’re trying to nullify the last election by waging an overheated rhetorical war on two fronts: obstructionism in Congress and the courts, and riling up their base to vandalism and worse with some of the most vile language imaginable. (Note to the Democrats: increasing the frequency of F-bombs in your public addresses might endear you to some of the college crowd, but for the rest of us it just shows you to be a crass juvenile who feeds on emotion, not careful thought.)
College campuses seem out of control, to the degree that self-appointed vigilante groups of students have to be asked by administrators to stop roaming campus with baseball bats and other instruments. Attempts by conservatives to speak on a campus are now met frequently with vandalistic temper tantrums. And protestors on both sides of issues like immigration are now showing up suited for battle, not just to carry signs.
Why write all this? Because I’m concerned our nation crossed a critical line today, and the path we’re on is leading to disaster. There are plenty of nuts in both camps, and a continuous backdrop of violent rhetoric (particularly on the internet) only encourages them. As each side looks warily at the other, the mutual distrust leads many ordinary people to wonder if they need to be making preparations for war. Thus does the divide get wider and more hostile.
We all need to realize that when ballots no longer settle issues, bullets do. Is that really how we want to go forward? Do the posturing online ‘toughs’ really want to see their friends and family caught up in the bloodshed of civil war or anarchy? I spent 24 years in uniform believing I was helping defend America. I’ve seen firsthand what a country looks like in a civil war (spoiler: it isn’t pretty). Now it seems we’re determined to destroy ourselves. If Wednesday’s any indicator, I have a feeling those who are playing with fire to score political points are going to be among the first to get burned. But probably not the last.
God help us all.