Like It or Not, Words Fuel Violence

It wasn’t all that long ago—maybe a couple of months—when I mourned the demise of the ability to compromise in American government and public policy. At the core of that entrenchment is the more serious malaise of sucking the humanity out of those who disagree with us, making them one-dimensional targets and therefore more palatable to detest and attack.With the help of the internet, which spreads viral concoctions, often unfounded and unproven, about those with whom we disagree, inciting the masses leads to votes in political campaigns and helps fuel movements that might otherwise stall. By using this weapon, they incite the risk of something far worse from many out there who are misguided, even unbalanced. Some may tell you that you can’t blame the messenger for what others do with the message—even if it erupts in violence. Many of the same people who condemn the bloodletting in movies and hateful rhetoric in the music of our young people for spurring violence pooh-pooh the idea that the targeting of a congresswoman by the Tea Party movement with her district marked by gunsight logos on a map, compliments of Sarah Palin’s website, would incite someone impressionable to commit such horrors.To me the murders and mayhem in Arizona that surrounded the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords were inevitable considering the climate of hate that has been festering for several years now. I also confess I felt that another terrorist attack on at least the scale of 9-11 was inevitable too, but I have been wrong about that so far. Sometimes you don’t mind being wrong.Violent rhetoric may be, as the song says, “only words,” but it can create a climate that engenders violent assassins convinced that they are doing the right thing, even saving humankind. In many ways that assassin, Jared Laughner, is no different that the suicide bombers who are convinced they will achieve martyrdom by blowing the American infidels and their lackies away. Laughner, who I will not mention by name again, was much more detestable because he was too cowardly to die with his victims.No, I am not going to blame Palin or even the Tea Party for shooting Giffords in the head in a rampage that killed six and wounded 14. None of them told the cowardly assassin to shoot and kill a federal judge, a dedicated campaign aide or a beautiful, bright nine-year-old girl. However, it is the atmosphere they abet, along with opponents relying on the same vitriol in spreading their gospels of bias, that has created a culture where there is virtually no respect for contrary opinions. This killer was a crazy, and, as far as we know, he was not politically active, other than spouting nonsensical rhetoric about government mind control and neo-conservative rantings about the evils of our currency.Another Congressman who was targeted by the same conservative foes and had his own gunsight logo on Palin’s map, the recently deposed Chris Carney, probably understated the situation when he commented to a reporter in the wake of the shootings that “discourse in this country has deteriorated tremendously.” Indeed it has, and although politics has traditionally been adversarial and often contentious, there has always been that underlying element of respect that allows for discussion, negotiation and compromise. Compromise is not a product of weakness. It is about opposing sides coming to an agreement, with each getting the best out of it they can in the end.Ronald Reagan, whose ideals are trumpeted by conservative Republicans more than ever, knew how to deliver strong, even threatening rhetoric to his foes. He knew how to twist arms and slap backs—sometimes at the same time. He could also work with the opposition when he had to, as was the case when he tangled with Tip O’Neill, Democrat and Speaker of the House. Their relationship is remembered as a partnership of sorts, something we cannot imagine happening today, whether it is George Bush versus Nancy Pelosi or Barack Obama versus John Boehner. In many ways, as the events of this past weekend indicate, we become more conciliatory when there is a tragedy in the enemy camp.I know there are liberals who are using the shootings to try to gain political advantage over the conservative right, and that, too, is reprehensible. But, to be candid, the conservative right is more prone to violent rhetoric. It marks the confrontational style of many of that movement’s pundits, and though it may make for entertaining commentary in a politically correct world, it is only going to make the disenfranchised angrier and seldom leads to solutions.I think we need to get along if we expect to accomplish anything in this country, and we need to behave as adults, rather than as taunting and bullying children in the schoolyard.

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