The tragic mass-murder in Tucson produced an almost instantaneous backlash against what many perceive to be vitriolic political speech in this country. This prompted an equally swift defensive pushback from those who felt their side of the political debate was being unfairly blamed for the act of a person who they argued was clearly mentally-disturbed
Most of the focus seems to be on guns. People point to the use of gunsights on maps and calls for “2nd Amendment solutions” as examples of political speech that has gone too far. I think it goes deeper than that.
The problem isn’t necessarily guns. After all, guns aren’t dangerous unless they are pointed at someone. The problem lies with the divisiveness of political speech in this country. It lies with the demonization of fellow Americans.
This demonization began long before Sarah Palin began to talk of “real Americans”. It has been going on for decades and is usually used by the Right to smear their opponents. If someone points out the only too real faults of this country, they are immediately attacked as an “America-hater” or traitor.
I speak of this from experience. I have not only been called an America-hater, but also, a traitor to my race and my country, a “nigger lover”, a Commie, and worse for pointing out less admirable portions of our history. I have been told that I should be shot, or hung, or to “love it or leave it” for simply stating historical facts.
What hope is there for this country if people can be accused of seeking to destroy America when they speak in favor of expanding health care coverage? Or to be called traitors or accused of siding with terrorists simply for supporting the rule of law and calling for proof of guilt before someone is imprisoned for life?
It is easy to despair, at times, when trying to push back against the all too common insular, intolerant hate for the other that permeates our society. Yet, those feelings of despair should be fleeting for truth eventually wins in the end. Attitudes in the general public change as it becomes apparent that the lies used to demonize others are not based on fact. This can be seen in the changing attitudes towards gays in this country. It is a slow process that can seem glacial at times, but, like a glacier, it is an unstoppable force.
Hate relies on lies and opinion, not on observable fact. It loses when the facts become so obvious that the lies no longer sway people. We cannot counter opinion with opinion. We can counter faulty opinions by pointing to facts that counter the lies that form mistaken opinions.
Talk of “real Americans” implies there are “unreal Americans”. When Palin talks about “real Americans”, she means conservative, white Christians who believe America is anointed by God. Taken to its logical conclusion, anyone who does not fit in this group is an enemy of the country and should be marginalized or destroyed. It is this attitude, more than talk of guns or 2nd Amendment solutions, that endangers our republic.
There are many lessons to be learned from the tragedy in Tucson; lessons about gun control, mental health care, the tenor of political rhetoric, and more. Yet, one lesson, more than any other, needs to be promulgated far and wide. And that lesson is that we are all Americans.
I can think of no better way to spread this lesson than to repeat this observation by Allen Ginsberg, a historian from Maine (no, not the Allen Ginsberg) as related by Mark Shields in a discussion with Jim Lehrer and David Brooks. This is America.
MARK SHIELDS: It’s the college town. It’s really a wonderful city. And it was shaken to its roots. And I think there was an emotional need to affirm. And I think this was a form that the affirming took, was the cheering.
There was one observation that was made this week I just have to pass on to you by a friend of mine, Allen Ginsberg, who is an historian up in Maine. And he said, this week, we saw a white, Catholic, Republican federal judge murdered on his way to greet a Democratic woman, member of Congress, who was his friend and was Jewish. Her life was saved initially by a 20-year-old Mexican-American college student, who saved her, and eventually by a Korean-American combat surgeon.
JIM LEHRER: Dr. Rhee.
MARK SHIELDS: Dr. Rhee, that’s right. And then it was all eulogized and explained by our African-American president. And, in a tragic event, that’s a remarkable statement about the country.
I came across this video on BalloonJuice. It was so apropos that I couldn’t resist adding it to this diary.