Midway through college, I found myself (in part, I am sure, through my own fault) sucked into one of those interpersonal dramas of the sort that can only take place in an environment where lots of young adults with much time and little sense are living with each other in a small residential college 24/7. I had a falling out with my roommate, and since the room had become a rather difficult place to live, I arranged with the residence director to move into another room in the dorm. This was almost but not quite the end of it. For a few weeks longer there were random knocks on my door, anything I put on my bulletin board was slashed to ribbons, milkshakes had a way of happening to get spilled on my car, etc. And then all was forgotten.
But during that brief period during which the strife could not be let go, I developed a reflexive reaction to everything about the former roommate. Seeing a car on the highway the same color and model as his would make me angry. Just hearing the roommate's name would cause a tightening feeling in my stomach. Even if one would be glad to be done with it all, being hated by someone else is something which cannot help but cause significant changes in you. Hatred is never a one-way relationship.
I think of this at the moment because our country looks increasingly like two camps that would really like to be warring, except for the fact that actual civil wars cut into work hours more than blogging does. When Representative Gabrielle Giffords was critically injured, and six bystanders were killed, by a gunman who was seriously disturbed, to say the least, it could have been a moment for the country to pull together in a sense of common sympathy for the dead and injured and outrage that violence had been brought into our civic life, where it has no place.
House Speaker John Boehner stepped forward and delivered standard unifying rhetoric for such occasions, "An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society... This is a sad day for our country."
However, although it has become de rigueur for those on the left to say that President George Bush wasted the good will of the world after September 11th, 2001 by attacking Iraq a year and a half later, in this case any good will or unification was dispatched within five minutes as those on the left tripped over each other trying to see who could blame Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck first -- as the founder of Daily Kos twittered, “Mission Accomplished, Sarah Palin.” and Paul Krugman insisted he'd been expecting the right to break into partisan violence since 2008.
Perhaps, isolated as we are from many of the troubles which have afflicted other countries in the world much more recently than they have us, too many people in our country fail to appreciate the fact that it is a good and valuable thing that in our country it is considered a grave crime by all when one of our elected representatives (even one we opposed in the last election) is attacked. In too many times and places, this kind of thing has people cheering in the streets. And so rather than appreciating the fact that -- at times childish rhetoric from both sides aside -- in our country everyone is willing to peacefully accept the outcomes of elections and the civic process, instead what we find is that those on the left are more eager to cash in on this atrocity by telling everyone, "See, my opponents are so wicked they cause political violence!" than they are to draw the country together in the unity they claim to be so eager for.
Needless to say, there is nothing more likely to make one feel enraged than to have someone unjustly accuse you of fomenting a shooting spree that killed six people, including a nine year old girl. I know some of my fellow conservatives feel I go overboard in the calmness department, but be assured, when some online punk who likes to talk about how people like me "hate the poor", "hold legislation hostage", have a health care policy of "if you get sick, die quickly", am a "racist" and am moreover "just like the Taliban" because I'm religious, takes an opportunity like this to say that we conservatives are responsible for creating a "climate of hate" which causes crimes like what happened on Saturday, I feel like fomenting a little violence back right then and there.
Those on the left may not recognize that their movement has been seething with hate for all eight years of Bush's administration, and somehow gone straight back into overdrive even after their candidate won in 2008. After all, it's their movement, and they are sure that stoner guy with the beat-up Civic with the "Kill the President" and "Bush Is a Chimp-ass Punk" bumper stickers is just expressing himself and doesn't mean anything by it. But those of who actually are on the right and get to hear about how we're a "waste of oxygen" in online forums can assure them that they have been red in rhetorical tooth and claw for some time now.
One need only look at places like the Middle East to see how hard it is for people to step off the carousel once the cycle of hatred really gets going. Just the idea of working with one's opponents becomes enough to make people angry. We're a long way from that, though displays like this only bring us closer.
In an alternate reality, Democratic leaders and pundits took the sad opportunity of this shooting to join with Republican leaders in bringing the country together and reminding everyone that despite our differences all Americans share basic civic values. Instead, it was widely taken as an attempt to demonize their opponents after a hard fought election and to try to seriously hobble the new Republican majority in the House by waving the bloody shirt. I hope and pray there's not another opportunity any time soon for our leaders and pundits to acquit themselves better. But either way, there are many who should be ashamed of themselves for trying to paint their fellow citizens with the blood of a crime that they are in fact united in abhorring.
Fortnightly Book, December 4
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