Monday, January 10, 2011

How Soon Is Now?

Let’s call it for what it was, shall we. The shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday was tragic, but can anyone who has been paying attention to the vitriol that has gripped this nation’s political discourse over the last two years truly say it was unexpected? Frankly, given the level with which the volume was set, I am surprised that it took this long for the pimple to come to a head. Jared Loughner was in deed a sick and twisted individual who deliberately took the lives of six people, including a 9 year-old girl, and wounded 13 others, but he hardly acted alone. As depraved as Loughner’s actions were, his accomplices were ten times more culpable, because they knew full well what they were doing. While they may not have intended the results that ensued, they are as guilty as the man who lit the fuse of a bomb or shouted “fire” in a crowded movie house. What makes it all the more tragic was that this wasn’t the first incident of violence against innocents. Last February Joseph Stack flew his plane into the I.R.S. building in Austin, Texas, citing many of the same grievances that Loughner noted on his MySpace page, and possessing the same psychotic tendencies.

Words have consequences. Ironically, Giffords made that very same statement during the contentious healthcare debate, and now she is a living testament to its validity, as she struggles to hold onto the life that was almost snuffed out of her.

When is this insanity going to end? When are the purveyors of hatred and fear finally going to be held accountable for their actions? I have heard enough of the “free speech” nonsense to last a lifetime. Those who prey on and manipulate the gullible, the frustrated and the emotionally imbalanced have cowardly hid behind the Constitution long enough and like the wizard in The Wizard of Oz, it is high time to roll back the curtain and bring their dastardly deeds once and for all into the light of day.

None of us should be deterred in this mission. We, all of us, have been silent for far too long and allowed this mockery of freedom to continue. How many more innocent lives must be lost or endangered before the guilty are brought to justice? We cannot and must not allow the agents of hatred and fear to continue to stoke and fan, unchecked, the flames of discontent that reside in all too many of our citizenry. Whether it be Glenn Beck ranting about some gibberish regarding Hitler and Stalin, Mark Levin in a tirade about his equally unintelligible charge of government tyranny that exists, sadly, only in his warped brain, Sharon Angle offering up a Second Amendment remedy for removing governmental leaders she doesn’t agree with, or Sarah Palin’s now infamous crosshairs, lock and load comment, men and women of good conscience must rise up and say, “Enough!” It is time for those of us who aren’t insane and who believe in open and honest dialogue that is dignified and peaceful to stand up and take back our country from the wicked miscreants who have hijacked it for their malicious intents.

And our resolve and contempt should not be reserved merely for the far-Right, though much of this must be laid at their front door step. The same afternoon that representative Giffords was being shot in the head, a talk show on a well-known liberal radio station, WBAI, hosted an author who was making his case for the violent overthrow of the United States government, citing, as his source, the writings of Thomas Jefferson. Why is it that those who least understand the Founding Fathers are always the first to invoke them to suit their narrow, insular and hateful agendas?

These are perilous times we live in. In my nearly fifty years on this planet I have seen many things that have drawn my ire, but none more hideous and contemptuous as this heinous act. And the thing that scares me the most is that I feel we haven’t seen the last of it. This is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many more Jared Loughners out there just waiting to be pushed over the edge by the incendiary words of some idiot looking to cash in on their misery and suffering.

So these reprobates continue to provoke and incite their audience, many times to a state of hysteria, and when the inevitable happens they have the nerve to cry foul and accuse the victims of their fear mongering of treading on their rights. Like somehow it is we who have the problem. Typical. They have no shame because they have no conscience. They are dead to any kind of remorse or regret. Like a common thug who breaks into your home, they do violence to all that is decent and upstanding. They aren’t interested in a real discussion because they know full well they would lose in such a forum. So they bully and intimidate and invite their minions to do likewise. It is the Nuremberg mob run riot and that is where America is headed unless and until we wake up.

It is not too late to do something about this. But first we must stop kidding ourselves that what these people represent is just a crop of bad apples in an otherwise fruitful harvest. They are a cancer within our midst that must be exorcised like a demon from a possessed man. These aren’t just entertainers who happen to have some rather peculiar personality quirks. Hitler had those same quirks, and millions perished because his victims couldn’t see the warning signs. There is no distinction between these charlatans and that mad dictator of seventy years ago. Both count on indifference and apathy to succeed in their quests. We can no longer afford to give either to them.

Just as those who shout “fire” in a crowded movie house are brought up on charges, so too must these impersonators of freedom be held accountable for the consequences of their actions. They will certainly cry foul. To hell with them! This is no longer about their “rights.” Nor is it about getting them to repent and change their ways; that will never happen. But if we can prevent just one senseless tragedy like this from happening, it will all be worth it.

I realize all too well the slippery slope that many of you may be fearing. It is not applicable here, for the First Amendment to the Constitution, while protecting free speech, also provides for exemptions that include speech that incites imminent danger. A fine hair perhaps, but one I would be willing to split.

If going down that road doesn’t float your boat, there is one thing that will certainly stop them dead in their tracks, but to succeed, all of us will have to be 100% vigilant and committed to the cause. Simply put, stop listening, stop watching and stop reading the commentary of these people and their networks. That’s right, change the channel. Hit them where it hurts most, in the wallet. In the movie Trading Places, Eddie Murphy’s character remarks, “Seems to me the way you hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people.” Bingo! Perhaps our best weapon – no pun intended – against this violent rhetoric is the very symbol that shaped our nation’s history: the almighty dollar bill.

Frankly, though, I am dubious of this tact. For one thing, boycotts, for the most part, either don’t work, or when they do, work only for a very short time. Remember the gas boycott a few years ago when gasoline prices soared? Or perhaps the boycott of large banks that played a major role in the mortgage debacle? Of course you don’t. That’s because they failed miserably. The problem with channeling that much energy and emotion into a cause, no matter how worthy it is and how determined you are is that sane and rational people can’t stay that focused or angry for long. As Bill Maher once said, “There’s a difference between a mad man and a madman.” We can be mad at what we see around us, but we ourselves are not crazy.

But the Jared Loughners of the world are crazy, as well as dangerous. In the private hell they call reality, the government is out to get them and no one can be trusted. These people do not grow in test tubes, or exist in a vacuum.  Nor is it sufficient to merely label them as clinical case studies.  They are the byproduct of a society that way too often settles its differences in less than ideal circumstances. In their crazed and tortured minds they can only see enemies and threats everywhere. And these very same sick people become the perfect targets for the heated rhetoric that gets blasted all over the airwaves and comes unabated into our homes to act as itching powder to achieve its ultimate aim.

Hatred begets hatred. And while I agree in part with Jon Stewart that there is no direct correlation or straight line from this hateful rhetoric and the twisted minds of the crazed and delusional, to deny any causation is simply to deny reality.  And while it's also true that you can't outsmart crazy, as Stewart adroitly and somberly pointed out on his show last night, you can mitigate the damage crazy can do by making sure it doesn't gain any further momentum.

All of us have felt our hearts race and our passions rise while in the midst of a heated debate, be it political or otherwise, and none of us, if we are honest, can say we have not thought ill of our opponent or even wished some unfortunate circumstance might befall him or her. We are not saints; we all have our personal devils within us. What separates us from the Jared Loughners of the world is that line we never come close to crossing. We know the difference between right and wrong. For in the final analysis, we are not insane, and when push comes to shove and the dust settles, we gather our wits about us, pick up the pieces and agree to disagree.

Today I am not worried about the vast majority of the population that gets this. I am worried about those who don’t. I fear for a nation that continues to embrace a language that is toxic and deadly, that holds no quarter for compromise, that riles up those who are deranged and frightened, and has zero accountability for the consequences that ensue. And I pity those who will not stand up to it, for no one should doubt that, so long as agitators continue to agitate, the gullible will always be among us waiting for an opportunity to unleash upon society a taste of the pain they carry with them in their embittered souls.

Until we deal with this ugly 800 pound gorilla, this is the question that will always haunt us.  Who will be the next victim?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You've delivered yet another thoughtful and insightful blog, Pete. Thanks.
I just saw the president speak and he was hitting many of the same notes as you. Listening, as he spoke so eloquently I couldn't help but let my mind wander to imagine how Limbaugh et al. will spin the speech. You know, the president using the event for political gain and other such spin concoctions to rile up their crowd. My point in saying this is that even now after a national tragedy, no or little momentum will be built towards legislating against vitriolic speech. This is because of the fact that the fringe is backed up by the power of the mighty dollar. Indulge me for a second:
We both know that the violent rhetoric is predominantly coming from one side. Their hardcores (base) go for this stuff wholeheartedly. It was all over the place in the rhetoric leading up to the last elections. Sharon Angle was almost elected U.S. senator for God's sake after explicitly and in no uncertain terms stating that assassinations and civil war may lead us to our solutions (I know I'm paraphrasing, but that is what she was proposing, and that's without me having to lie about or misrepresent her position).
How is that possible? Well, without having to go into Harry Reid's weak standing in the state among other things, it's possible because we have two and only two political parties and too many independents look at elections as multiple choice quiz that they really don't have to study for...after all all there's only a or b or none of the above (don't vote). With the wealthy (corporations) coopting the crazies and controlling the message (more than ever after C.U), enough of share of the low infos will keep the repubs and their progress stymieing agenda moving forward. You wrote this recently:

"Well it’s okay so long as no one knows about it, which appears to be the standard operating procedure for much of the main-stream media in this country. A hundred years ago, The New York Times coined a phrase that would serve as its modus operandi for generations: All the news that’s fit to print. Apparently the bar has been lowered a bit for today's guardians of journalistic integrity. The new banner should now read, all the news that’s approved to be printed.

"Nothing like telling it like it is. Yep, if at first you don’t succeed, lie, lie again. And, oh yeah, get the media to go along for the ride."

The lies go way further than they used to, even with what Twain said about them some time back (they go all the way around the world now). The only hope is that either people become more informed or that Big Wealth will realize that an anarchistic world is worse than one where they may have to not be quite so greedy. I don't know that inspirational leaders like Barack or even Peter Fegan can be heard over the din of corporate agenda messaging. So for now, at least, the lunatic fringe has their patrons.

Steve Lane