I started to post this as my status on Facebook, but it was getting long.
I hardly need to say that I’m sad and angry that people are shooting at Congressional representatives and judges and children. I’m certain that our country’s culture of violence and cavalier attitude towards human life has something to do with it. The media, which have conflated news and entertainment, and politicians (and by extension political parties), who are increasingly disconnected from reality, bear much responsibility for where we are today.
I’m not sure how we as a country and as a society are ever going to grow up. I’m not quite naÃ¯ve enough to believe that violence can ever fully be eradicated, because it’s been with us for all of history. I am still idealistic enough, however, to think that working to stop it is worthwhile. I think that starts with thinking of the people around us not as enemies or competitors, but as our brothers and sisters, people who are in the same struggle to survive and thrive as we are.
It continues by recognizing that the people who set us against one another, who have created this climate, do it because they have something to gain at our expense. (From kumbaya to overly abstract, I know, I know.)
In these times, I can’t help but think of George Washington’s warning against political parties (emphasis mine, of course):
“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.
“Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”
(Relevant portions are excerpted and explained in this only slightly dated column from Harper’s Magazine, and the full text is here).
I have to say that I favor the actions and tenets of one party over another. And I’m not saying they’re equally responsible for what happened yesterday — using obvious violent metaphors in political rhetoric is inexcusable. Both parties have to be part of the solution, though.
And I know there are good people in the media, and in politics (like this guy); I really don’t know what happens to them on the way to the top. Maybe most of the ones that make it to the top are the ones who are willing to do anything to get there.
Regardless, this is a point at which I would like to see our country’s “leaders” take some responsibility, admit their errors, and call for people to be calm. Unfortunately, I expect to be waiting for a while.
The main thing I’d like them to say, and the impression I want this essay to leave, is timeless: Let’s treat those around us the way we want to be treated. Not as enemies.