In the Summer of 2010, fear was spreading across America. Conservative pundits and politicians like Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani and Sean Hannity spoke against it in the direst of terms. Thousands of little-known local radio hosts, fringe religious leaders and no-name armchair pundits joined in the chorus.
|In spite of all the concern from the Right,Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf was an ally
in the war on terror, worked with the FBI,
and had never been quoted using violent,
They spoke about the disrespect to thousands of Americans who died four blocks away. They warned of the danger that was to come by allowing such a violent religion, with it’s violent “jihad” rhetoric, on our soil. Bloggers claimed that building this mosque would directly lead to violence, as the rhetoric would turn Americans into violent Muslims.
Nationwide, there was protest, the burning of Korans, the burning of Mosques, and the passing of Unconstitutional planning ordinances to prevent Muslims from spreading their “hatred,” because, as Newt Gingrich’s movie warned us, America Was At Risk.
It seems that the Right has recently had a change of heart regarding violent rhetoric.
In the wake of the shootings in Arizona, folks on the Left, including myself, rushed to judgment in assuming that Jared Lee Loughner was a crazed Tea Party fanatic whose anti-government fantasies became reality in a vicious, heartbreaking orgy of blood.
Given the fact that so much violent rhetoric had been directed toward Rep. Gabby Giffords, the fact that there had been several political motivated violent attacks and murders since President Obama’s inauguration in 2009, and the fact that politicians are seldom attacked when there is no political motive, it’s understandable that such a conclusion was reached. Understandable, yes…wrong, definitely. For that, I’m sorry.
However, I wholeheartedly stand by one assertion made in the hours and days following the attack on Gabby and the murder of innocent citizens. Rhetoric Still Matters.
Why Rhetoric Still Matters
Jared Lee Loughner was not a right-wing Tea Party loon. He did, however, share a lot of their violent anti-government rhetoric. That is not to say that he, like Richard Poplawski or Byron Williams, got his rhetoric from the recent right-wing pundit/politician sources. It now appears that most of his rhetoric came from a lifetime of distrust and hatred of the government in general, not a particular party, and was not influenced by talk radio.
|Jared Lee Loughner|
However, the same is not true of his peers and the people he came into contact with in Arizona. Sharron Angle, the Republican candidate for Senate, famously spoke of “2nd Amendment Remedies,” and still nearly won the nomination. That’s because there are a lot of folks in Arizona for which that was not an extremist statement.
What does that have to do with Loughner? Simple: His attitudes and rhetoric prior to the Tucson tragedy were not singled out as dangerous and extreme as they were because so many people were saying and thinking similar things. Had he expounded on his beliefs in a town that was less tolerant of extremism, there’s a much better chance his words would have been regarded with greater concern.
I’m not saying that all Arizonians are violent, vicious, murderous, insane lunatics. I’m simply saying that aggressive, violent rhetoric (which is typically empty words by the folks who actually speak it) is more tolerated in Arizona than it is in other states.
Let me indulge in an analogy to help illustrate my point. I grew up in a military town in North Carolina. My hometown was very conservative and incredibly homogeneous…there were very few minorities or women. Southern states are known to have higher incidences of racism and sexism, and when you add the military into the mix, it becomes even more pronounced. The atmosphere fostered an atmosphere of racism and sexism that I don’t experience now that I live in a more diverse college town.
Growing up, my peers threw around the “N” word like it had no meaning. Sexist comments were the norm not only in locker rooms and on base, but in classrooms and churches. Racism and Sexism was perpetrated not by fringe outcasts, but by respected members of society: Teachers, Preachers, Lawyers, Doctors, etc. In this atmosphere, you weren’t the outcast for being racist/sexist, you were the outcast if you spoke out AGAINST it.
When someone is in a culture that’s permissive of racism, or sexism, or violent rhetoric, then it becomes hard to tell the difference between someone who’s just blowing off steam and someone who’s getting ready to blow off faces.
|Christina Taylor Greene, Dorthy Murray, Judge John Roll,Phyllis Scheck, Dorwin Stoddard, Gabe Zimmerman|
That’s why, even if our political culture of permissiveness in regard to violent, anti-government rhetoric is not directly to blame for the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabby Giffords, or the murder of Judge John Roll, Gabe Zimmerman, Dorthy Murray, Dorwin Stoddard, Phyllis Scheck, and Christina Taylor Greene, it certainly made it more difficult to prevent.
We are all responsible, from the highest levels of government to the lowest levels of society. We are all becoming increasingly incapable of seeing the good and value in those we disagree with. We all need to realize that our words DO have consequences.
Again, I want to reiterate, without equivocation, that many of us on the left appear to have been wrong about Loughner. But in spite of the wrong, it’s still important to stop the hatred and vitriol.
We are all Americans, no matter our political affiliation or preferred ideology. If we succeed, we all benefit; if we fail, we fail together.
It’s time to realize that we’re all well-intentioned; we don’t have to question other’s commitment to the betterment of the country to further our own ideals. We just need to realize we all have different means to meet the same end: to restore America to the shining light in culture, economy, and human rights that it has been for hundreds of years. It’s about time we started working together.
“Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all!
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.”