Reacting to the Aftermath of the Tucson Massacre
Previously published on Jan 26, 2011
Saturday, January 8th, 2011, the United States was shocked by yet another mass shooting that took the lives of six, including a federal judge, and left 13 seriously injured. As the apparent target of the assassination attempt US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords struggled to recover from a headshot wound, political leaders and pundits once gain begin debating the causes. Like similar past acts of mass violence, which have also caught the attention of the Nation, this incident has sparked a renewed push for gun control and calls for civility in politics. In recent years, extreme polarization, coupled with a total lack of bipartisan cooperation, has lead to a rather unhealthy, rancorous political atmosphere, thereby making the latter debate quite crucial, if we are to move forward as a successful Nation.
Just before the Tucson massacre, the successful assassination of Pakistani Governor Salmaan Taseer was cheered on by hordes of his countrymen. His crime was questioning the excessive use of the death penalty under an anti-blasphemy law. Not only was violent reprisal preferred over civil discourse, thousands of his fellow Afghans glorified his bodyguard as a hero who gallantly put aside his personal welfare to protect their Country's religious integrity. Through both action and words, those who supported this crime were precluding political discussion in favor of political oppression against anyone who might disagree with their views. The consequences are continued instability, a growing need for martial law, and necessarily self-serving, oppressive governance.
To a much lesser extent in the United States, our increasingly unhealthy dialog prevents the implementation of healthy policy and governance. Instead of debating policies, or even principles, our leaders, lobbyists, and constituents in far too many cases use angry personal attacks against those who raise opposing viewpoints. Demonizing each other over honest, constructive policy discussions leads to situations where innovative ideas are suppressed in favor of harmful policy choices, whether bipartisan or not. Even private American citizens in such a climate cannot freely discuss controversial ideas without receiving a barrage of angry personal attacks and, at best, a handful of cherry-picked facts designed to derail real debate. The consequences are a lack of democracy in the world's greatest democracy and brutal acts of violence as witnessed in Tucson.
Although no one individual, aside from the shooter, or specific events can be blamed for this particular massacre, inflammatory language and violently suggestive posturing has created an atmosphere where violent responses are encouraged over intelligent, responsible, honest discourse. Where a healthy individual in our society can easily distinguish between over heated rhetoric and a serious call to arms, the disturbed may not. No matter how much angry public figures state they are against violence, the reality is that such an environment makes violent behavior far more acceptable, or even heroic, for those susceptible to violent responses. The result can be violence carried out by individuals or groups of individuals who view their crimes as courageous acts of civil service.
It is one thing for us to engage in passionate, sometimes divisive debate over particular solutions for specific issues, but it is quite another for us to attack each other. Personal attacks and violent gestures derail political discussion as the issues take a backseat to infighting. Meanwhile, a lack of civility does cultivate an atmosphere that inspires violent acts. On the other hand, criticizing others, who may or may not disagree with our views, for how they engage others does not undermine free speech. We can, and must, condemn a lack of civility in our discourse, no matter what is at stake or said. A failure to do anything less blocks the ideas we need to move forward as a strong democratic nation.
It is a terrible shame that we must experience a tragedy before we even begin to consider the negative consequences of our behavior as a society. Then again, these types of events do remind us that we are all citizens of one great Nation. We are not enemies. We do, however, need to express our opinions, including our differences, in a more civil and diplomatic manner. In the words of President Barack Obama, insipired by a young American named Chritina Green whose birth and death fall in the shadows of two national tragedies that brought all Americans together while, hopefully, inspiring us, "All of us -- we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations."