We had to see something like this coming. In this hyper polarized political climate, the dangling implications of our snarky tweets, meandering posts, and outraged memes were finished by a left-wing sniper in Alexandria, Virginia. Culturally, aren’t we all on the hook for this one, to one degree or another?
It was going to come this, or something like it; sooner or later. If you demonize and dehumanize people for so long (I’m speaking in generalities here), some people actually believe the “loyal opposition” are “evil enemies”.
If the killer had succeeded in murdering 20 congressmen, the entire dynamic of American politics would have shifted in that instant. Can you imagine the President’s reaction to a sudden Democratic majority (or near majority) in the House of Representatives? Impeachment would become a mathematical possibility. The implications of what we avoided this morning are almost too frightening to consider.
A culture can’t whip itself into a daily political frenzy without some among us (the under medicated, perpetually angry, the misdiagnosed, the outright crazy, the politically obsessed, and those able to find a gun) snapping under the pressure. Honestly, I’m surprised it’s taken this long. For some people, the past few months have been a game of catchy signs and funny knit hats to wear at cold weather protests. Half of America views their glasses half full and can’t understand why their neighbors don’t embrace the same awesomeness they see. The first group lives in a liberal silo and listens to MSNBC and the latter hasn’t moved off FOX News in years. We stay in our echo chambers reinforcing what we already know is right. Hell no, we don’t want to be challenged! My preconceived notions are mine!
But there’s a third group. They tuned out a long time ago. For them, institutions are broken and government is the greatest and grandest institution of all. The hearings and arguments we watch and poke fun of on television each night, whether in serious news or comedy programs, are charades-all meant to further the institution. I don’t know this shooter’s motives. I’m willing to bet: he’s off his meds, his personal life is in chaos, and he’s mad at the whole system. He’s a third group guy. Tuned out and alienated from the wider political discourse; he saw violence as the only way to create systemic change. Persons in the third group may associate with any ideology (right, left, or even Jihadist). They are primarily defined by their antipathy toward institutions and a willingness to embrace violence. In the end, death is of greater value than any political theory.
A little more of this kind of thing and we’re going to see a crack down on free speech (and access to members of Congress) like we’ve never witnessed in this country. There will be no more town halls to talk about health care legislation or any other kind of bill. To be honest, I’m a little scared. It’s scary to think about lawmakers being massacred at baseball practice. It’s scary to think this event could be used to take away access to our lawmakers or other freedoms. This was the last thing we needed. I pray to God there’s nothing else.
Richard Lowell Bryant