Restoring sanity starts with me
Last Saturday's shooting of (among others) Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a federal judge and 9-year-old bystander Christina-Taylor Green, a Sept. 11, 2001-born child was a wake-up call.
Much of the conversation after the shooting immediately turned to the motive of the shooter, a disturbed 22-year-old who posted some crazy things on the Internet. Was he a Tea Party Manchurian candidate? A left-wing nut?
Does it really matter? Does this tragedy with a half-dozen deaths need to be blamed on only one side of the troublemakers who use apocalyptic rhetoric?
Pima County, Ariz., Sheriff Clarence Dupnik had it right when he said, "The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous."
Political operatives, broadcast hosts and politicians themselves have resorted to demonizing their opponents. Why? Because it's easier and more effective to put a Hitler moustache and devil horns on your opponent than it is to talk about your own ideas or accomplishments. It's also an easy message to pound home with endless 30 second ads. It's intellectually lazy, it's reprehensible, but it's the reality of political speech today.
Was this shooter influenced by one particular scorched-earth statement from a pundit or politician? That's very unlikely. But a chorus of daily outrageous statements has a way of wearing down an individual who is mentally unstable -- whether that happened in this case or not.
And there are plenty of mentally unstable people out there who haven't (yet) fired a shot. We can't pretend there aren't. While nightly alarmist propaganda from Glenn Beck or Keith Olbermann -- with their wild conspiracy theories and "Worst Person in the World" segments -- doesn't cause most sane people to pick up a gun, it can easily plant a thought in an unstable person's mind, pushing them unnecessarily close to the edge. To a diseased mind, the idea that shooting a public figure isn't murder but patriotism could just take hold, even if the rest of us wouldn't never take it that far.
What are we to do about it? First, shut off the TV or radio when these alarmist tactics are involved. But that's not enough. Simply ignoring messages of hate won't be enough -- we have to actively try to tune them out or shut them down. If you get an e-mail espousing hate, send a reply back that you don't appreciate it. If someone in conversation does the same, walk away. Is that rude? It's rude to be a hate-monger.
We need to stop acting like the Tea Party or liberals or Latinos are trying to destroy America. None of them are. All of them believe in the American dream. There are disagreements over issues, sure. There was a time in America when we used to sit down and have a discussion about issues. Talking is good -- intimidation, threats and dehumanization of opponents are unacceptable.
We need to stop hoping the problem of hate speech just goes away -- we need to start doing something about it. It will be difficult to tell people who we disagree with politically that they've crossed over a line. It will be even harder to tell people we agree with they've done it. But we all need to take on that responsibility, because no matter how right we think we are on one issue or the other, there is no issue that makes you so right you get to spew hate against those who disagree with you.
If we're going to get back to a respectful dialogue -- one that actually moves America forward rather than blames one's political opponents for her problems -- we need to start with our own actions and what we tolerate out of those close to us.
This is the time we need to heed the words of a well-worn church hymn: "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."
We can't draw a straight line of causation from this brand of hyperbole to shooters like this troubled young man. But we need not wait for a body count where that direct connection exists to start doing something about it.
The Pioneer Journal editorial represents the voice of the newspaper's editorial board. Today's editorial was written by Steve Schulz, editor and publisher.