It goes without saying that what happened in Tuscon is horrific. Of course we all pray for those who are suffering and the families of those who have lost loved ones. It would be a disservice to those who died if we did not to something to honor their sacrifice — to learn from this horrible tragedy.
I don’t know anything yet about Loughner other than what I’ve read, but I know enough about what’s happening in this country to know that what he did, irrespective of his politics, has grown out of a deteriorating national mood. A cancer, it seems, has spread in this age of technology, where it’s easier to text than it is to talk, where insults are hurled behind closed doors, and politicians don’t talk to each other anymore as policymakers, and too few learn to like (or dare I say love) each other as friends. Tuscon marks the tombstone for civility in our country. All these unbelievably horrible things we’ve been saying to each other for the past several years have torn at the fabric of our Democracy. What has made us unique, thinking of the reading of the Constitution in Congress last week, is our ability to argue with civility…but things started to change in the Clinton era, interestingly coinciding with the proliferation of the Internet.
While the Politics of Hate has grown unabated, the Policies of Tragedy have responded in like kind. Specific acts of violence have led to specific remedies. The Oklahoma City bombing, the first bombing of the World Trade Centers, the Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001 lead to overhauls of terrorism policies, defense and security laws and procedures, including:
- Creation of the Department of Homeland Security
- Warrant-less Wiretapping
- TSA and Airport security measures
- Enhanced Security at federal buildings
Likewise, the assassination attempt on President Reagan paralyzes Press Secretary Jim Brady, leading to The Brady Bill and other gun control laws.
Hateful, destructive and incindary rhetoric, from political extremists on the left and right, reached new heights in 2010, with calls to “raise our armies,” put candidates “on the firing line,” or in the cross-hairs. Sadly, acts of violence by extremists continue. According to researchers Joshua D. Freilich and Steven M. Chermak from the University of Maryland’s Study of Terrorism and Reponses to Terrorism, there have been more than 300 homicide incidents and over 100 additional attempted homicides by far-rightists in the United States since 1990. The majority of victims are state and local law enforcement officials. In a letter written by Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh while he was in prison, he provided insights into his motivation for the attack, saying he had decided to “go on the offensive – to put a check on government abuse of power, where others had failed in stopping the federal juggernaut running amok.”
Having worked in Congress, I can tell you that they will want to do something about this — because they are people of goodwill, because certain heinous actions demand reactions.
The single biggest step Congress can take doesn’t involve any legislation. Rep. Giffords herself, in an interview with Chuck Todd on MSNBC said, “the rhetoric and firing people up…there are consequences to that…We have to work out our problems by working together.” Members of Congress can start by heeding Rep. Giffords words. Words mean something. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but your words, they’re sadly hurting people. We need to start now by changing the way we talk to and about each other.
We’ve gone too far, but this time maybe the best remedy isn’t legislative — it lies within each of us.