The Politics of Violence

This was supposed to be my last 2-hour writing stint at my favorite Seattle coffee house before I returned to packing for our move to Walla Walla. And then the Internet exploded with the story of an apparent political assassination—the youngest woman ever elected to the House, Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat from Arizona, was shot point-blank at a meet the representative-type event in Tuscon, along with a dozen people who had come out to hear her and interact with her as their Congresswoman.

Breaking news reports slammed into the information superhighway like meteorites, and on their heels were retractions and clarifications. She’s passed away, there were only four people shot, now she’s in surgery.

What is clear are the moments before this day, the ones logged in transcripts of talking head shows, in newspapers, Web sites, and blogs, on the radio, and in news feeds. It has already been open season on Representative Giffords, who was afforded extra Capitol Police protection last year, due to death threats she and other Democratic representatives received. Why? Because they supported the health care reform. Her office on the hill had its front door shattered.

This is how out of control things have gotten. Sarah Palin’s Web site and Facebook fan page had literal “targets” over some Democrats that she wanted her fans on the right remove from Congress. Why use gun imagery? Just last week Tucker Carlson said on the air that Michael Vick, the NFL player who went to jail for running a dog fighting operation, should have received the death penalty. A white man condemning a black man, now there’s a new concept.

Why do some feel the need to connect to a community via violent metaphors?

From Sarah Palin's PACThere’s a history here of course. Giffords’ opponent in this last election held shooting practice with her visage on the targets., which has now been taken off the Web, like it never existed, used aggressive and violent rhetoric against its components. As I was writing for Bitch Magazine’s blog during the 2010 midterm elections, I noted several instances of unfair and overly hostile advertising about what awful things would come about if people elected Democrats. Of course elections beget posturing and misdirection, but as Americans we are expected to respect the results. And damn it, if a hundred million Democrats can abide giving a presidential election to a candidate via a shaky Supreme Court decision, the residents in Giffords’ district must abide her victory, however narrow it was. Shooting a fairly elected representative, even as she is making a good faith attempt at engaging with her constituents, is anathema to democracy itself.

People are jumping on the bandwagon today to denounce Palin, and certainly she has made her most recent career with a stream of reckless messaging about what progressives are doing to derail the country, much of which is preposterous on its face. But Sarah Palin didn’t invent our political climate. People who aren’t even in Washington, DC anymore are the ones who started the shutdown of bipartisan cooperation—I’m looking at you, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney. As much as the far, far right touts the glory days of Ronald Reagan, Reagan didn’t operate in this fashion, and neither did George H.W. Bush.

I’ve long argued that a lot of what happens away from the news are practice runs for whatever big day is coming. Abortion providers, considered on their own fringe by many, are easier to “target” than smiling Congresswomen, and they have been on target Web sites for years now. People build networks of angry, unreasonable people at Operation Rescue—or whatever it’s called now—and Phelps funeral protests. Politicians desperate for votes begin catering to anyone they think has access to a network of people. In the late 90s it was the evangelical Christians who were asked to protect the country against the Big Gay Threat, co-opting an entire religion for a political agenda. Nowadays fringe military groups, people paranoid about border protection, and folks interested in the messages of the Tea Party are asked to get or keep conservatives in power.

It’s not surprising to me then, that a lot of the rhetoric has shifted from arguments about morality and integrity to a crap ton of blather about what peril we’re in, how we have to “take back” our country, and a Big Socialist Threat. Of course socialists should be fought with guns and not in churches. The presumed constituent groups, to a great degree, have shifted the appeal.

There are consequences to speech, as many of us already know. It’s unfair and potentially dangerous to dismiss the events today by saying that only crazy people take up guns against innocent people. And it pretends that the link between calling people to action and action doesn’t exist.

We are well past using violence to get votes. It’s time for accountability, and some responsibility to be reasonable, and not just on the part of people who make their careers in the public spotlight. We need to not vote for candidates who are willing to equate their opponents with hunting fodder. We need to stop watching the shows that espouse hostility toward our fellow citizens and residents, and tell their sponsors that we’re not going to purchase their products. We need to put ourselves out there for our neighbors even and especially when we disagree with their political values, because above all, we need to start acting like we all put congeniality and respect for each other at our highest priority.

Hate destroys. Love builds. I don’t care if I sound trite. It’s freaking true.

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Categories: ponderings


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11 Comments on “The Politics of Violence”

  1. January 8, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    Everett, you’ve done a good thing here.

    I have to be careful now, lest I let my admiration for a writer capable of making this coherent, this finely crafted, a piece of writing about something so very important and integral to any society to overshadow the more important message it provides. (and you did it, apparently, at the proverbial drop of a hat)

    You’ve pretty well summed up everything I would like to have said if I had the clarity of mind for it. I do recall having a conversation much to the same point, with a distrubingly right wing relative of mine. Thankfully, we were able to at least get to a point of agreeing that some people on both sides, by and large, have good intentions at heart. “They” – the other side, which ever side one is on, are really just regular people who happen to disagree. (Most) of them are not monsters, but rather people, just like us.

    Unfortunately, not every one can get past the dehumanization rhetoric it seems is always eventually used by one side or another in any major conflict of human ideologies, human politics. That I believe is where the violence starts. First comes dehumanization, then it’s just a quick hop-skip-jump to the demonization necessary to allow some people to slip-slide into the commitment of violence.

    Thank you very much for this post. You’ve done a Good thing.


  2. evmaroon
    January 8, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    Tough economic times always seem to bring out the most desperation, and it takes some awful forms, doesn’t it? My best hope, apart from the health of those shot today, is that as a country we can begin to walk away from the anger of the last decade. It’s done none of us a stitch of good as far as I can see.
    All my best,

  3. January 8, 2011 at 5:13 pm #

    No, we have a right to be angry. There has been a serious intrusion into our personal lives by a government that is trying to make health care more affordable. We need to stop this abuse of power. If they keep it up, insurance companies will no longer be making record profits. And CEOs won’t be able to get million of dollars in bonuses. You liberals are destroying the very fabric on which our country was built.

  4. atymins13
    January 8, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

    Thank you very much for writing this. I am tired of the Republicans and Tea Partiers in Congress calling actions like these ‘isolated incidents’. It might have been isolated early on, but we can now clearly see the trend. Conservative hate rhetoric is ruining political discourse in our country, and those politicians need to be held responsible. I am ashamed at Sarah Palin and her cronies, and I would hope for an apology soon. There are no words to describe how angry I am right now.
    Thank you.
    Check me out at…

  5. January 8, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

    Do you think any journalists will ask politicians if they are willing to grow up and tone down their hate speech? Do you think Sarah Palindrome has the guts to apologize for her cross hair reference of the congresswoman? Do you think anyone at Fox will have the guts to own up to their own hate speech? And what vitriol can we expect from Mr. Limbaugh next week? Do these people have any idea what good they could do for their own reps if they toned down the hate and spoke like intelligent people. I’m not optimistic but I’m always hopeful

  6. evmaroon
    January 8, 2011 at 9:14 pm #

    Again, while I think Ms. Palin needs to be accountable for her use of hate rhetoric, we also had Sharron Angle calling for people to rise up against the government last fall, Joe Miller in Alaska using hate mongering, Glen Beck proclaiming daily that this country is on it’s deathbed, Rush Limbaugh spewing hate for years, and tons of news coverage of every racist sign, rally, fringe group against immigration, and invective against anyone from the Middle East. It stopped making sense a long time ago, and clearly the composite of all this momentum is violence. Time to end our engagement with hate speech as if it should have equal weight with other voices in our country.

  7. humanitarikim
    January 9, 2011 at 7:01 pm #

    We are all Americans… and we must move past the fear-mongering and hate. Period.

    • evmaroon
      January 9, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

      Would that we would get to that golden place as soon as possible.

  8. January 12, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    Ev, your piece is wonderful and thank you for putting it out there. We need your words! Is it just me (as a Baby Boomer at the very tail end of the Boomers) or does a lot of the ‘excessive’ vehemence in language and disagreements lately have a lot to do with the early Baby Boomers being retired now and having less than the normal attention of the culture focused on them, as well as having lost some money in the recent recession and not having the bully pulpit for all of their complaints anymore? The Early Boomers were the ones who really threw their lives into the counterculture in the 1960s, then came back and thew themselves into being YUPPIES in the 1980s and then being the generation that was completely marketed/catered to in the 1990s when they were considered the ‘movers and shakers’. They’re retired now and they don’t have unlimited funds and they’re being ignored while the marketing focuses on younger generations. Do you think that perhaps they are seeking some of that attention back in the Tea Party and the excessively vehement language – or did they never learn discourse while they were out there in the counterculture and then giving orders in power positions? Just a thought that I’ve been having as I watched some of the ridiculous behavior at political rallies in the recent election.


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  2. Gabrielle Giffords Assassination Attempt « The Southpaw Report - January 8, 2011

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