The United States has no shortage of crazy people. It also has a lot of people fanatically obsessed with firearms. The part of the Venn diagram where “gun nuts” overlaps with “crazy people” is a very scary place, as recent events in Arizona have demonstrated.
When these things happen, we always try to make sense of the senseless. We struggle to learn why it happened, and what we can do to keep it from happening again. In this case, a conversation has begun on the role of inflammatory language in public rhetoric, especially from the right wing.
From their soap boxes on cable TV and talk radio, they scream hysterically delivering lies with a violent and inciting lexicon. Then when something happens that fits the narrative they’ve been preaching, they fein innocence and say, “who, me?”
They are correct when they say that the shooter is the one responsible for his actions, and he must be held accountable. But the mean-spirited blowhards of the airwaves have created the environment of hate and fear where that kind of craziness can develop and thrive.
From the information we have, it seems obvious that this person had some serious wires crossed, and that it’s been apparent for quite a while. Yet there was no facility to provide help to such citizens with mental illness, mainly because of the mean-spirited policies of the right wing to leave vulnerable people on their own, so dangerous people are among us with nothing to help them to avoid harming themselves or others.
Not only was this dangerous person allowed to run loose in the population, but he was able to buy a high-caliber handgun and a pair of 32-shot clips. But since the right wing religion is that anybody should be able to buy whatever kind of weapon they want – and as many as they want – no questions asked, a mentally ill person was able to quickly assemble an arsenal.
So even though one cannot blame the words of right wing for this tragedy, the policies of the right wing are much more directly responsible.
Back in the 80s, Republican Ronald Reagan would vigorously debate Democrat Tip O’Neill, an assertive Irishman from Boston who then served as Speaker of the House. They would debate furiously over budgets and other matters of public business, and after work they’d go to the White House and have a drink together.
During that same time, I had a long career as a hitchhiker, and I often found myself alone in a car with someone whose world view was quite opposed to mine, but we would always manage to find something we agreed on, and from there we could develop enough respect to civilly discuss our differences.
So it is possible to disagree without becoming disagreeable. We have all seen this in our daily lives as we interact with co-workers and family members. There’s no reason the debate on our public airwaves or in our halls of government has to adopt the tone of an elementary school playground.
The problem we have now is that one group of people is looking for polite and thoughtful debate, while the other is screaming, taunting and bullying like spoiled two-year-olds.
The mean-spirited inciters of hatred must be shunned. We must not speak their names. Caribou Barbie, the 300-pound hatemonger, Blackboard Boy, and all of their ilk must be told that their 15 minutes of fame are up, and we must starve them of media oxygen until they fade into the obscure fringes where they belong.