Oh come on, Sarah (and Glen and camp)! Yes, of course we all recognize that the responsibility for the murders in Arizona rests with a madman. No one should be saying you pulled the trigger on this one. But you certainly are a part of the American climate of violence, and there is little point in denying it. It’s what you wanted. Statements like “They were never meant to be the crosshairs of a gunsight” or “It was just a surveyor’s transit” are ludicrous, and reveal just how dangerous you would be in any position of power. It’s unbelievable that you would be so naïve, or blind, although I’ve yet to be persuaded that you were otherwise. No one cares what that “logo” really was. In this day and age a target is a target. The metaphor was all too obvious from the beginning, when you used it in the campaign. And you would be far better off to keep your protestions of innocence to yourself and your friends than to allow such inane statements to be made in your name. Squirming only gets you in deeper. You are not innocent, and I think you really should have figured that out by now.
But alas, Bill, you can’t blame it on Sarah and her kind, either. In all the blaming and second-guessing that’s going on subsequent to this horrific event in Tucson, we might remember that she is but the product of what so many of us seek and thrive on. She didn’t get into state office or gain her notoriety by herself, after all. She got there because her views of “us” vs. “them” hit a chord with so many Americans. Let’s face it, a less admirable part of our human nature thrives on violence, because it’s the easiest way to get to the top of the heap and stay there. And if we don’t do it ourselves, we admire those that do.
One needn’t look beyond a kindergarten playground to identify the instinctive struggle to be king of the mountain. And the more defensive and threatened the king becomes, the more inflamed his retorts, and the more self-justified his counter-violence. One needn’t look beyond the violence and gore that Hollywood and TV have increasingly perpetuated on the public. One needn’t look beyond the simplistic rhetoric (There’s a popular word all of a sudden!) of the media pundits under the guise of giving us the news. One needn’t look beyond the irresponsible conduct of a government which takes us into unnecessary wars with lines like “Dead or Alive” and “Bring it on,” and Mr. Bush’s impossible Grade B Western swagger.
And how does all of that happen? Because we the people let it happen. Because somewhere in our core, we want it and need it to happen. We want to be on top. It’s nothing new. We always have. Because the more insecure we grow, the more we need to pretend to be “king of the mountain,” whether on celluloid or at the polls. They don’t make movies in Hollywood any more that won’t meet our needs enough to fill their theater seats. They can’t afford it. And they don’t give us hard news any more on TV, because we wouldn’t watch it, and the sponsors would go broke. I bemoan the loss of good movies and thorough reporting, just as I bemoan the loss of substance in the theatre. What we have now instead is theatre all around us. We make pretend!
As much as at any time in our history, America is in a state of self-denial. We can’t deal with the reality of losing our status as a “super-power.” We can’t deal with the indignity of impending bankruptcy. We can’t deal with the violence of our own history. And we can’t deal with the honesty of those who predict any kind of environmental, economic or political disaster in our future. Instead, like ostriches we duck into a hole and pretend it isn’t so, destroying the enemy with self-deception, lies, fists and finally our all-American big guns. It’s a very elaborate theatre of the mind we have created for ourselves.
An increased honest exploration of human nature in our popular arts and culture media might temper our misunderstandings and increase our empathy for our fellow creatures. A few more brave men like that Sheriff in Tucson who was willing to open a controversial public dialogue would now be useful. A little nudge toward straight-forwardness and full-spectrum thoroughness in the press might help. A little genuine leadership in our government officials might give us a another shove in the right direction. No president, no matter how honest, idealistic or realistic, can do it alone, especially if he’s being made into a pariah by everybody else with their own agendas. And finally, all this new talk about softening the vitriol and developing a dialogue more respectful of our differences could bear some fruit.
We are never going to reduce the extreme responses to our fears and insecurity if we go on pretending to believe we are just fine the way we are: If it were not for crazy people, lazy, greedy and corrupt politicians, and “big money,” say the people, we’d all get along fine. But let us not forget, we are fighting our own human nature. Casting blame on everybody else has little to do with accepting it in ourselves. That’s what I dream of hearing, from Sarah and all concerned. I am proud to live in a democracy, and it is our joint responsibility as to be an active part of it. In one way or another, we are all voters. Scary! Winston Churchill’s words are quietly echoing in my ear: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
I listened tonight to the comments of an FBI official in Tucson about what to do if any one of us should suddenly find ourselves in the middle of a violent shooting incident. He said the most common gut reaction is to momentarily freeze, while we take in the reality of what’s happening. Then we run for cover. Or we might take some heroic action like those who tackled Mr. Loughner on Saturday and took away his gun and ammunition clip. But first we freeze. And in the amount of time it takes to adjust to just how dangerous the situation is, we could be shot dead. I just hope that America, currently in that split second of freeze time, will come to its senses in time to take in the reality of our situation.
Finally, to everyone involved in this tragedy, I want to add my voice to the millions who are tonight expressing our sincere condolences for the loss of the loved ones who fell on Saturday, and our highest hopes for a speedy recovery to Representative Gabrielle Giffords.