By Wendell P. Simpson
Last Monday, I got up to my regular routine, cursing the alarm clock for pulling me out of my comfortable slumber, Joyce flicking on the TV to the BBC morning news to check whether or not the Tube was running without any major disruptions, and then turning my face back into my stack of pillows to steal a few more minutes of blissful sleep.
My brain was shutting down again when I heard it—the lead story—an American congresswoman had been shot in the head during a rally at a Safeway supermarket parking lot in Tucson, Arizona.
On last Saturday, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), 40, had been meeting with constituents when a deranged right-winger opened up on the crowd with a Glock 9mm pistol. When, the dust cleared, Giffords had sustained an horrific head wound, and six others, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl born four minutes after the first plane hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, lay dead.
The gunman, 22 year-old Jared Loughner, was in custody after being wrestled to the ground by bystanders as he was trying to reload for a second assault.
Loughner, another one of these twisted loser loners the American heartland seems to breed in bunches, had been inspired to commit the murders after having been fed on the teat of the vitriolic and incendiary rhetoric of professional crackers like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, et al, whose paychecks depend upon their ability to exploit and stoke the irrational fear and angst of disaffected white Americans, particularly in the aftermath of the ascension of the nation’s first Black president.
His social networking page (nobody in the news wanted to go ahead and say ‘Facebook’) was littered with all of the standard regurgitations of right wing fanaticism: He railed against the rise of President Obama’s communisitic government he lamented the so-called erosion of American freedoms; and he longed to be part of the movement to take the country back.
Joyce and I were stunned into gaped mouthed silence as the BBC presenters unfolded the traumatic story before us, shocked and saddened—but hardly surprised. And neither were the Brits.
UK headlines—the Giffords shooting was the lead story in almost every paper in the country—screamed in their boldest type about how the toxicity and debasement of America’s political climate had finally victimized one of its own. Said Jonathan Raban of the Independent, one of the UK’s most influential dailies in it’s lead story on Monday, “It was an event that seemed to grow out of America’s present disturbed and angry climate…awful, yes, but part of the weather, and, in some sense, only to be expected.”
It’s what the rest of the world has come to anticipate from America: histrionics and madness followed by an explosion of violence. It’s a reputation we’ve earned in earnest.
The view from the outside is that we are a gaggle of dangerous adolescents, blessed with great wealth and power but too immature to manage it constructively. By now, everyone knows about the divisive nature of our political discourse. They know that the enmity and vitriol demonstrated in America our political talk is aimed at President Obama. They’ve seen Sarah Palin’s map with its crosshairs over the opposition and everyone has heard the language of politics couched in war terms as the Right ‘reloads’ in its fight to keep America in the political, economic and cultural dark ages.
And while conservatives get all funky over the revelations of foreign policy duplicity exposed by Julian Assange’s Wikileaks, the Right refuses to denounce the talk of the media hate mongers with whom they’ve aligned themselves, and whose detritus and talk of ‘Second Amendment solutions’ has fueled the actions of Loony Tunes maniacs like Loughner, resulting in murder and chaos. Their tone-deaf response has been arrogant, unconscionable and irresponsible. In fact, in a just world, many of them would be indicted for conspiracy and inducement to violence.
The sad truth is, Gifford may be the most horrific example of how talk can lead to murder and the end of civility, but she is not the first—and she certainly won’t be the last. In a moment in history when our backs are truly against the proverbial wall and where we are most in need of a unified front and a collective effort in order to mitigate the ravages of an economic meltdown that is killing the most sublime of American dreams, our vicious infighting has turned neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend, American against American.
It has even made it difficult to walk down a London street or go to a London party or even sit behind your desk at work without being bombarded with a million questions for which there is no easy—or sensible—answers.
But more painful, perhaps, is bearing the weight of Dr. Martin Luther King’s 50-year old, legacy-defining maxim, “Americans have not yet found a way to disagree without being violently disagreeable.”
The Giffords shooting is an embarrassment of international proportions. All we’ve dome is proven to the world, once again, that the most egregious threat to America is America itself.