I am watching the coverage of some rabid idiot’s “last stand” in Tucson. It is an assault on humanity, on our democracy, and on our free society. Who knows what the triggering event or belief was? We can certainly agree that no substantive political change will be effectuated by this gunman. Nor should it. He is a madman, not to be respected, emulated or believed. Neither should we let this moment pass without analysis. Partisan squabbling will not teach us a thing. As a nation of Facebook/Twitter/cell phone “broadcasters”, perhaps we have lost respect for the art of listening. Or maybe we are lacking in respect for the power of speech and rational communication. At any rate, democracy requires a better dialogue.
Words of political engagement and discontent cannot be considered in isolation from actions. That is why the temperature of political dialogue is critical. This great nation was formed on the backs of the cherished freedoms that we embrace, and perhaps take for granted, today. Central to our democracy is Freedom of Speech, which often is a messy affair. The joy is that we are free to disagree. We will not be jailed for our differences of opinion. The government may award a bigger podium to winners every 2 years, but the clattering of dissonant voices is never smothered or punished. In fact, the clattering reminds those in power that the minority needs to be heard, and in time, may become a majority. This last week, we should all have been proud of the dignified way that power was realigned. We are a fortunate nation. But careless expression can inflame the unbalanced, and it seems that this is the case in Tucson.
Most of us have lived our lives knowing that our actions, and even our words, are circumscribed by laws. We cannot say vile untruths about others. We cannot endanger a crowd by yelling “fire.” Certain speech is characterized as “hate” language, and is actionable. Even if not actionable, words clearly can provide alternate realities for the unhinged. That is why democracy carries the obligation of respect and education.
There will always be those unstable citizens who are susceptible to hate and anger, and act upon these base emotions. They reside across political platforms, among all races and religions. The presence of these people is a reminder that our political differences are best addressed with a moderate and respectful voice. Passion is admirable, but rage and violence can be triggered by careless imagery and commentary. Let us resolve to speak rationally and objectively. We need to embrace our blessed freedoms, and use them wisely. The cruel actions of a deranged young man are not a reflection of any constituency here in the United States. But perhaps a dialogue, rather than polarized battle, is a better course for political action in the US. Our media outlets and our elected officials should regard this as a learning moment. The climate of politics has degraded into contentious language and disrespect. We see it on 24/7 news outlets and in demonstrations by rabble rousers. The net result of such violent language and actions will be that fewer qualified citizens will seek to be part of the governmental process. We have evolved into a country with great complications. We need to attract the best and the brightest, not the angry and deluded, to address the challenges facing us. Fear for one’s life and family is a disincentive to public service that cannot be ignored. Serving one’s country is an honor and a privilege, and should be respected as such. Too often political rhetoric carries heat, but no illumination.
We can disagree, but we can never condone careless verbiage that provokes irrational behavior. There cannot be any “call to arms” or placing of our elected officials “in the sights” of the voters. It is time to embrace the dignity of our Bill of Rights, and become informed, truth-seeking constituents. The “sound and fury” may signify nothing, but they can result in tragedy for the innocent and the earnest. We have to do better. For the victims fighting for their futures, and for those who have died at the hand of a maniac, we need to change the verbal climate in the public forums across America. Rush/Glenn/CNN/FOX/MSNBC, et al- are you ready? I think most average citizens will embrace a more intelligent reflection of our differences. It is clear that we can benefit from civility.