USA, Violence and Debate

Having lived in the USA for 20 years, greatly appreciating the experience, but now living again in the UK  and watching a country I grew to admire and be simultaneously amazed and annoyed by, I am concerned about the recent tragic developments concerning the Arizona shooting. The USA is the upside-down country of the world. How is it possible that the number of hunters in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and West Virginia would exceed the largest army in the world?

No country, of course, is immune from its contradictions. The UK has its fair share of nonsense. For example, our Parliament, apparently, is the mother of all democracies. But our second chamber is unelected. There are even unelected religious leaders in the House of Lords! We have royalty whose privilege is passed on by who’s your daddy. (Technically known as the “divine right.” Time for some divine left, methinks.) Our coalition government is not even elected!

I am not in a position to make any judgement on Jared Lee Loughner who committed the crime. His actions are beyond my comprehension.

It brings into focus for me, however, the reason why I can no longer be optimistic about America’s future. I fear greatly its political discourse has gone beyond the point of no return. This is a country in which to debate issues is damn near impossible. I found this to be true when I lived there. This shooting, however, pushes it into an altogether different place because it is politically motivated. Surely not the first nor the last. Tragically.

It just so happened that I spent this Saturday in London attending the Netroots UK conference. Among the speakers was a representative from Media Matters, the US-based group which monitors the country’s right-wing media. The guy from Media Matters documented the increasingly violence-laden rhetoric of such people as Glen Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. He showed video to back his claim from — where else? — Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. I had not seen any Fox footage in a while and forgotten how Beck et al foment civil unrest and paranoia. Little did we know those of us in London who watched the Media Matters presentation that in a matter of hours Loughner would act. However much right-wing pundits may deny it, there is in my mind a causal link between them and Loughner. To deny otherwise is to be delusional, duplicitous or both. By the way, Media Matters came to London to speak to bolster progressive’s opposition to stop Murdoch’s News Corp from buying out BSkyB TV.

I am all for the rumble and tumble of politics. But America’s right wing take it to an altogether different level. Knowingly whipping up frenzy in others to make them think and act in ways that they would never do themselves but want others to do for them. What cowards the right wing punditry are.

Further, America has a problem with guns, which it must deal with one day. Otherwise it will destroy itself in its second civil war. One New York Times columnist wrote,

According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, more than a million people have been killed with guns in the United States since 1968, when Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were killed. That figure includes suicides and accidental deaths. But homicides, deliberate killings, are a perennial scourge, and not just with guns.

Excluding the people killed in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more than 150,000 Americans have been murdered since the beginning of the 21st century. This endlessly proliferating parade of death, which does not spare women or children, ought to make our knees go weak. But we never even notice most of the killings. Homicide is white noise in this society.

Another columnist spoke for me when he wrote,

You false patriots who bring assault rifles to political rallies, you hack politicians and media personalities who lied through your stinking teeth about “death panels” and “Obama is coming for your guns” and “He isn’t a citizen” and “He’s a secret Muslim” and “Sharia Law is coming to America,” you who spread this bastard gospel and you who swallowed it whole, I am talking to you, because this was your doing just as surely as it was the doing of the deranged damned soul who pulled the trigger.  The poison you injected into our culture is deeply culpable for this carnage.

You who worship Jesus at the top of your lungs (in defiance of Christ’s own teachings on the matter of worship, by the way) helped put several churchgoers into their graves and into the hospital. You who shriek about the sanctity of marriage helped cut down a man who was about to be married. You who crow with ceaseless abandon about military service and the nobility of our fighting forces helped to critically wound the wife of a Naval aviator who fought for you in a war. You who hold September 11 as your sword and shield helped put a little girl born on that day into the ground.