The information out there so far suggests that Jared Loughner, the suspect in yesterday’s shootings and murders in Arizona, had been unraveling for a while in a sadly typical way that for many schizophrenics often ends in violence.
Absent the political obsessions, Loughner probably would have hurt people he knew instead of strangers.
But nothing I’ve read yet convinces me that Loughner needed or was even incited by the violent rhetoric of the Right Wing blowhards of the current moment.
His list of favorite books looks to me like the summer reading list of a high school sophomore rather than the systematic self-assigned homework of a college-aged budding political theorist or terrorist.
But if he was drawing political insights from Alice in Wonderland and Animal Farm, whatever those were, they were his own.
They were not taught to him by Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck or Michelle Bachmann or Rush Limbaugh.
Loughner seems to have been working his way towards his demented and violent conclusions all on his own, just as the Unabomber worked his way towards his and David Koresh and Arthur Bremer and others worked their ways towards theirs. In fact, just as John Hinckley and Mark David Chapman worked their way towards theirs, with no help from Jodie Foster or John Lennon. Demon-haunted people will find their own way towards hunting down their demons and if they’ve projected those demons onto people outside themselves those people will suffer.
So, it’s entirely possible that if he never heard a word from any member of the Tea Party, never visited the SarahPac website, and only listened to baseball games on the radio, Loughner still would have found his way to that Safeway Saturday.
So it’s reasonable for the Sarah “Reload” Palins and Sharron “Second Amendment” Angles and Michelle “Get Armed and Dangerous” Bachmanns to argue that they can’t be held directly responsible for what happened yesterday, even if Loughner was more inspired by their childish ranting and raving than appears.
The trouble is, it’s a little late for them to get “reasonable.”
Reasonable people---and responsible political leaders---would have asked themselves before they started reaching for the rhetorical gun racks what effect their words were going to have on the not necessarily reasonable people listening.
“They’re just metaphors!” isn’t an excuse because they know or they should know that the world is full of people who have trouble seeing the difference between metaphor and reality, for whom there is in fact no difference.
But beyond that, it doesn’t matter that certain words and phrases are metaphors because the feelings those words are meant to capture, incite, and exploit are real. The hatred and anger and fear the Right has been stirring up for decades are real and they are intentional.
People tend to choose their words for the sound and not the sense. They want what comes out of their mouths to express in the most direct way what they feel or what they want to feel.
What the Right wants to feel is tough.
What they feel is weak and afraid.
For the most part, with the Right, we’re dealing with people who have built their identities around the way things used to be. In their hearts they live in a world that is already long gone, if it ever existed, an idealized America in which they are happy, secure, and the point. Their America exists as expressions of themselves as good, decent, noble, heroic, and successful people. It’s a country whose existence is denied to them every time they take an unblinkered look at the world as it really is. They hate it. What is there frightens them. They want “their” country back. And there’s nothing they can do to get it back, because you can’t save something that was never really there.
No wonder they feel weak and afraid.
So they talk to feel strong.
Feeling powerless, they worship power which they equate with dominance. They need to imagine themselves frightening those that frighten them.
They are talking to buck themselves up, and since they are talking to themselves, it doesn’t occur to them that outsiders like Jared Loughner might be listening.
Loughner might have been listening more intently to the voices inside his own head, but other broken or breaking people might have their ears open to the angry voices outside. The Right Wing blowhards might be off the hook in this specific case, but that’s an accident. Generally, they have been and will be responsible for other shootings, other deaths.
Because even without immediately causing a shot to be fired or fuse to be lit, they cause violence upon the body politic with their words. Even if they never make another reference to guns and ammo or the blood of patriots, they will continue to the nation harm by the violence of their feelings.
Their hatreds and their angers and their fears divide them from their fellow Americans. They divide us all from each other by the essential Us Against Them-isms that has become the Right Wing’s reason for being.
According to the Right, there is a real America and they, the Real Americans, are the only ones who deserve to live in it and have a say in how it’s run. And this real America is under attack. That’s not a metaphor. They mean it. America is being attacked by enemies within and without. These enemies are intent on stealing America from Americans or hellbent on destroying it if they can’t steal it. Again, this is not a metaphor. This is what they believe is happening. This is what their leaders and media rabble rousers warn them with ever increasing urgency is happening.
This is the Right’s political reason for being, to rally Real Americans to fight off all those others who are their enemies.
When you start from that point, you don’t need the blood and gun metaphors.
When you start from that point, the metaphors stop being metaphors.
They are the next logical and necessary steps in the defense of the nation.
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