Perhaps the ugliest demand of politics is that tragedies often have political implications, and at some point those must be discussed. The end result, of course, is the often undignified spectacle of pundits trying to score public relations points in the face of human suffering and sorrow.
To wit, I’m pretty sure I just heard, on BBC’s Newshour, one of the right-wing authors cited in Norway shooter Anders Brevik’s outsize manifesto compare himself to The Beatles.
Or a blogger for Crooks and Liars suggesting that FOX News is unwilling to describe Breivik as a “conservative” extremist. And while there is no question about why FOX News might want to protect the word “conservative” from any negative associations, there really isn’t a dignified way to go about that discussion:
As you can see, the host is getting away with blaming social media, Norway’s law enforcement authorities for not monitoring social media more closely for people like this, and just about everything but coming out with the truth: Brevik was not a “domestic extremist.” He is a radical right-wing cultural warrior who has been influenced by many different people, including Tim Phillips, director of Freedomworks, apparently.
Herridge, instead of discussing the fundamental problem here, spends an inordinate amount of time blaming the Internet for his views. There is some truth to what she says. It’s easy to turn social media, blogs, and other content into an echo chamber which then magnifies anger and hate. Just have a look at Andrew Breitbart’s timeline sometime for an example. He specializes in that kind of tactic. Still, it’s beside the point. The point here is that Brevik espoused extreme right-wing political positions and acted on them to inflict political mayhem on his countrymen.
Let’s not forget that he didn’t just target a random group of people. He chose to target the youth movement of the current political party in power, which is further evidence of just how far he was willing to go to eradicate opposition.
At the same time, the issue seems to be important. From one tragedy to the next, we tend to regard conservative violence not as indicative of any greater threat, but, rather, as a series of unrelated isolated incidents. David Neiwert, in January, compiled a list of violent events in the U.S. since 2008 that were aimed at “liberals” and “government”. Since then, he has had to update the list repeatedly. It is, to say the least, a grim picture.
Meanwhile, over at Esquire, Charles Pierce offers an in-depth look at the attempted bombing of Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations in Spokane, Washington earlier this year, and the context in which this “domestic extremism”—as FOX News would have it—occurs:
The fuse is buried. It’s buried in denial and obfuscation and euphemism. It’s buried in the questions we don’t ask and in the answers we don’t want to hear. It’s buried, but it still burns and, occasionally, it finds its tinder — in a bureaucrat in Michigan or in an abusive husband in Maine, in a deranged man with a gun in Pittsburgh or in a pilot at the end of his rope in Texas. It burns to the tinder and the tinder explodes, and the fuse burns on, buried again. It’s buried under the questions of Who and What and How, but it burns most fiercely in the question Why, which is a question we don’t ask because it might yield an answer we don’t want to hear.
The past two years have seen not only an unprecedented spike in these kinds of events but also a curious tolerance for the kind of unhinged rhetoric that used to be found only among our more exotic political fauna. Years ago, when the John Birch Society accused Dwight Eisenhower of being a “conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy,” it was laughed out of conservative politics and into the political wilderness. Today, while the unfounded speculation about the place of Barack Obama’s birth may well have been interred with the bones of the Trump for President campaign, it is still perfectly respectable within conservative politics to infer that the president is somehow less of an American by his very nature, which must be different from “our” own.
It began almost immediately with his election, despite the fact that, ironically, he spends more time telling his fellow Americans how great they are than any four of his predecessors combined. By his fifth month in office, the major television networks were carrying scenes of people at political gatherings, sobbing that they “want their country back.” From whom was never really explored.
There was something visceral to the anger. As daffy as many of them were, most of the attacks on Bill Clinton were recognizably political. His attempts to reform health care were criticized merely as bad policy. The attacks on Obama have been different. It is not merely that he is black, although that is undeniably part of what’s going on. The attacks on Obama are attempting to affix to him the blame for a genuine feeling of economic and social dislocation that arose when the economic system nearly collapsed entirely before the 2008 elections.
The idea that all of these are “isolated” incidents relies on a specific and distorted pretense. With all sorts of political violence, the empowered culture seems to be willing to draw very general conclusions. Whether it was labor, Anarchism, Communism, black people, or Muslims, the longstanding view is a fearful perspective presupposing some degree of sophistication and organization, an overarching scheme that bound the participants together. Yet when it is a different set of perpetrators whose common aspects happen to be pale skin and a disdain for liberalism, minorities, and other non-conservative issues, we should simply accept that the trend represents a string of random outbursts. There is no scheme. And it’s true to a degree: One can certainly assert, with some appreciable confidence, that Jared Lee Loughner, Joseph Stack, Byron Williams, James von Brunn, and Scott Roeder weren’t conspiring with one another.
But American conservatives are also those who argued that lyrical themes in music could turn children into mass murderers, and we still hear the same sort of argument about how tolerance will turn them into something even worse—homosexuals—so maybe it’s time to ask them to turn their own theory of influence on the corrosive rhetoric of the right wing.
Actually, the better thing would be to simply drop that stupid theory of influence, but at some point we need to reconcile these disparate standards. Apparently, a bunch of would-be Muslims sending farm leaguers—who can’t light a match, or end up burning their own balls off—is indicative of some worrisome conspiracy, but a bunch of right-wingers actually managing to kill a whole lot of people is, well … you know: Nothing to see here, folks. Just go on about your business.
Because, you know, a white guy flying an airplane into a building in order to make a political point is not terrorism. And anyone who suggests otherwise is being uncouth and extreme.
This is, apparently, the united state of Americans.