There’s been no shortage of successful politicians using mis-understanding and outright ignorance of the political process to curry favor, votes and election to office. The keen-eyed observer can see the roots of this weekend’s Arizona shootings in Ronald Reagan’s assertion that “government is not the solution to our problems, government IS the problem.” In the politically despondent environment in the wake of Watergate and the Carter presidency, Reagan fanned the flames that ultimately lead to this weekend’s tragedy.
Over the past decades we’ve witnessed a growing sentiment, growing louder during the Clinton presidency (Rush Limbaugh’s daily count of days “America held hostage”), and louder still during the Obama presidency (so-called “birthers” claiming foreign birth of the president, and thus an illegitimate election, Sarah Palin and the so-called “Tea Party” members targeting elected officials with cross-hair-bearing propaganda), that government and politicians are to be distrusted, hated, scorned. That government exists to harm, not help.
What these people are expressing is a hatred of our political process, an anger at seeing the culture go in a direction not of their choosing, and inciting others to action in response. A self-hatred, because our government was and is of, by and for The People. The irony is that these self-described conservatives claim to be all about supporting and defending America, yet they work toward the destruction of the very process that defines America. They have urged action long enough to incite a mentally unstable individual to short-circuit the process with violence. This self-hatred of our seminal political and cultural expectation will lead to self-defeat. A government and a people that cannot or will not work to preserve our core institutions and beliefs cannot succeed. We lose the idea of who we are, we become a caricature of who we were, and descend to the level of a banana republic.
This past year, Congresswoman Giffords spoke of the consequences of heated, nonsense rhetoric. She was unknowingly describing her own fate. We should put the blame where it belongs, with those who incited action as a result of self-hatred. They stand behind the deranged individual who pulled the trigger this weekend.
In the aftermath of the shootings, the only good news is that people across the country are rightly identifying the roots of the violence. Predictably, Republicans try talking about the greater human tragedy of the loss of life, attempting to talk over the use of inflammatory language leading up to this weekend. My hope is that this effort fails, that a majority of Americans take within themselves the lesson that words have consequences, and that this awareness leads to a core change in the rhetoric, the leadership and the direction of what passes for conservatism today.