We are not to blame

The shooting this weekend left many of us shaken. People should be able to go to a Congressional meet and greet without having to wear bullet proof armor. I hope for a complete recovery of those injured, including Congresswoman Giffords, and I’m sad for those killed.

I’m horrified at the events, and and sad at the losses, but I will not indulge in this national flagellation, as we once again overreact to a tragic event.

A sheriff remarks about the violence, hate, and bigotry in our speech; others point out a targeted list by Sarah Palin that had a bullseye aimed at Congresswoman Giffords. The belief seems to be that it was the national dialog that somehow drove this one man to kill. If only we weren’t so violent in our speech with one another; if only we were better.

Yet, those who knew the shooter have stated their fear of the man. One woman showed an email she wrote months ago that described her fear of Loughner, and hoped that he wouldn’t return to class with a gun someday. A former teacher of his also made similar remarks, and the school told him to leave and not to return until he sought medical help.

A psychiatrist looked at the material Loughner posted, and stated the obvious: the man was mentally ill, and most likely schizophrenic. Only time will tell us if he was previously diagnosed, and if so, why wasn’t he on medication.

We also heard that Loughner had attended a political rally of Giffords in 2007, and was unhappy that she didn’t understand what he was trying to say. His online screeds are a gibberish about government mind control and odd fixations on the dangers of illiteracy, and currency.

Jared Loughner is a dangerously disturbed young man who should have been under the care of a doctor. He was a powder keg looking for a place to blow. People may say that the national dialog acted as trigger, but look at the evidence of his own writings and self-made videos: he probably wasn’t even aware of the national dialog.

We do this. A horrible event happens, and we immediately look everywhere but at the instigator for “causes”, when in actuality there are sick people and guns are too easily accessible—a combination that has played out, all too often, in our news. No matter what thee and me do, such tragedies will continue to play out…as long as there are such sick people, and guns are so easily accessible.

Is our political dialog toxic? Of course. Political dialog in this country has been toxic since Adams and Jefferson ran for President 200 years ago: Adams accused Jefferson of incest, rape, and murder.

President Andrew Johnson was impeached because he went on a two week tour and gave speeches.

True, Johnson also had a reputation for being drunk during public appearances (including his own inauguration), and he sometimes used language inappropriate for a president when talking about his foes in Congress. But these improprieties were not his fundamental crime. The basic impropriety motivating this particular article of impeachment was that he stooped to address crowds directly in the first place, that he had reduced himself to the demeaning position of trying to whip up enthusiasm for his preferred policies by the ethically dubious practice of holding popular rallies. In Johnson’s time, making a speech to a crowd on policy questions was thought to be contrary to the dignity proper to the office of the presidency. Sitting presidents avoided doing this, and so did candidates for the presidency.

From Presidential Rhetoric in Historical Perspective.

In the 1826 campaign, the four candidates accused each other of murder, being drunks, and misconduct.

During the 1840 Presidential campaign, both Whigs and Democrats accused each other of being neo-monarchists.

The 1896 campaign was particularly rife with acrimonious rhetoric, as the field of six candidates indulged in open anti-Semitism, and battled over rights for women, immigration reform, business monopolies, and, of all things, currency.

Huey Long was so polarizing, and assumed so much personal power, his opponents formed an armed militia and openly talked about insurrection.

In contrast to the past, today’s political dialog is actually relatively tame. The most acrimonious accusation about President Obama is that he wasn’t born in this country. Really, compared to past accusations of murder and rape, this one is rather bland. It is also nothing more than a surrogate for what some people really want to say: Obama is black, his name is funny, his father is from Africa, he isn’t like us—all things that people would have said, openly and stridently, in the past.

We are nation that is, unfortunately, too familiar with assassinations. One only needs to look at the Wikipedia page associated with assassinated people to see that such events are not uncommon in the US. Yet there are just as many other violent events—in schools, workplaces, shopping malls, and along freeways. The only thing most of these events have in common is a sick person, and too easy access to rapid fire guns with never-ending bullet clips.

But of course, we don’t address the real problems: mental illness and lack of adequate care; too easy access to guns. We don’t address the former because we really don’t want to be reminded of our mentally ill, and we certainly don’t want to spend money on ensuring their care. We don’t talk about the latter because to do so would pit us against NRA. Politicians are scared to death of the NRA. Oh the politicians dress it up by waving the flag and misquoting the Constitution, but the cold hard fact of the matter is that politicians are more afraid of the NRA than they are of being shot in a rally or a parade.

No, it is more expedient to absorb the blame; to point to our “violent dialog” and our rudeness to each other.

Dr. Douglas Fields wrote in the Huffington Post that Americans are rude, and this is our problem, plain and simple. We know his statement is real because he points out brain graphs of teenagers and talks about mental imprinting at birth compared to learned, and how the Japanese are so much more courteous than we are.

I give him the point about the Japanese because most I have met are very courteous, but I don’t give him that Americans are more or less rude than people in many other countries.

Yesterday I had trouble getting a container of milk down from a shelf and holding the glass door open at the same time. A man immediately came over to hold the door for me. Earlier in the week, I got stuck behind a road construction crew, and when I turned on my blinkers to move over into the other lane, a car in that lane slowed down to allow me in. At the grocery store, a woman ended up stuck in a line that moved slower than the one next to it, and a person gestured for her to move over, take the next place in line.

Small simple acts, but ones I see every week, sometimes daily: the stranger who points out the envelope you dropped; the sales clerk who mentions that an item is on sale next week; the many people who inhabit online forums specifically to provide help to people; the anonymous donor who fills a need; those who spend hours writing the software we use without anyone knowing their names, usually without a thank you, and rarely for any compensation—the thousands of times we have sent each other little tweets and notes, just to say hi, to commiserate during a loss, to congratulate during a win, to be there for each other, when we’ve never met, and we will most likely never meet.

Unfortunately, it’s too easy to remember the small acts of rudeness, compared to the small acts of kindness, courtesy, and generosity. But the fact that we remember the rude acts that much more only demonstrates their rarity.

So no, I will not take up the cat-o-nine tails and join in the self-whipping. This event does not change me, nor will it change how I live. I will still argue, passionately, even angrily at times. I will not pretend a respect I do not feel. I will still demand answers from our political leaders, and still hold them accountable for their actions. I am not to blame for Saturday’s event. No, we who argue, who debate, who indulge in this supposed violent dialog are not to blame for Saturday’s event.

Saturday’s tragedy was caused by a sick young man, with too easy access to a gun.