Sunday, January 9, 2011

Words Have Power

Yesterday, a United States Congresswoman, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was shot along with about nineteen other people, six of whom have died. The shooter, who's name I will not mention in order to not bring him any more publicity than he deserves, walked through a crowd of Rep. Giffords's constituents to shoot her point blank in the face and then fired randomly into the crowd. There is no other word for such a brazen act than attempted political assassination.

Such acts of politically inspired terrorism have been growing in recent years: people have flown planes into government buildings, others have shot police officers in fear of an oncoming "Obama gun ban", not to mention the dozens of people who have been arrested on their way to attempt to kill President Obama. Then there's the increase in anti-government militia activity and other politically driven violence and intimidation that hasn't risen to the level of killing throughout the country: brandishing weapons or saying "I didn't come armed... this time" at political rallies, campaign offices vandalized, shot up (including Rep. Giffords's), or firebombed.

These things aren't happening in a vacuum. Throughout the country, especially on the Right, violence and violent rhetoric is not just accepted, but becoming rewarded by increased air time and multi-million dollar contracts. Senate candidates can say that if voters don't get their way they should employ "Second Amendment remedies" and come within 40,000 votes of winning. Other Congressional representatives can say they want their constituents "armed and dangerous" against the government, and yet be accepted saying we need to root out those in government who are "anti-American". Using cross-hairs, shooting and other similar rhetoric to talk about defeating your political opponents is becoming commonplace.

It is this violent rhetoric, and the main stream media's happy acceptance and encouragement of it, that creates people like the one that attempted to kill Rep. Giffords and did kill a 9 year old girl. When people are told "So-and-so wants to kill your grandma," or "My opponent is a Nazi," or "These people want you to die quickly," how do you expect people to react. You can't say "Barack Obama is a terrorist," and minutes later "We need to go out and kill all terrorists," and not expect people to put the two together. Saying we have to defend our country to the death, and then turning around and saying one party or the other is trying to destroy our country is only going to lead to more of this.

And this can backfire both ways. Those on the right don't, I hope, want people to use guns to get their way, but their supporters see the acceptance such rhetoric gets and may think it's acceptable. Meanwhile, those others who are being targeted, or feel targeted may feel they need to defend themselves from the perceived threat and act violently preemptively. I fear that especially after this heinous act that there will be both copy-cat attacks and retaliations that would make the blood fued in Romeo and Juliet look tame.

We all, on both sides, need to turn down the rhetoric. Republicans don't want you to die quickly if you don't have insurance, they want you to deal with it yourself and leave them out of it. Democrats don't want to destroy our country by ensuring everyone has access to health care, they want to make even the weakest among us stronger. We may have different visions of where our country should go, but neither wants to harm the country. We can disagree, even fight vocally about these differences without being violent or hateful toward each other.

We have to stop the hate, or soon we won't have a country to defend.