Is the American Experiment dead?

Yesterday, as you’ve probably heard, Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot, along with several others, as she met with constituents at a local Safeway grocery store to hear concerns, explain her perspective and find out what challenges people in her district face.

As I write this, 6 people have been confirmed dead, among them a Federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, Christina Greene, who was at the event because she’d been elected to student council and was interested in government. The shooter is 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, who seemed to have strict Constitutional ideas about the federal government and its representatives.

But, that’s not what I want to talk about, not really, anyway. I want this blog to be a community, a green, a common. I want to discuss our relationships with one another. Based on the reaction from conservatives, who want to distance themselves from this nutjob, and reaction from liberals, who want to crucify those on the right for their violent vitriol, I have to ponder, is the American Experiment dead?

In that land the great experiment was to be made, by civilized man, of the attempt to construct society upon a new basis; and it was there, for the first time, that theories hitherto unknown, or deemed impracticable, were to exhibit a spectacle for which the world had not been prepared by the history of the past. – Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1831.


In order for that experiment based on emergent ideas to work, that radical move toward democracy, a republic of citizen voters, we must have a civilized society composed of civilized people. Those people, at the heart, must commit to the process, must trust in the process, even if they do not individually trust in their opponent or those opposed.

I tend toward the liberal, so I will say that I’ve been (perhaps unnecessarily) frightened of the political climate of late, especially the hate spewed as a result of March’s health care reform vote, which I supported. Then there was the Guy Fawkes-esque “Remember November” calls that had me wondering if conservatives wanted to blow up the Capitol. There were “2nd Amendment Remedies” and “Don’t retreat: Reload.” I had “friends” who posted photos like this to their Facebook pages:


I was told that I was crazy and hunting references were just good-old-boy dog whistles meant to rally the conservative base. Maybe that’s true.

I’ve also been disappointed in the liberal reaction to this tragedy. We don’t trust. We don’t accept condolences as genuine. They might not be, but, I’m willing to hope they are sincere. We point fingers and place blame. I think it’s too soon for that. I think it’s too fresh and too raw and too NOW. Everyone wants to preemptively disavow crazies from their side. Surely, liberals can understand THAT! In addition, we want to blame those who voted for Republicans in November, those who tend to support Republican candidates, or the Tea Party.  We blame the rhetoric even as we help shape rhetoric.

We’re now reaping what we have sown, America. We created a sharply divided electorate, and now we’re dying on that blade. Clarence Darrow, in defending murderers Leopold and Loeb, said of World War I, “I joined the general cry of madness and despair. I urged men to fight…the civilized world was engaged in killing men, Christian against Christian, barbarians uniting with Christians to kill Christians, anything to kill. It was taught in the schools, aye, in the Sunday Schools. The children played at war, the toddling children in the streets…. How long will it take the calloused hearts of men before the scars of hatred and cruelty be removed?” Men kill, he said, because killing is valorized in our homes, our schools, even in our metaphors. We create a culture of death.

I use “we” here. I should use “I.” I valorized killing, I have used hyperbolic metaphors. I have not been circumspect in my speech. I have created a culture of death because I have not shown grace. That is a feat far more difficult than assessing blame. Grace is not easy to give or receive. I have blamed. I have pointed. I have accused, aloud, and in my heart.

I leave you with the words of Omar Khayyam, quoted by Darrow in his closing statements, “So I be written in the book of Love. I do not care about that book above. Erase my name or write it as you will, so I be written in the book of Love” which sounds oddly like Paul to the Corinthians, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol.”

Is it too late to save the Great American Experiment? Did it die yesterday with a 9-year-old student councilwoman in Tuscon? or is the response to this incident just the requiem for the American destiny that might have been and almost was?

*NOTE: I will not approve comments that are vulgar, violent, obscene or in any way contribute to the climate that I see as escalating disrespect of human life in our country. If that angers you, you have every right to start your own blog. Thank you for keeping comments clean.

9 responses to “Is the American Experiment dead?

  1. Thank you for this post. I happen to agree with your point of view. In the wake of this tragedy, it’s good to take a sober look at where we are as a nation. I don’t think the shootings signal an end to the Great Experiment. There will always be ugliness and violence – they’re part of the human condition.

  2. It is not too late to save the Great American Experiment. But it does require more conciliation than has been shown in recent times. The rhetoric toned down, and more grace shown in word and deed.

    As a Canadian who has observed and studied American politics, I still believe American ideals of liberty and justice for all are relevant for the 21st Century. And I appreciate your tone and acceptance of responsibility. I pray that your attitude will permeate the whole of America in this time of national tragedy.

    When an elected official is attacked, the people are attacked. I pray that cool heads and sane actions will come out of this. I pray for the families of those immediately connected. That God’s peace will surround them. That they will find comfort in this trying time.

  3. Thank you for your thoughtful post. As an American who has lived in Canada for many years I suspect I view events in the US through a slightly different lens than I would if I still resided within its boundaries. Two things have struck me over the past decade. The first is that the political scene has become so polarized that it has reached the point where neither side has the desire/ability to listen to the other. Dialogue of any depth has become impossible. The second observation is that the US is in many ways lacks compassion for its own citizens. I have no idea what it would take to change either of these.

  4. No self respecting conservative would validate such craziness. We have no way of knowing what his motive is, the press is hugely guilty of providing negative information and downright hate speech when it comes to conservatives.

    Conservatives have had a history of compromising with liberals but liberals view bi-partisanship as conservatives rolling over and giving liberals everything that they demand. Take the vaunted health care. Obama made a show of meeting with conservatives on the issue and promptly threw out every one of their very good suggestions. He and the Congress then went back on their word to have all discussions on health care aired on C Span. He also went back on his promises to avoid special back room deals with special interests along with myriads of other very good promises that he made on the campaign trail (for which I and a lot of other conservatives supported).

    Consider that we as conservatives rightly threw out George Bush Sr for breaking one promise (“read my lips, no new taxes) how do you see liberals doing over the myriad of campaign promises that Obama has already broken both on the left and the right?

    Lawyer 101 is never ever sign anything that you have not read and thoroghly understand. Congress and Obama had to rush threw the massive health care bill even though it will not take effect for 4 more years and no one read the bill before signing it. That is the definition of legal malpractice and under normal circumstances, any lawyer would be disbarred for such an offense. The Tea Party rose up and demanded to be heard, instead the liberals painted them as all a bunch of conservatives quacks and disrespected them and made fun of them.
    They were peaceful and non violent the same thing that MLK suggested. When they weren’t heard, they through out a bunch of liberals and there is more to come.

    Blessings on y0u and yours
    John Wilder

  5. This just makes me sad.

    You eloquently spoke about it though. 🙂

  6. I’m not smart when it comes to politricks but I like reading intelligent musings from people I respect such as yourself.

  7. balls.

    wait, was that vulgar?

    as a card-carrying liberal, I tend to keep political discussions at arms length among my fellow Christian brothers and sisters. 🙂

    nicely done.

    • don’t make me edit you, mo!

      I have tried to stay out of political discussions, but, and but, but, I think it’s importat. Plus, debate is fun for me, when it’s true debate, not demonizing your opponent.

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