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?