I was born in 1983, making me too young to remember (or have been alive for) any American political assassination or assassination attempts. Hell, I wasn’t even around when John Lennon was killed, and only barely remember Selena’s murder, and I couldn’t be bothered to care about Nirvana until a couple years after Kurt Cobain’s suicide, because when grunge really started to become influential, I was still young enough that I was still listening primarily to whatever my mom played in the car, and hadn’t yet started to develop my own musical tastes.
So today, when I saw that a US Congressperson had been deliberately shot on my Twitter feed on my phone this morning, while half asleep, I thought, “oh my god, things are really getting out of control. This shit is scary. The Tea Partiers are inciting violence all over the country. I live a couple of blocks away from the very people who are responsible for Michele Bachmann’s continued employment, what if I look too ‘progressive’ in the checkout at Cub? It’s finally come down to it; people like me are going to be targeted as ‘the enemy’!”
Then I realized that that’s just a little melodramatic, and that in real life, even if people voted for Michele Bachmann, they’re more likely to be simply misguided rather than malicious, if one were to attach a judgment to their political ideologies, which I’m wont to do. They’ll probably still help you push your car out of a snow bank or let you go ahead of them in line when you only have a head of lettuce and they have a months’ worth of groceries in their cart. People aren’t that bad, usually. But sometimes, they really are.
I posted a link to (one of) the NPR story(ies) about the shooting on my Facebook page, noting, “This is becoming a scary place.” But it’s not, really. Becoming one, that is. If it’s scary, it’s been that way, and we’ve just had a three-decade or so long break from it. And of course, the years since the assassination attempt on Reagan haven’t been free from controversy related to (alleged) political assassinations, but for the most part, they’ve been free from events that shake our collective trust in our fellow citizens. Until today, I did not consider a politician to be terribly in danger when they walk around in public or hold speaking events or town hall meetings; I expect this of presidents and presidential candidates, and people in higher offices, but I didn’t think that a member of the House of Representatives would have to worry for their lives about simply being in public. It’s a terrible thing for the future of the accessibility of government, too, as others have noted.
And a lot of people are quick to blame violent Tea Party rhetoric for the motivation behind the shootings, and a lot of other people are quick to condemn those who are doing it because they’re supposedly politicizing a terrible, tragic event. In my opinion, which I think is pretty well in line with most people’s opinion at this point, the shooting was clearly politically motivated, regardless of the mental state of the suspect, and that makes it open to political analysis and debate. And the claims that Tea Party rhetoric is going too far is completely warranted, in my opinion. Even though Keith Olbermann is being the king of double-standards here*, he explains his views on the shooting, and his insistence that Palin & Co. take responsibility for the possibility that their violent rhetoric was a motivator in the shooting.
My generation, having not yet dealt with the collective blow that happens as a result of the assassination (or attempted assassination) of a political figure, can use this opportunity as a reminder that people can get fucking out of control, which is all the more reason to keep fighting (PEACEFULLY! NON-VIOLENTLY!) for civility and tolerance, as well as accountability, transparency, and access to information.
Tragedies like this don’t need to happen, and really, we all know that. None of us needs to be reminded of that. But we can help make sure that they don’t keep happening, by leading by example and not contributing to discussions that alienate and ostracize groups of people, people of certain religions, genders, biological sexes, skin colors, sexual orientations, or any other superficial difference. We can encourage our friends and family to stop perpetuating these damaging behaviors, too, and we can actively work toward a more peaceful future. Hopefully, those of us with differences can come together on the point that none of us wants bloodshed to be the way we resolve our differences; there must be a better way.
*more on that later.