The unreality of politically-motivated crimes in the Millennial Generation

Click to enlarge image of Sarah Palin's ambiguous call to violence against Democrat members of CongressI 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.

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20 Responses to The unreality of politically-motivated crimes in the Millennial Generation

  1. ballgame says:

    Great post, April.

  2. Clarence says:

    Great post April, and I even share your desire.

    I simply don’t share your optimism. I think the social and economic trends have spoken and they presage a divided America and , indeed, a much less peaceful world. If we are lucky, “our” breakup will be relatively peaceful, if not, prepare for civil war. I’ll make a prediction: I think in one way or another America will be noticeably on its way to overt empire (the only other alternative at this time) or breakup within the next two Presidential election cycles.

    Sometimes I hope for a hero, but even if you get past the part where they would have to impose order on our societal chaos, there’s the fact that we are so divided we don’t have enough cultural hooks anymore to follow someone.

    • David K says:

      what’s the intended significance of the De La Rey song?

      I doubt the USA is really headed for break-up – discontent isn’t geographically focused enough for that. Even if this is the beginning of a wave of political assassinations (which I’d doubt) then I suspect Le Chatelier’s Principle will kick in and people will move back towards the constitution and the political establishment, and the “radicals” will loose ground, just as after the JFK assassination people kept hold of LBJ for fear of something worse.

    • Clarence says:

      The significance of that song is merely that it serves to illustrate that many people around the world at this time are looking for heroes -often for nationalistic or tribal reasons.

      As for my prediction of a breakup, it’s really pretty easy to see, and it has nothing to do with regional secterianism as much as it has to do with the emergence of mutually antagonistic voting blocks often at sexual and racial angles. There IS no larger culture anymore, and as the economy continues to collapse this will create tensions that cannot be resolved via the normal political process.

      Right now the US economy is a sham, as anyone who has carefully been following the housing market and the Fed’s multiple bailouts of the banks (even if lately they haven’t been “called” that)makes clear. The political and monetary systems of this country are working mostly on inertia and illusion at this point, and quite frankly we aren’t set up to deal with a crisis of this magnitude.

    • Jim says:

      As for the larger culture, I think that only ever existed during my childhood, in a society with a antional mass market that only really existed fully after WWII. Before that regionalism was quite pronounced. And I can rememebr how stifling and conformist that “larger culture” was.

      As for break up, it has to either be regional or not at all. Societies don’t break up just to move on to a set of mutually tolerant societeis all on the same patch of ground. Societies don’t break up; one side crushes the ohter and the situation returns to some kind o equilibrium.

  3. Clarence says:

    I guess I might as well do a historical post to put some of this stuff in the proper context.

    We’ve had at least 3 Presidential assassinations I am aware of: Lincoln, Garfield (by a radical anarchist,and Garfield’s death led to the creation of the Secret Service) and Kennedy.

    From this link- http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/historyonline/assassinations.cfm

    “Foreigners tend to perceive the United States as a country prone to political violence and assassination. Nine American Presidents – Andrew Jackson in 1835, Abraham Lincoln in 1865, James Garfield in 1881, William McKinley in 1901 Harry S. Truman in 1950, John F. Kennedy in 1963, Richard Nixon in 1974, Gerald Ford twice in 1975, and Ronald Reagan in 1981 – have been the targets of assassination. Attempts have also been made on the lives of one President-elect (Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933) and three Presidential candidates (Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, and George Wallace in 1972). In addition, eight governors, seven U.S. Senators, nine U.S. Congressmen, eleven mayors, 17 state legislators, and eleven judges have been violently attacked. No other country with a population of over 50 million has had as high a number of political assassinations or attempted assassinations.”

    Of course this small snippet doesn’t take into account these latest shootings. And it doesn’t take into account the fact that in the nearly 250 year old history of a 300 million plus population country, they still remain relatively rare. Our coverage of things like these tends to be sensationalistic, and kind of a-historical matching the historical ignorance of large sections of the population.

    Instead we treat each incident like it’s new. “Domestic” terrorism? Sometimes it’s like I think people prefer to just forget the 1960’s and early 1970’s, in favor of focusing on the OKC bombing by McVeigh or 9-11, or whatever. People forget about the Clan back in the days of reconstruction, or later -in the 1920’s- when a new branch of the clan practically controlled the governments and judiciary branches of more than one southern state.

    School violence? Not something new since Columbine. Instead- “The Bath School disaster is the name given to three bombings in Bath Township, Michigan, USA, on May 18, 1927, which killed 38 primary school children and 7 adults, and injured at least 58 people. Most of the victims were children in the second to sixth grades (7–12 years of age) attending the Bath Consolidated School. Their deaths constitute the deadliest act of mass murder in a school in U.S. history. The perpetrator was school board member Andrew Kehoe, who was upset by a property tax that had been levied to fund the construction of the school building.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bath_School_disaster

    My point from all this might be that there are unlikely to be many more attacks of this type in some sort of “copy cat” manner, even if somehow, the PTB don’t take much more security precautions.

    I’m not worried about “openness” dying. That’s been a sham for the most part, for a very long time. Think of how often most of the “Townhall” type of meetings are scripted these days, and how often very few “unscheduled” questions are allowed to be asked.

    • Daran says:

      “No other country with a population of over 50 million has had as high a number of political assassinations or attempted assassinations.”

      According to this list there are only 24 such countries out of 224, so this looks to me like an example of the Texas sharpshooter fallacy.

      Not the most auspicious name for a fallacy under the circumstances…

    • Desipis says:

      A relevant list.

      A quick look seems to put Russia in the lead for the last decade. Although the middle east has a few countries that’d be high on the list (unsurprisingly).

    • Jim says:

      “Foreigners tend to perceive the United States as a country prone to political violence and assassination. ”

      That is a very, very broad brush of foreigners. There are lots of foreigners in China for instance who would readily admit that when it comes to political violence they are in no position to point any fingers. Assasination is on the very low end of the spectrum of poltical violence compared to the Cultural Revolution or the Tiananmen affair.

      For that matter Europeans don’t have much room either on the subject
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II

      I wonder who that leaves. Africans…? Ooh, maybe not. Certainly not Indians or Pakistanis. Maybe your “foreigners” need to clean their glasses if that’s how they perceive the US politcal culture.

    • David K says:

      Political violence is a term that can have a very wide definition (depending on what you consider political.) In terms of assassinations though, I think there are two things which make the US different from Western Europe.
      1) the fame culture: people are motivated to kill senior politicians in order to become famous (think Regan’s attempted assassin) and the mass media obsesses about the high profile assassinations for years afterwards. Since American media is internationally distributed to a much greater extent than any other countries, this leads to a stereotype about US greater violence against politicians.
      I was genuinely surprised that the US has less post-war assassinations than the UK on the Wiki list (leaving concerns about accuracy aside)
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_assassinated_people#United_States
      but then again, we were fighting what was technically a civil war during the period 1969-1998.
      2) you have so many guns (esp. hand-guns and military weapons) around the place. People “snap” or have violent and nonsensical political beliefs in Western Europe, but the difference is it’s harder for them to go out and kill someone. They have to work harder (make bombs usually) and that gives them more time to reconsider or get caught by police. Plus it’s a hell of a lot easier to be a random stranger in the crowd with a pistol, than attach a bomb to someone’s car and not have them find it before it goes off.

    • Daran says:

      I was genuinely surprised that the US has less post-war assassinations than the UK on the Wiki list (leaving concerns about accuracy aside)
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_assassinated_people#United_States

      I count 19 on each list. I also note that the the US list also links to a separate list of assassinated politicians, which includes many not on the first list.

      I don’t doubt we’ve had our fair share of these atrocities, but I need more convincing that we have had more in absolute terms.

    • Jim says:

      I would also take a lot more convincing on this point. That a medium sized state of 60 million would have more assasinations in absolute numbers than a large state of 300 million is going to take some backing up. I haven’t been paying much atention, but when was the last time a British poltician was assasinated.

      OTOH, the UK is just now ending an extended period of some really nasty poltical violence over in someone else’s country…er, island.

    • Jim says:

      That’s a very good point about the unavailability of guns. Aside from outright political assasinations, the US also has more than it’s share of gun rampages that appear only secondarily to have a poltical motive.

    • David K says:

      I was only counting the elected politicians assassinated on the wikipedia list, which isn’t a proper source that I’d base a proper conclusion on – I was just surprised that even on an anecdotal level the UK would be ahead, just because it’s such a big topic in the US media and isn’t in UK.

      The IRA hits on UK pols were genuinely political – we can speculate on human nature and the type of people who join paramilitary groups, but they had a coherent political cause.
      It seems harder to find US pols who were killed by people with an average degree of sanity and a political cause. This is a good thing, and it’s part of the reason there’s more likely to be a US in 50 years than a UK.

      Here Jim, enjoy:

  4. Hazel Stone says:

    There have been plenty of assassinations since you were born, Dr. Tiller was assassinated just a few years ago.

    • April says:

      Dr. Tiller, of course! I’ve been trying to think of why I left out abortion providers’ murders, since I hope it’s clear that I don’t support such a thing and am as pro-choice as they come. I don’t necessarily think the two (abortion providers and politicians) belong in exactly the same category. While the assassination of Dr. Tiller and other abortion providers like him are felt deeply by many people and are absolutely politically significant, I think there is a noticeable change in the collective of the American people (or anyone anywhere for that matter, although I can only speak for my experience in the US) when it’s a politician, or even a well-liked entertainment figure. And that particular feeling was the one I was speaking to.

  5. Warren says:

    Yesterday, ironically enough, as I was writing a post about something I’ve been planning for weeks (a year long look at what’s wrong with our country) and as I was looking for a story about Palin’s absurd stance against Michelle Obama’s campaign against obesity, I came across the breaking news about Ms. Giffords and the shootings.

    I wasn’t surprised to find immediate accusations pointed in the direction of Sarah Palin and her PAC which had immediately removed the above image targeting not just districts, but people, with names and actual cross-hairs to denote them. I don’t believe anyone can deny that such vitriol has no place in this country, especially in light of these events, yet the more I read, the more I’m finding that maybe he wasn’t as Tea Party tied as presumed.

    This man sounds disturbed. This man has apparently had other interactions with the Congresswoman and while she obviously is high on the Tea Party’s list of politicians they’re against, to deem this solely as a political attack is to overlook all the motives and this young man’s troubled life. This piece in the NY Times yesterday divulges more than I expected to find out about the man and in many way’s clarifies his issues.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/09/us/politics/09shooter.html?_r=1&hp

    I of course can’t be certain of exactly what his motives were, as we do have an impressive judicial system to handle such claims, but I think Mr. Loughner’s issues stem from years of social anxiety, possibly sexual frustration and/or political interest. Not only do the interviews in this story piece together the image of a confused and socially awkward man, but also one who had a superiority complex and his own ways of interpreting politics. School mates described him as “Left-Leaning” which, albeit, was sourced back to an account from 2007, and a lot can happen in 3 years but I think he had internally superceded these labels. Additionally, there is a story that just came out this morning about him possibly being tied to an “anti-Semitic, anti-immigration hate group called American Renaissance”.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/09/jared-loughner-youtube-videos-_n_806370.html

    All I wanted to really impart is that too often we focus on the superficial and obvious labels that the media uses to brand groups of political folks. I don’t think it’s as easy as pinning it on the Tea Party or Sarah Palin. It goes so much deeper than that and this is what’s most troubling… it’s just not that easy to solve.

    Thanks for the awesome piece April. It got me thinking and that’s the most important thing 🙂

  6. Desipis says:

    I notice there’s not much being made of the fact that a federal judge was killed. Is it known for sure that the Congress woman was the target?

    I’m also wondering how much the outrage is increased by the “good looking white woman” factor.

    • Jim says:

      She and not the judge was named specifically on Palin’s site, and in fact she had a history of being harrassed on political grounds.

  7. MissCherryPi says:

    In addition to the assassination of Dr. Tiller that Hazel Stone pointed out above, what about Jim Adkisson shooting up a Unitarian Universalist church because they were liberals? The shooting in Pittsburgh because of a fear that Obama would take away guns? The Neo-nazi who shot a guard at the holocaust museum? The man who flew a plane into the IRS building in Texas? The members of Congress who voted for health insurance reform and then had their families and children threatened?

    I’m only a year older than you, and when I heard about the shooting this week the only other shootings that came immediately to my mind were Dr. Tiller’s and the one in the church. But there have been more.

    It’s not just our generation. Everyone hears about so many of these things and we think it’s terrible but we don’t analyze them together. It’s almost too horrifying to contemplate what it means about the way our culture is shifting. Today there is no reason to fear the supermarket, but this will make some (especially young liberal women) afraid to run for office.

    For further reading.

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