Draining The Swamp
Yesterday, one of Arizona’s House of Representative members, Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in the head at a political rally. The event was meant to be an opportunity for Ms. Giffords to meet her constituents. According to the news articles that I’ve seen, Ms. Giffords was described as a true blue dog Democrat and a moderate who was somehow able to sustain her political career in one of the most conservative environments in the country. She felt that getting in front of the people she represents was important to serving her community. Somebody took advantage of her willingness to put herself close to the public and tried to assassinate her. As I write this, twenty people were shot and six have died including a nine year old girl who was attending the rally with a friend of her parents.
The whole affair looked like a train wreck that started rolling two years ago. Back when then Illinois’ Junior Senator Barack Obama was running for President of the United States. Back then, people were attending all kinds of political rallies brandishing weapons and holding up signs with rhetoric encouraging violence saying things like the tree of liberty needs to be watered with somebody’s blood. Since then, we’ve had politicians encouraging the public to exercise their second amendment rights to pick up a weapon if they felt that the person they wanted to represent their district didn’t win the race for a political office. Another politician is posting images of political districts targeted for action with an image of rifle crosshairs. Some people will say that it was just an unfortunate coincidence that Ms. Giffords’ district was one so identified. Politicians want to appeal to their constituents with inflammatory slogans laced with suggestions of violence while shooting weapons and posing with all kinds of rifles and handguns. And now we have a politician laying in a hospital fighting for her life. But it’s not even close to being a coincidence.
Arizona has seen more than its fair share of the political rhetoric intended to stoke fear and excite people to do things in the most uncivilized fashion. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is on record telling people that illegal immigrants are killing innocent civilians and are littering the state with headless bodies. We hear political pundits talk about their fear of getting on planes with anyone wearing Muslim garb and looking like a terrorist. We can’t allow a mosque to go up within blocks of the hallow ground most people call the World Trade Center because we don’t want Muslims to flaunt their Muslim-ness in our faces so soon after what happened on September 11th way back in 2001. And other politicians are trying to convince us that if we don’t take action now, we will all wake up one day and find ourselves living under sharia law.
And with all these fears of foreign, other peoples out to do us harm and how we need to protect ourselves and our Constitutional rights and how we need to make sure that the government doesn’t come after our guns and how a well-developed social conscious is damaging the very fabric of capitalism, are we really that surprised to see the seeds of such rhetoric begin to bear its deadly fruit?
In the past two years I have heard that phrase about the tree of liberty needing to be refreshed with somebody else’s blood more than any other time in my life. But nobody ever talks about draining the swamp of intolerance that is free to grow thick and lush all on its own from all of the over the top rhetoric that has become part and parcel of our social discord. Every time we hear somebody make the suggestion that we have to deny others their right to disagree and, when it becomes obvious that they are on the side about to lose an argument, somebody wants to stoke the swamp and talk about how freedom needs to be protected. And this is the environment of the United States. It begs the question, united in what?
In the next few days, I expect a lot of people who previously talked with vitriol and with venom about their opponents to talk with sympathy about Ms. Gifford and the rest of the people who are the victims of this heinous attack. People want to make inflammatory suggestions that we have to protect our weaker position by harming those who disagree with us will act like they are totally innocent in this matter. Everyone who made the suggestion that a firearm should be welcome at a political rally is culpable on this one. Everyone who hints that we have the right to physically attack those who share a different opinion is to blame. And just because you can find an example of intolerance on the other side of the fence doesn’t mean it’s open season on your side.
Everyone should be working to drain this swamp of hatred. Because as long as we continue to let people fan these flames of rancor, we should expect the type of violence that we had the misfortune of witnessing yesterday. We can’t afford to sit back and let people do their best to stoke people’s fears and embolden people to take matters into their own hands and then act like they have nothing to answer for when shit hits the fan. The rhetoric of intolerance needs to stop.