Words Have Consequences

With the tragic mass murder in Arizona we have to ask the question, was this expected? The only answer can be that yes, it was.

Right wing politicians and pundits have created an atmosphere of hate and intolerance through their words and actions over the last few election cycles and now their words may have become manifest.

With Sarah Palin using a map with rifle scope targets to indicate areas where elections must be “Won at any cost” and using terms like “Don’t Retreat, Reload!” With radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh calling for violent resistance and candidates like Sharon Angle claiming that if the elections don’t swing in the direction of their candidates, that they would be forced to “explore 2nd amendment solutions.”

We watched a campaign cycle following Barack Obama’s election in which many right wing organizations and individuals promoted propaganda and statements that denigrated both him and those who voted for him. They used terms like “Traitor” and “Socialist” or “Nazi” in order to make the impression that they were somehow dangerous to or the enemies of America. At hundreds of rallies and town hall events across the country, people used racially charged images and words to build hatred and anger. They suggested that the violent overthrow of the standing government was somehow a patriotic concept being necessary if the upcoming elections didn’t go in their favor.

Even in New Jersey, the level of anger and vitriol created by Chris Christie can be viewed as beyond civil. Using the bully pulpit to target civil service employees and teachers, berating and belittling people who disagree with him. Having people physically escorted to the stage to be glowered over and then physically removed from events when they have questioned his ideas and actions. This behavior  promotes a perception that those on the other side are somehow insubstantial and less than deserving of respect and their right to be heard.

Listening to the callers into NJ 101.5 seething and raging about state workers and educators or the veiled suggestions by the on air personalities that the state would be better off if they were “Gone”.  All of this has contributed to a level of barely controlled fury that only needs a small spark to become wholesale violence.

Many public workers described a level of fear and uncertainty about their safety following the onset of Chris Christie’s attacks and accusations. As he used terms like “Drug Pushers” to describe teachers and put the pains of New Jersey tax payers squarely on the shoulders of the public sector, how could he not see that he was dividing the people and creating two camps in a war? Listening to the words of his followers on NJ 101.5 defined the atmosphere with a disturbing clarity. He admitted that he was a listener and can’t claim he wasn’t aware of the impact his words were having. Quite the opposite, he relished and nurtured the situation with every town hall gathering and press conference.

There is a message to be discerned in the acts of those like Sarah Palin in the hours following the shootings in Arizona when she started having her images and remarks “Targeting” politicians on the Left with rifle scope icons and violent words scrubbed from her press releases and websites.

It may turn out that the Arizona gunman doesn’t align himself with any political ideology, but that doesn’t matter in regards to the hatred and anger that has become so central in the political discourse of the Right.

This has become our political reality. For the hard Right, it isn’t about who’s right or wrong anymore but rather about who can incubate the anger and hatred to swing the argument in their favor or scare the other side away from the polls.

We have to demand better from our representatives and refute the hatred that is being used to promote campaigns and ideologies.  

Comments (17)

  1. jeffpickens

    Great post, Mark –

    I know it’s much easier in hindsight, but just about every time something like this happens (like the Columbine kids), when you look back, the warning signs are all over the place. Since this guy, with his white skin, did not fit the Arizona standard for profiling as a terrorist, he slipped under the radar. A fence along the Mexico border would not have prevented this tragedy.

  2. Couch Potato Politics (Post author)

    We listened to the Sheriff there and his words were stirring.

    He actually descxribed Arizona as the “Mecca of Hatred and Bigotry” in America.

    What a brave man to speak so honestly.

  3. William Weber (WjcW)

    politics had as much to do with this as David Hinkley’s attack on Reagan.

    These were two delusional mentally unstable individuals.

    He was convinced words had no meaning and government was brainswahing people. It wasn’t a republican or democratic idea that brought him to this.

  4. Couch Potato Politics (Post author)

    This killer did have a paranoid and unstable personality and his writings and words show that his psychosis was fed on the beliefs of the Tea Party and Libertarians.

    That they used terms referring to shooting, killing, executing and blood-letting did feed into the subsequent actions of this person.

    He targeted for assasination, based on political disatisfaction, Gabrielle Giffords.

    Comparing the shooting of Reagan, by a guy who wanted to impress Jodi Foster, is not the same no matter how much you want it to be. Reagans shooter had no political screeds and ideologies to be compared. If the President were a Demoacrt at the time, likely Hinckly would have just as readily shot him.

    In the end, what really matters is these people are out there and the Hard Right seems uninterested in rolling back the language but defending it by trying to distance themselves from Laughner by claiming he was a “Liberal” of  just “Crazy.”

    With people like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones of InfoWars (Particularly popular to the fringe extremists and libertarians), Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Sharon Angle and even jan Brewer of AZ.

    The language and visual cues these folks use are creating levels of fear, paranoia and hatred that only need access to firearms and an unstable miond to become manifest.

  5. DottieG

    In 1964, Richard Hofstadter published his wonderful book, The Paranoid Style in American Politics.  While his theme was inspired by the Goldwater campaign, his analysis of American political history was very thorough–it’s a classic.

    What we have now is the same basic style, but it’s much worse, partly because the media has changed so much since 1964 and these virulent messages can be spread more widely and more quickly.  Alas, people believe what they hear and hear and hear over and over again.  Remember the “Big Lie”–if people hear it often enough (and it’s big enough) they accept it as true.

    For people who still read, I recommend Hofstadter’s book–it’s very impressive.  I imagine you can get it on Kindle or something  like that.

    Just on a side note: when JFK was assassinated in 1963, I was teaching a class when we were interrupted–a staff member came by, told us the news, and said classes were suspended and people could go to the university student center when they had TVs set up.  Some of my students opted to stay and talk about it; one said, “Gee, now I know how people felt when Lincoln was shot.”  My response was to say that no, you don’t, because there was no mass media then and it took days, even weeks, for the news to travel.

    The state of my country scares me.



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