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.