Tucson tragedy: When radicalized political rhetoric and anti-intellectualism meet
Between the Lines
The chilling silence taking place around the mass shooting tragedy that occurred at an Arizona Congresswoman’s constituent town hall rally in Tucson is extremely disturbing.
Six people died and 14 others were wounded in what appears to be a random shooting by a mentally unstable student. Everyone is searching for motives and looking for answers. Some want to say it’s Arizona pervasive “gun culture,” but Arizona’s gun-mania is no more pervasive than in Texas, California, New York, or Tennessee; places where other high-profile shootings (killings) of political figures have taken place.
Others want to say America is just a less tolerant, more violent culture now that the video-game generation has come of age. There might be some truth to that.
But some have also pointed to the extreme political discourse that took place during the health care and mid-term election debate over the past couple years. American political discourse has gotten more than disagreeable. It has gotten downright uncivil. The same kind of incivility that brings about civil wars, 10-year massive resistance movements and even racially charged “days of optimism” some now call the Reagan Revolution.
This may be a significant clue as to what happened, and one we need to highlight as an emerging issue in our highly conflictive society. The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others is an example of what can happen, when radical rhetoric meets anti-intellectualism.
The “uncivil discourse” has gone beyond the “I don’t like you, you don’t like me-let’s agree to disagree” dialogue that takes place in the civil debate of the issues. The radicalization of political opposition has taken such an ugly turn, that no healing takes place, after the election is over. The Republican Party, and its Tea Party offshoot, took a “don’t retreat, reload” mantra into the post-2008 election era that was branded with “get your gun and rebel” rhetoric. Before President Obama took the oath of office, the fourth quarter economic situation of 2008 was near depression, except for gun and ammo sales which were at a 10-year high, driven by the “Obama is going to take our guns” rhetoric.
Former vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, decided to resign from office and continue her “pop culture” persona, branding herself as a rifle toting, moose shooting “hockey mom” who has more social dysfunction going on in her family than any you’d find in any urban city in America.
She is literally a walking reality show.
Palin has replaced George W. Bush as the quintessential anti-intellectual in our less than intellectual society.
You have to admit that a society with a high school graduation rate that is challenged by its dropout rate isn’t exactly prone to being considered one of higher thinking in advancing the best interests of the total society. Yet, Palin’s dumbed-down radical rhetoric resonated with large anti-intellectual segments of the Midwest and South that did not vote blue in the last election. This occurred for racial reasons, not acknowledged, but clearly in evidence.
Hard economic times make us all susceptible to scapegoating. Thus, was born the Tea Party Movement, the latest iteration of “states’ rights” fever that pops up every 50 years or so. Both major parties have acknowledged that Tea Partiers are a “rag tag” group of political extremists, ideologues and fringe element activists, yet Republican wannabes for president in 2012 have made Tea Party events a “must stop” on their campaign routes.
Palin is their poster girl, and this time, her “tough talk” has created a situation that we all know isn’t totally blameless in the Tucson tragedy, when you consider that Giffords was on a Palin “hit list.”
Last March, the Tea Party began publicizing that it would be seeking to “take out” Democrats who voted for health care reform in conservative states. Palin, playing the role of “Sally, get your gun,” tells tea partiers to don’t retreat, but reload. Palin posted on her website a “hit list” of 20 Democrats targeted for defeat in November. Giffords was number four on her list. Each “target” has a crosshairs symbol on their face. (A crosshair symbol is part of a gun or rifle scope.) It implies someone has a gun on them. Symbolism communicates using non-verbal language. When combined with incendiary language, an anti-intellectual zealot could interpret the language and symbolism to mean more than just putting someone out of office. Giffords was successful in retaining her seat but had received threats. Palin denies having anything to do with inciting the shooting and stated that this is nothing more that liberal media spin. Oh really? American history is fraught with violent acts that had been precipitated by hateful, radicalized rhetoric.
Coincidentally, the crosshairs target map on Palin’s website has been taken down. Republican ideologues like Rush Limbaugh are putting their relativist spin on it, but the bottomline is, political disagreement shouldn’t be infused by radical symbolisms of violence. America had a problem, when the Panthers did it. The Panthers may have advocated “kill whitey” but never shot a congressperson. The rhetoric was dangerous during a dangerous, when America was killing Black political leaders. What is the Tea Party’s rhetorical rationale? They have none beyond ideological extremism.
Free speech is one thing. Symbolic speech is covered by the first amendment, but don’t say your coded messages don’t have anything to do with violent consequences. Many times, they do when people think they’re doing the will of mass sentiment. Defending oneself is one thing. Using guns to assault others is another.
In this instance, the gun symbolism and the “gun talk,” when combined with the anti-intellectual following, certainly can’t be ignored as a possible cause.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, “Real Eyez: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture.” He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com.
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LOS ANGELES, Calif.—People in the Southland and around the nation observed a moment of silence today to remember the victims of the Arizona shooting rampage in which six people were killed and 14 others, including a congresswoman, were wounded.
President Barack Obama issued a proclamation calling for the moment of silence at 8 a.m. Pacific time.
"It will be a time for us to come together as a nation in prayer or reflection, keeping the victims and their families closely at heart,'' he said in the proclamation.
Just when you thought they were piling on President Barack Obama on issues of little or no consequence—namely the birth-certificate issue—the reversal of the president’s fortunes continue to show why he won the presidential election of 2008.
He’s just flat out smarter than his critics, and he demonstrated that this past week. One issue was put to sleep, the other was put to death. The first was the so-called “birther” issue.
The Republican Party is about to return from a two-year banishment to political Siberia, back into the mainstream as it seats its House majority for the 112th Congress.
While change has occurred in the past two years (no matter what the rhetoricians say), and it has ben some of the most progressive change in recent congressional history, mind you; the Republicans spent most of their time trying to find the tail they lost in the 2008 presidential elections.
The power of truth rests in our desire to seek its source. Whether that truth is the reality of our current circumstances and desires to understand why things are the way they are, or the truth in the reality that there is a better way, a better life, a better reality that can be attained if we choose to see that reality as one we desire to attain.
Part of changing a reality is having the capacity to change it. Another part is having the desire to change it.
We’ve watched the Republicans drop-kick President Obama for months now… the ones in Congress, the pundits on Fox, the wannabe candidates (Palin and Trump), and the gonna-be candidates for the Republican nomination in the 2012 election.