The recent Tucson shootings are upsetting on many levels. For me, I went to high school with Senator Giffords, and, ironically, taught at the high school that the suspect attended. Yes, Tucson is a small town.
My first reaction was about as knee-jerk as one could get. Yes, I blame the right’s hateful, violent rhetoric. Many on the right have pointed out that the left uses violent rhetoric as well. Really? Have we all somehow missed seeing hordes of liberals showing up armed at conservative events, saying “don’t retreat, reload,” or talking about “second amendment solutions”? If it were a Republican senator in the hospital, would CNN be racing to play “blame the victim”? I don’t think so. Let’s get real.
But to get real, I think we need to look at how we got here. In 1985, Reagan’s appointee to head the FCC presided over the revocation of the Fairness Doctrine. The argument was, that by requiring holders of broadcast licenses to present controversial issues of public importance in a fair, honest, equitable, and balanced manner, the government was restricting free speech. However anyone might feel, one way or another, the repeal has led to the death of serious journalism and to the establishment of propaganda outlets for both the right and the left.
In addition, our culture has made a general move from communal experiences (movie theaters, plays, broad newspaper readership, etc.) to individual experiences (home video, internet, etc.) While I wouldn’t argue that this is itself a bad thing, quite a bit is lost–including the necessity of being exposed to ideas, and people, that one might disagree with. One can, and many do, go through life listening only to voices that amplify their own opinions.
Is it any wonder, then, that people on both sides feel as if they’re fighting an uphill battle against The Forces of Darkness? Fear sells, probably better than sex does. And both sides are cultivating fear, building specific opinion sets, and setting one side up against the other. Because everyone loves the drama and the spectacle. Drama and spectacle bring the viewers, and viewers buy the advertisers’ products.
But the hatemongering has gone too far. I truly believe that most people are reasonable. Most people want the same things: somewhere to live, someone to love, something fulfilling to do. They want to be free to live their lives according to the dictates of their consciences. They want their families to be safe and provided for.
But to read from the scripts, the right are violent, uneducated gun-nuts bent on theocratic dictatorship, and the left are interfering, muddle-headed peaceniks bent on communist dictatorship. The window dressing is different, but underneath it’s all so depressingly similar.
Can we turn off the mass media voices? Tune into opposing viewpoints once in a while? Is it too late to turn to people across the aisle with a smile, a handshake, and the assumption that everyone is trying to do the best they can?
If we can’t think of each other, can’t someone think of the kittens?