Friday, July 8, 2016

Decency in the face of violence

In a year that has brought to American society some of the vilest, calculated appeals to the worst instincts of mankind, I suppose it's too much to ask for moral clarity and decency in times of crisis.

Should it even necessary to point out all decent Americans are grieving and horrified by the assassination-like killings of five Dallas police officers last night?

That President Obama expressed his immediate horror at "a vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement" and condemned the "twisted motives" of those responsible, reiterating that there can be "no possible justification" for violence against police?

And that not one—not one—leader of the Black Lives Matter movement has ever called for violent action in the course of their campaign against the excessive use of lethal force by police against unarmed African American citizens?

No of course not. 

But in the very ugly state of moral depravity that passes for politics in our country these days, it took the usual right-wing bloviators no time at all to make hay while the blood flowed. The winner was Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, who sent out a message to his fans in the midst of the horrific news stating, "10 Cops shot. You did this Obama. You did this liberals. You did this BLM."

No, they did not. They asked that police enforce the laws fairly and with respect for human life, in accordance with our most cherished and noble American values. Not once did they suggest that the solution to excessive force by police was violence by citizens.

Not once did they put out "wanted" posters with pictures of police on them—as has the anti-abortion movement regularly done in its campaign of fomenting wilful violence against doctors who provide abortion services.

Not once did they justify violence in retaliation for the shootings by police of unarmed African Americans—in notable contrast to the unspeakable statement of Republican congressman Steve King of Iowa a few years back after a fine upstanding citizen, galvanized by years of inflammatory anti-government rhetoric from King and his comrades, flew a light plane into an IRS building in Texas, killing a dedicated federal employee and military veteran: King declared he felt "empathy" for the kamikaze taxpayer, saying he too was "frustrated" by the IRS, and opining that if only we replaced the income tax with a national sales tax, these things wouldn't happen.

Not once have they invoked the kind of crude, violent imagery that has become the stock in trade of the "angry" right for years now, legitimized so spectacularly by the rise of the brutal, hate-ridden speech of the Republican Party's nominee-apparent—I've lost count of the number of references from right-wing commentators and politicians I've noted over the last decade advocating "second amendment solutions" if Republicans fail to prevail at the polls, telling supporters they should be "armed and dangerous" to "oppose tyranny" (defined as, among other things, health care, a carbon tax, and other liberal policies), or routinely depicting their opponents in the cross-hairs of a sniper rifle.

Not once have they gloried in the death of a police officer, or made a disgusting joke about the loss of an officer's life—as conservative media star Ann Coulter did over the assassination of an abortion doctor, when she wittily remarked, "I don't really like to think of it as murder. It was terminating [the doctor] in the 203rd trimester."

The same crowd of conservatives ready to wink at or even condone the idea of violence when directed against suitable targets of course howled in fury if there was ever a suggestion made anywhere at any time that they bore even a hint of moral culpability for the actual killings that ensued—of a respected federal judge killed by the gunman who shot Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, for example, or a policeman slain at a Colorado abortion clinic, or other instances when those they had branded "enemies," or "traitors," or "criminals" were killed by their own twisted followers: no, those were merely "tragedies"; there was apparently no need even to condemn them.

As I noted at the time of the Giffords shooting, political leaders in a democracy have a special moral obligation to speak out against and resist extremism in their own camps: no democracy can survive when violence or incitement is left unchecked on any side. But it's not surprising that those who have shown no shame in inciting extremism and violent talk are always the first to try to reap its benefits.

Violence is a monster that feeds on itself, eventually consuming societies where it has got a foothold.

People with a scrap of moral decency know that at times like these, those who place love of country above hunger for power need to step back quickly.