What's happening at the
Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 | 10:50 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 | 10:50 | SYDNEY

Thoughts on the Tucson shootings

By

COMMENTS

10 January 2011 16:05

Since I'm going to appear on ABC News 24's The Drum program this evening, I want to rehearse a few thoughts about the shootings and what the event means for US politics:

  • One reason we are so shocked by events such as these is that all political activity is in some sense a response to violence. People and nations conduct politics because the alternative is the tyranny and arbitrariness of rule by the most physically powerful. Politics is the renunciation of violence.
  • That's also why Americans should be concerned about the rhetoric used at the extremes of US politics. When the language of war ('battle', 'conflict', 'enemy')  becomes indistinguishable from the language of politics, you start to lose the distinction between a Hobbesian state of nature and an advanced, cultured democracy.
  • To mangle an Adam Smith quote, there's a lot of ruin in a political movement. Centrist Republicans have been waiting for some time now for the the GOP to give up its flirtation with the Tea Party and return to the middle, where elections are won. But given that the GOP did so well in the midterms, I doubt this tragedy will have a hugely chilling effect. When the Republicans pick their presidential nominee, we'll really know which wing of the party is in charge.
  • As a commenter at James Fallows' blog points out, even if you cannot draw a causal link between the shootings and the violent imagery and language of much US politics, that doesn't mean it wouldn't be a good idea to tone the rhetoric down anyway.
  • I agree with George Packer:

...for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale. Instead of “soft on defense,” one routinely hears the words “treason” and “traitor.” The President isn't a big-government liberal—he's a socialist who wants to impose tyranny. He's also, according to a minority of Republicans, including elected officials, an impostor...This relentlessly hostile rhetoric has become standard issue on the right. (On the left it appears in anonymous comment threads, not congressional speeches and national T.V. programs.) And it has gone almost entirely uncriticized by Republican leaders. Partisan media encourages it, while the mainstream media finds it titillating and airs it, often without comment, so that the gradual effect is to desensitize even people to whom the rhetoric is repellent.

  • We can only guess at what motivated the shooter in this case, though previous US assassination attempts remind us that there is often only a weak connection between the actions of a given assassin and the contemporary political climate.

You may also be interested in...