it seems there are two main, big-picture observations that are being bandied about. The first is that this is an excellent time for political pugilists to appreciate the power of language, and come away from this tragedy exercising better judgment. There's a level of toxicity in our discourse just isn't healthy, and it tears at the societal fabric that holds the country together.It's true. The two points aren't mutually exclusive. An unstable person with a tendency to act out his fantasies is more likely to do so when he is given permission by others to act.
The second is that Loughner, by all accounts, is clinically ill, and what might set off an armed mad man is necessarily unpredictable. To this extent, the political/rhetorical environment isn't to blame for yesterday's events; the sickness of a disturbed young man is.
I'm inclined to think the two points aren't mutually exclusive.
There are indications that Laughner is such an unstable individual. Laughner was rejected by the Army as unsuited to join, and the community college he had been attending has expelled him until he could demonstrate that he was not so mentally deranged that he would not be a danger to other students there. As news about him is reported it's pretty clear that he does not have the ability to predictably control his actions. So he has already been recognized as an unstable individual. What does the current political climate in America do to individuals like Laughner?
There are unstable individuals out there who are more likely to go shooting someone, but what has happened is that the right-wing hate-meisters are setting a climate that gives these individuals targets to hate and they also set a climate that further gives them permission to go after those targets. Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh and their ilk name the targets. Sharron Angle - the Republican nominee for Senate - publicly told him to consider "Second Amendment remedies." The only thing missing in the connection is a direct statement to the crazy individual "Now. Go shoot so-and-so."
Sara Robinson wrote an article that listed the similar incidents between January and June of 2009. Chip Bertle summarizes
Hannah Arendt described the process of demagoguery leading to violence as it occurs in totalitarian regimes ranging from Hitler to Stalin. The demagogue frames the target, but leaves off a direct call for violence. But the message is clear. Unstable people often act first. Political ideologues, however, can be mobilized as the process continues to act as a group.This really is how organized terrorism begins.
I consider it very likely that soon right-wing politicians and pundits are going to start traveling with open armed guards "because the climate is so dangerous to public figures." (Another market for Blackwater/XE?) That will be another major step towards creating a violent political climate.
One other thing to consider. The right wing repeats the idea "Guns don't kill. People kill."
Yeah? Watch movies and monitor the tone of the movie when the scene with someone pulling out a gun and cleaning, loading or just checking it. The music gets more ominous as does the entire tone of the movie. Other weapons have similar responses, but a gun has a much stronger one normally. A gun is a symbol of preparing for violence.
So if the climate around you is threatening, it is traditional in America to reach for a gun. Then if something startles you or threatens you, what happens next? Someone gets shot at or even killed.
Guns may not kill, but they make it a lot more likely that someone will get badly hurt or killed.