There were many mentions of vitriol (defined as “cruel and bitter criticism”) as an incendiary that caused the shooting of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims killed and wounded during her event last weekend in a Tucson, Arizona shopping center. Vitriol may have played a part but the picture is more complex than that. One could easily pursue the mental health of the shooter, gun control, or domestic terrorism as causes, but since vitriol was mentioned so many times in the media this week, whether or not it can be argued that it was the cause it presents an important opportunity for its discussion.
Over the past ten years or so I think we Americans have become anesthetized to the vitriol that has become an ugly part of the political fabric in this county. Labels and slander of candidates, of groups and of individuals are tossed around like confetti at a political rally, as if their impact has no real weight. On the one hand, the result can be bizarre, outrageous and almost comical; on the other hand, it’s often scary how effective even the most absurd slander campaign is.
Because of this, individuals and groups (aka the political “enemy”) are labeled, categorized and demonized to further an agenda. Selective images and sound bites to reinforce negative opinions are replayed over and over. It’s no surprise to campaign and political strategists that those tactics are so effective in winning support for a candidate or an idea, they are a form of brainwashing. Personally I try to shut out as much as I can, it completely turns me off, but I have friends and acquaintances who are regular viewers and radio aficionados of political talk and political pundits, both conservative and liberal, who represent millions of Americans.
What I want in my country is what I saw just after September 11th, 2001. American flags were flying everywhere and the feeling behind that display was not self-righteous flag waving as a statement of superior patriotism. It meant “United We Stand.” Damn right. Witnessing that unity was the most beautiful thing I have seen in this country, probably in my lifetime. We were all Americans, pulling together as one, identifying with each other until those feelings of solidarity were ripped apart and exploited politically to divide us.
Nothing is more heartbreaking than a nation divided. It’s been a long, long time since our Civil War, but other countries that have battled brothers and neighbors more recently know what complete devastation comes from creating and exploiting ideological and political differences. No one wins in the end.
I am sick of political manipulation and candidates or pundits so desperate for attention and support for their particular ideology that they have to resort to using fear and hate to divide and conquer. Aren’t we all smart enough to reject those cynical tactics? I think we better be.