President JFK passed directly in front of us. I think I could have reached up and batted down the gun in my face as his security passed me in his entourage as his limo entered the gate of Carswell AFB. My family of four turned and walked away; we were the closest any of us had ever been to the President of the United States. Within the hour, he was dead!
We made the quick drive back to our house on Tex Blvd. in minutes and quickly turned on the local news, expecting to see JFK land nearby in Dallas. His assassination quickly followed, for us a story within itself. Later, came the murder of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy.
King‘s path we had crisscrossed since living nearby in Georgia, when he arrived in Montgomery, each of us seving segregated churches. The RFK shooting came and went. I remember how pleased I was when finally I met Rosie Grier who had witnessed that obscenity. Such scenes as the attempted murder of Arizona Congresswoman Gabriella Gifford disturb us too frequently. The number of attempts on the lives of Barrack Obama, George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan may be classified.
But this is America, you exclaim; this should not be happening. And I want to say, “get real.” I loved Clarence’s demeanor; the old Pima County Sherriff reminded me of a former Texas Ranger I once knew in days of old. John Gantt,of San Angelo, TX when I knew him, had been a cattleman and a Ranger from the early days. Honest as the day is long, straight as a ruler, tough as nails, and tender as tears.
The Sherriff referred to the political rhetoric, and I believe he was right. Yet, that is merely symptomatic of where we are. Our whole Western Culture is a culture that thrives on violence, clear back to the days of the Spanish Conquistadors. Consider our savagery with various Native Americans, and with black African slaves. I’ll never forget the Georgia Baptist Deacon that told me, “I’ll blow my kids brains out before I let them go to school with ‘them’”!
I see the violence (mayhem, murder, rape and savagery) that Hollywood exports into our living rooms today via popular network shows. I see it toned down but reverenced by the World Wrestling Association and the National Footfall League. Moreover, I see America exporting that culture of savagery, mixed with nudity and sex into the foreign market, in the name of for profit commercial entertainment.
Why do I approach this in this manner? Because when I listen to the political rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Sarah Palin, and tons of tweeters and emailers, I think we must connect the dots and see the pattern. That 22-year-old who shot the congresswoman is now a criminal, and will pay for his crime. He is also a victim of the society fostering such ill will via verbal flame throwers, spouting nuclear weapons. They are no less than verbal bullies. Their arrogant behavior teases, “neayah, neayah, you can’t touch me, first amendment rights.”
We don’t yet know what set off this young man whose balance the Sherriff already recognized as off kilter, tilted, “unbalanced.” The Media repeatedly researches and reports on bullying, it causes and effects, but it has not yet drawn the line between the “shooting dots” and the “professional rhetorics” whom I believe are “political prostitutes” They would not think of selling their bodies but they gladly sell their verbal flame-throwing ability to the highest bidder. In turn, armies of ideologists of every description from Nazi’s to White Supremacists to Political Purists, to Islamist Theocrats, follow them. Caught in the crowd of those following are those who allow the flame throwers to do their thinking for them, and those unable to think for themselves.
Again, I return to the Christmas message of peace on earth among men of good will (not all people of religion are of good will). The dubious good will of the flame throwers becomes the ill-will of the angry, those feeling squeezed out, the vulnerable, those wanting revenge, and some who hate for whatever reason. A bullet pierced the brain of Gabriella Gifford, but ill-will pulled the trigger. It was an unbalanced act, prompted by a metaphor, a descriptive word used as a nuclear bomb (a handgun in this case). Somewhere back up the line, somebody saw a profit.
A 22-year old “unbalanced” man gets the blame, but what about all the others. What of the public that thrives on gossip, or is entertained by confrontation and violence, or gets a charge out of having somebody in his or her “crosshairs” (term used for an animal about to be shot with a rifle or bow and arrow.
Remember that writer who described pre-holocaust days in Nazi Germany? It came to the place where the agents of abuse came first to secret away the Jews, then others for this or that reason. Finally, it got to the place where there was no one left, when they came to take me away (my paraphrase).
Jim Wallis of Sojourners has asked people to commit themselves to toning down the rhetoric; insist on civility and accountability in our dialogues, whatever the subject. I signed it and I believe people of good will everywhere will agree that our current level of incivility is unacceptable.
If everything we do is protected by “my rights” there is no longer any room for dialogue or community, and democracy cannot thrive without the dialogue of politics. As Stephen Carter reminds us, the rules of civility are freeing, not oppressing. Moreover, those who love democracy should love its rules.
Stephen Carter reminds us: “…the obligation of civility entails more than charitable acts; it entails a habit of the mind, perhaps an orientation of the soul, toward the other, the one who is outside us and may seem very different from us, and yet is part of us through our equal share in God’s Creation” (102/Civility, Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy/Carter/NY/Basic Books, 1998, italic added).
From Warner’s World,
let’s be accountable for maintaining a civil tongue and a friendly community, walkingwithwarner.blogspot