In-Cite by John DiDonna: Vitriolic Rhetoric

By now we’ve all read the stories, mourned the losses, gotten slightly (ever so slightly) over the shock, and discovered a new name in the lexicon of hate:  Jared Loughner.  The new assassin on everyone’s lips.

The sad direction of our national political dialogue ....?

On Saturday, with a semi-automatic handgun, he shot and he shot.  And when he finished shooting (and was wrestled to the ground), there were six dead and 14 wounded.  A federal judge – dead.  A nine year old girl – dead.  A congresswoman – Gabrielle Giffords – in critical condition but alive, her doctors optimistic about recovery.

The shooter himself?  The usual expectations.  Loner.  Pot smoker.  Unbalanced.  Previous trouble.  Worried classmates.

The not so usual?  The YouTube and MySpace postings showing a very disturbed man obsessed with “conscience dreaming” (his mistake, not mine) and the “new” currency.

In the face of all this tragedy and barrage of information, what did I also notice as I attempted to make sense of the hopelessly senseless?

One of the things that frustrates me on a daily basis.

It took about 15 minutes (or more likely less) from the last pull of that trigger for finger pointing to start, and it has yet to stop beyond multiple calls for it (including a brilliant one by CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen).

The “left” blamed the “right” which in turn blamed the “left.”  He was a tea partier. . . no,  he was a liberal and a democrat. . . no,  he read the communist manifesto. . .no, he was influenced by Palin. . .no,  it is your fault. . . no, it is yours. . .

Stop.
Just stop.

The fact is a very crazed man (yes, I used the word crazed) who was disturbed for reasons beyond our current knowledge of him, went on a killing rampage. Was it politically motivated? Possibly. But not in the way you would imagine (one friend pointed out it was a politician who was targeted, not anyone else – and recent findings in the shooter’s house support that clearly he went after Giffords). Was it an organized and agenda driven attack? Not likely – read the man’s writings and you will know there was not much coherence there.

Yet now we have new media sound bites to chew over.  “Vitriolic Rhetoric”.  “Toxic Political Environment” (Gergen’s phrase and one I like).

And while the direct and only blame that is deserved in this particular tragedy must be foisted on the shoulders of Loughner himself, we do have to ask ourselves: when did this savage vitriol start, and does it indeed set out an environment whereby a mentally disturbed man such as this may finally take the tragic action we are all now shocked by.

Every day we see the rhetoric in our papers, on our talk shows, blaring out of our radios and in blogs and our own conversations — from both sides of the political fence.  Just last night I was appalled at the horrifying posts being made on Facebook.  One – which I had to confess I was not sure was even real, it was so parody-like  – involved the effusive use of the words “Right Wing Nuts …. Nazi Propaganda ….” And of course there was the obligatory and oh so charming “Go f__k yourselves.”

As you see, the hate comes from all sides, not just one. Finger point. Finger point.

So how does it stop? None of it is beneficial. Some say “But it is political debate.” No, it is not. It is political division. It exists merely to divide.

Politics certainly contains high passions of both the intellectual and emotional kind.  But when exactly did the hatred start?  When did the vitriol become commonplace and even expected? When did finger pointing become a national pastime?  How and why did we let these individuals who flourish in this come into the equation, and why do we still listen?  When did we become so divided?  And how do we stop it and return to a useful national political dialogue?  And most importantly – why do we always think the “other” side is the one to blame?

What do you think? Looking for your in-cite.

But remember, no finger pointing.  If you decide to point the finger at the “other” side, (whichever “other” that might be), consider that a finger may be squarely pointed right back.

And remember the events of Saturday how dangerous that might be. Sometimes a finger pointing can be as dangerous as a gun.

Let us prove here on In-Cite that we do not have to fall into this dangerous trap and can have a non-partisan, intelligent, and constructive dialogue.

Enjoy the conversation.

Contact John DiDonna at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.
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27 Responses to “In-Cite by John DiDonna: Vitriolic Rhetoric”

  1. jim says:

    It really bothers me that so many people can say, “Oh, it was just a nut case. There are crazy people out there” as an excuse and explanation for this tragedy. This is not the first time it’s happened though. Let’s not forget “Tiller, the baby killer”, the abortion doctor who was shot down by just such a nut case after a Fox News Tirade advocating vengence. John, what you call finger-pointing, others may call a search for answers. Hateful rhetoric by politicians and pundits create an environment that emboldens and justifies the likes of Jared Loughner in their own twisted minds. Whether, the vitriol was a direct motivator or not, this incident and others like it sheds a light on the sad, sad direction of this country’s national consciousness. It is one where the loudest voice wins regardless of truth and meaning–where lies become truer with every repeition and where flippant, shock-value sound bites irresposibly suggest violent retaliation. While it is true that random blame has no place here, the causes and contributors must be recognized…and unfortunately, we don’t have look very far to find them. Eliminate the source and we reduce risk of senseless shootings like this happening in the future. At the very least, we take away the excuses from the Loughners of the world.

  2. Juliana says:

    When we (we meaning anyone and everyone) point a finger, there are four others that point directly back at ourselves. To me, this blame-game, what it all boils down to, is an inability to accept responsibility for our own actions. All is well in good when our actions turn up positive results, but when things turn south then it’s the other guy’s fault. And since we don’t accept the consequences of our actions as our own fault, we don’t explore the potential ramifications of our actions. Why should we? We have no investment in our failings; they belong to someone else, only the wins are ours. From what I can see, the U.S. has managed to create an entire society in the un-investment of blame, from our legal system to our regulatory system to our medical system. We need to start looking at where the other four fingers are pointing. What part have we all played in this? Yes, each and every one of us. And yes, Palin is back in the news, and I for one think the map with the crosshairs was a tasteless thing to create. Does she have the right to? Yes, freedom of speech and all that legal rot. Should she have? That is for her to examine when she sees where her other four fingers are pointing. Did she influence what happened in Arizona? I doubt it. If it wasn’t her, it would have been someone else he latched onto. People on a mission find their own messiah, so we shouldn’t give her credit for that one. Life is both simpler and more complex than can be imagined. We are all interwoven, regardless of our race, creed, color, sexual orientation, etc… and until we start focusing on the common threads of our existences and put what we perceive to be our differences away – yes away, not aside, away – I’m afraid things will only get worse.

  3. Kris Truelsen says:

    The short answer to the question, “Why do we embrace toxic politics?” is: because we’re lazy. The general public would rather not do their own thinking. It’s easier to be told what to think—and in terms that are emotional, not rational; and in terms that do not encourage subtleties or scrutiny. Good/bad, black/white, wrong/right. No need to see shades of grey or details that could lead to compromising one’s idolized ideology. (Which leads me yet again to point my own finger at the Reagan administration as the genesis for much of today’s socio-political crap…but I digress.)

    Similarly, it is easier for media yammerers to whip up rabid frenzy and their own celebrity through incendiary fabrications rather than with honest journalism.

    I am glad, John, that you (not surprisingly) distinguish between what are several separate issues in the recent shooting. Palin’s crosshairs website (and the vile attitude it represents), insufficient gun control, and mental illness are all connected by this grim event, but they must not be confused. Each is a serious problem that requires clear—not easy or sheepheaded—thinking.

  4. Elizabeth Maupin says:

    I agree with Kris. But I also think that serious gun control in this country would greatly lessen the chance that deranged people — and wingnuts — can do this sort of thing in the future. Can’t we stand up to the gun lobby?

    • John DiDonna says:

      Very true Elizabeth. While I am not against gun ownership, I do in fact believe in very stringent regulation, oversight, education, and responsiblity.
      Just how this man – who was removed from a campus for erratic behavior – able to get a gun after years of like actions and behavior is beyond me.

  5. Mark Ferrera says:

    John,

    Nice article. I agree that it is high time we grow up and learn how to “disagree without being disagreeable”.
    The “outcry” and reaction to the “outcry” were as predictable as a Jay Leno monologue.

    “A house divided against itself shall not stand” -Abe Lincoln most famously quoted that biblical passage and it is the goddamned truth. We need to heed the words, “no blue states, no red states, just United States” if we are to move ahead as a nation. Can we all get over our sanctimonious selves, please?

    Let’s grieve for the Congressperson, the little 9 year old, all of the innocent victims, and then let’s dial it down a notch. Please?

  6. Jeremy Seghers says:

    While I don’t believe that we should be going around blaming this party or that party, I am glad that many more people are now aware of the now-infamous rifle crosshairs map and the violent metaphors that have been used for months by Sarah Palin. Should we blame her for what happened on Saturday? Not at all. But I sincerely hope this tragedy puts an end to the violent rhetoric and that ANY and ALL politicians who continue to use it are held accountable.

  7. John Maynard says:

    Within hours of the Tucson incident I had posted a statement on Facebook claiming the act was political. I received a number of responses telling me it was just a crazy person and not a Rep/Dem thing. I had never said it was a partisan thing. I had just tried to explain that we needed to relearn how to talk about things again. However I still attest that since the first person shot was a U.S. Congresswoman it was political. The facts continue to support my statement. No matter how crazy Loughner is he targeted Giffords. The first response I got was barely intelligible from a FB friend I only knew through Mafia Wars. He told me how offensive he found my statement. On his homepage I found a joke in which he asked god to kill Barack Obama. The rest of the discussions were pretty civil. I don’t want to point fingers. I would much rather see us move forward. However I think people need to accept responsibility as well. I heard a spokeswoman for Sarah Palin actually try to claim that it wasn’t crosshairs on the map, it was surveyor’s symbols. That is simply ludicrous. It also tells me that they realize the guilt they share. The same goes for other comments from Palin, Angell and Giffords own opponent. The Right seem to think they can make it even by pointing to Obama making a quote from The Untouchables, but that seems pretty weak. We do have to realize that this sort of talk does feed the hate and encourage these extreme reactions. Now I hear that the hateful Westboro Baptist Church intends to protest gays at the funeral of the 9 year old girl . And yes I think we need to look at gun control too. As a child I was a member of the NRA and learned how to handle guns. I don’t hate guns. However, we do need to limit who gets a gun permit. We do need to dial back Open Carry laws. I think that will be very hard as the gun lobbies are all powerful and our politicians are afraid of them. I hope to god we can find some way to grow positively from this horrendous event. There has been some of the standard fighting, but I do think people are trying to talk around this. I always stay positive and hope for the best. I don’t see how you can face the world any other way.

    • John DiDonna says:

      John, if you noticed there is a little anonymous homage to you above in my article! Agreed. Agreed. Agreed. Very balanced, and honest, look at the situation.

  8. melody chord says:

    Face Book Conversation

    Susan Morris

    I am sorry but when Sarah Palin puts democrats pictures in gun sites and makes targets of them and then Sharon Angle spouts second ammendment bullshit to end Harry Ried you have to wonder. I am not totally against the tea party but i am against hate mongering and the tea party seems to be doing that really well

    Laura Deal Neidert

    To quote my dear friend Melody…”DEBATE NOT HATE. Violence is the easy answer . It takes intelligence, self control, and integrity to talk a situation out to the point of a solution.” Sadly to say that we are missing self control and integrity on BOTH sides of the asile.

    Susan Morris

    I agree with you no one side has a corner on hate all three parties are very good at the hate mongering. But i have a real problem with Sarah Palin’s facebook posting where she has democratic politicians in the cross hairs of a fire arm. It… is almost a call to arms. Although she may not have put the pistol in the hand of the shooter, maybe she placed the idea in his head. This is not at all to exonerate the shooter, he is a monster, he made very bad choices and should pay for his actions. A person who has power, in the media, or other wise, should really think twice about the words that come out of thier mouths. The pen can be migher than the sword.

    Melody Chord

    When we get right down to it. To this day we can not read another human beings mind

    I was in Springfield Oregon when students were killed and injured at Thurston High School. There were many contributing factors which led up to that event. No one person associated with Kip Kinkle was responsible for what he did that day .

    Something snapped in that young man’s mind. Something went haywire.

    Public conversations and media rhetoric may have contributed to the build up of this most recent tragedy or not.

    We will probably never know regardless of what the media shares with us. There was a lot about the Kip Kinkle shooting spree which was never discussed in public.

    That given it is still horrific to think a daughter, son, wife , mother or other loved one of a political figure , much less the person themselves, should be subjected to a call for that person’s life to be taken . Words, pictures, songs, whatever form it may take it should not be encouraged nor tolerated.

    It is ironic that kindergarteners are being taught not to use violence in any form as a solution to solving problems yet we are allowing physically mature “adults” to put one another in the cross hairs. Let’s ask politicians on all sides of the fence to at least behave better than a kindergartener.

    “DEBATE NOT HATE. Chose intelligence, self- control, and integrity.

    • John DiDonna says:

      Melody – thank you for sharing that. I have seen, and hope to see more, convos just like that. The Debate not Hate is so true, but I would take it even further and say Discuss and Listen. :-) Thank you for taking part in this great conversation!

  9. John DiDonna says:

    Wonderfully balanced article by Arianna Huffington in her “Huffington Post”. While our politics may quite often differ, our feelings on this are quite in sync. Bravo on a thought provoking read.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/arizona-shootings-our-mom_b_807104.html

    • Rick says:

      i find it humorous she would quote and suggest to follow the example of the very first person to start the finger pointing in this event at the end of her article. A man that is in an elected position that requires facts and evidence to do his job was the first to jump to political driven conclusions based solely on his biased opinions.

  10. Rick says:

    When did it start? Look at the finger pointing in the Declaration of Independence. Look at the finger pointing at King George III. Sometimes a finger needs to be pointed, when it is clear that someone needs to defend themselves from the attacks of tyranny.
    When was the first finger pointing unjustly done by our government against the people? Probably by the first man to occupy the White House with the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 passed by the Federalist and President John Adams . Such a short time after the ratification of the Constitution and the 1st Amendment. And now, like then, we are in need to defend our freedom of speech once more.. and that just might include some finger pointing to do so.

    • John DiDonna says:

      Rick, I think perhaps what I am doing is drawing a distinction between “finger pointing” which is an immaturely based argument that is oftentimes knee jerk and emotional (angry) – a thing I feel most do not find beneficial and “assigning responsiblity” which comes with much better balance intellectually, emotionally, and usually gains much more credibility and is needed, beneficial, and massively important.

      The basis of a good communication would be that someone who does not agree with you at all, should at the end, at least understand your point or “agree to disagree” but still with credit to you. I love nothing more in a great conversation to discuss a subject with someone who is diamtrically opposed, and at the end have a much more complex and nuanced perception fo whatever subject it was.

      The words “finger-pointing” have a certain emotional connotation to them that is what I am referring to above.

      • John DiDonna says:

        AHHH! And back to Rick, I forgot to say the one thing I wanted to say: I do agree that assigning responsiblity is oftentimes necessary – and I applaud when one can do it in a credible way.
        For example, I do very much agree that the volatile atmosphere of political debate holds a responsibility to this incident cited above, whether a direct causal link can be found or not. However I am not pointing fingers going “That’s To Blame!” without acknowledging that there are man facets to this argument (see Kris Truelsons’ posting above.) Mental Health. Poltical Rhetoric. Violent Atmosphere. Gun Control. Etc.

  11. Kenny Babel says:

    I believe the problems began when news outlets became slaves to ratings. Ratings mean money. Emotional manipulation ensures ratings. Get someone to feel passionate about something, and they will tune in again. Viewers love to sit in judgement for some reason. Whether it is to exorcise pent up emotion, feel better about one’s own life, or any of a myriad reasons, viewer’s eat it up. Just because one doesn’t tune in to Jerry Springer doesn’t mean one hasn’t fallen prey to this. Viewer’s tune in to see someone with righteous indignation “tell it like it is”. The more demonstrative, the better. Several of these talk show hosts more resemble televangelists than political commentators with their histrionics, weeping, and hyperbole. The images they use (swastikas, Hitler moustaches, etc.) to represent those they target are reprehensible. They are just emotionally manipulating their audiences. Often they excuse their fact- twisting and hate-mongering by saying their shows are only “entertainment”. As true as that statement is, it doesn’t change the fact that it is not presented as entertainment, and the viewers perceive the shows as gospel truth. This vitreol will end when news is news, and money is used to sponsor the news that is accurate, in-depth, and non-partisan and not the news that gets the most clicks because it is ‘controversial’.

    • John DiDonna says:

      Kenny – amazingly well said on all counts. “. . . when news is news. . .” I long for that. I used to rely on certain media outlets for my news (television and radio specifically being spoken of here) but even those reliable ones are almost (but not quite) falling prey to the above. And you are right, the viewers absorb it all.

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