I just got finished writing a column about how the internet is vile and vicious and people have become poisonous vipers in the privacy of their basements. It was in direct reaction to the blowback I received this week to my Bill Cosby essay, which, as my editor noted “broke the internet.”
I think she gives me too much credit, because I have it on good authority that the internet is like the child-proof seal on over-the-counter medicine and can never be broken, but I appreciate the shout-out.
And then, I re-read the column and realized that I’d missed the elephant in the room, the one that was shaking off her baseball gear and gesticulating frantically at me from the corner.
I got tweeted at, vilified, and flooded with emails hoping I’d be raped.
But someone else was in intensive care, in critical condition, suffering from a bullet wound that shredded his internal organs.
Several others were also in the hospital, having acted heroically to protect many other people who were in harm’s way in a park in Alexandria, Virginia.
And that column about bruised feelings seemed narrow, narcissistic and just completely tone deaf.
So I started all over again, but not without some understanding of what that first column had in common with this one: the hateful, heated, horrific tone of our current public discourse.
Words did not send a bullet into the body of Rep. Steven Scalise, or the other four people who were wounded Wednesday morning by another in a long line of gunmen.
But we can’t ignore the heavy impact that words have had on our psyches and our conduct, our good intentions and our bad faith, our hopes and our hype, and all the other things that fill our waking hours. Politics is no longer a game for gentlemen and gentle ladies, all gathered to advance the public welfare.
It is now a blood sport, and we saw that quite literally Wednesday morning.
Some will hesitate to connect the rhetoric of the political landscape to the averted massacre in Alexandria, attributing the killer’s motives to mental illness or easy access to guns. That eternal dance of gun control versus 2nd Amendment rights will continue to play out regardless of how many people are murdered (because if we’re still tripping the light fantastic after kindergartners were murdered before Christmas, we’ll never really learn the necessary lessons.)
But I think a big part of what happened this week has to do with the sickness that has begun to infect all of us, that truly “viral” cocktail of technology and pathology.
The man who shot Congressman Scalise hated Donald Trump. He made that very clear with his social media imprint, writing things on his Facebook page that I cannot reproduce here without using a large number of symbols, numbers and exclamation points. He was also a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders.
I have nothing but praise for Sen. Sanders. Immediately after the shooting occurred, he emerged on the Senate floor to condemn the attacks, and showed himself to be first and foremost an American, not a partisan. I do not share his beliefs or his policies, but I think he is one of the finest men in Washington.
But we cannot ignore the fact that the man who made a direct attack on Republican politicians hated Republicans, by his own words and deeds. We can be all Kumbaya about it and try and say that this is irrelevant, and we can also try and count the number of fairies that can dance on the head of a pin, but both would be a waste of time. The man who shot Steve Scalise hated him, because he was a member of the GOP in a government presided over by Donald Trump.
It was a hate crime.
I say this because I have to, because at every juncture since Donald Trump has been elected, people have been complaining about the rise in hate crimes. When cemeteries were vandalized, it was attributed to “hate,” when swastikas were painted on walls, it was blamed on “hate,” and when young Muslim women’s veils were ripped off of their heads, it was called “hate.”
Never mind that many of the incidents never happened or were fabricated to give the impression of a “hate wave.” We were all willing, so many of us, to believe that the seas of hatred were rising.
Well guess what? Maybe we, so many of us, were right after all. Maybe we have entered a new era of vilification, of poison, of anger and of distrust. Maybe we can stop pretending that mental illness is the problem, or the proliferation of guns, or poverty, or drugs, or whatever other ill has infected the populace. Maybe we ourselves are the problem, we are the infection, we with our harsh and brutal words scattered across the internet miles with impunity.
I would ask Congressman Scalise what he thinks, but he’s unable to answer, just now.
By Christine M. Flowers
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. -- Ed.
(Tribune Content Agency)