The morning of the shooting at the Congressional baseball practice I arrived for a meeting in a building directly across the street from the ballpark. There was a massive police presence. The FBI teams were arriving. The press was mostly cordoned off to the north and south of the park. It was the scene that has been occurring with increasing frequency in this country.
The day after the shooting Congress was all the bloom with bipartisanship. One after another Republicans and Democrats came forth to say that it was time to tone down the rhetoric. As reasonable as that might sound to reasonable people, my view is that these were simple acts of self-preservation. Once these sudden converts to civility realized that they were very soft targets and that there were people out in the country who were feeling desperate enough to undertake such an act, they came together in an attempt to deflect the threat.
Of course, they miss the point and have apparently failed to grasp the underlying cause of the attack. Rhetoric, however extreme, is only a manifestation of an underlying condition. It’s not even a symptom but a deployed distraction intended to divert attention from a reality that is becoming so painful to an increasing percentage of the population.
In a recent documentary on coal country, there were a series of interviews with locals. The focus was two fold. The first was the likelihood that the coal industry, and the associated jobs, would ever come back. There was general agreement that the answer to that question was no and that politicians had sold the residents of West Virginia a bill of goods in order to get their votes and have now made it clear that they have no further use for them.
But the most poignant part, the second focus of the interviews, was on the epidemic of opioid addiction that was tearing through communities in the state. I remember one comment – it’s seared in my memory. A woman, who was an addict, said the following: “There is nothing here for us. There are no jobs. There is no economic opportunity. Our schools, roads and other public services are deteriorating. Here there is only the drugs.”
It is pathetic to see a group of elected officials blame the condition and anger of people like this on “rhetoric”. Every action that the current administration and ruling party has taken produces a clear indication that their real agenda is to enrich the wealthy, enhance the position of the powerful and bleed the middle-class of what little blood it has left. Healthcare reform drives millions off the roles and gives a massive tax break to the wealthy. The same is true of tax reform. The social safety net is shredded by the very politicians who promised to protect it. The unavoidable conclusion is that their government is owned by the wealthy and powerful and the billionaire they elected as president has sold them out. It should not be surprising that a small but growing part of the population comes to believe that such drastic actions are their only option.
All this talk about toning down rhetoric will have no effect on what is most likely going to happen. I don’t believe that the attack in Alexandria will be a one off – just like Sandy Hook and columbine were not. As the anger and sense of betrayal builds, particularly among those voters who supported candidates who promised to come to their aid and then sold them out, it is very likely that this may become the new normal. I sincerely hope that is not the case and that the government will finally be of the people, by the people and for the people. For if it does not, I fear many shall perish from the earth.
© Earl R. Smith II, PhD