An update and a clarification: I was watching FoxNews yesterday and saw that Neil Cavuto on his segment “Common Sense” was arguing the opposite point that I made in yesterday’s post: that we should not worry about the “atmosphere” affecting the shooter, who was clearly a deranged individual. This is a great example of what I strenuously oppose: yes, he was deranged, but that doesn’t mean that the atmosphere is entirely not culpable, nor does it mean the environment does not need to be examined.
Further, his example to support his position was that John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of Abe Lincoln occurred before blogs, before talk radio, etc. This is the worst example he could have picked for his case – I mean, who can disagree a country at civil war is not a hostile and violent environment for political discourse? The lead-up to the Civil War saw some of the worst excesses of hostile rhetoric, both among the public and among the members of Congress (such as the infamous caning of a Congressmen during the 1850s).
We’re nowhere near this level of animosity, but we need to examine our political discourse in every outlet, not just for blogs, talk radio, or cable news – although these outlets may provide some of the most extreme excesses of incivility. Incivility pervades the discourse in all forms – from the floor of Congress where the President is accused of lying to ordinary individuals exchanging a mix of reasoned and uncivil comments on news stories.
In the wake of this tragedy, we’ve seen at least some attempt at avoiding uncivil partisan politicking in Congress. But when we again must face some of the intense political issues likely to create political tension – issues like immigration reform, health care, or gay rights – we can avoid some of the worst excesses of incivility and remember, as Loughner didn’t, to seek understanding and empathy, rather than surrendering to blind hatred.