Paranoia as Prelude: Conspiracism and the Cost of Political Rage
For while Loughner would never have likely contemplated political assassination in a culture where the most pressing issue was, say, a simple philosophical disagreement over tax policy, or the proper balance between interest rates and full employment, or the percentage of GDP dedicated to debt service as opposed to long-term infrastructure investment, that is not the culture in which he (or any of us) lives. Rather, we live in a nation in which it is commonplace, and considered completely rational, for elected officials to believe the President is a foreign interloper. We live in a culture where the nation’s most powerful Republican, House Speaker John Boehner, cannot bring himself to condemn the maniacal derangement that is birtherism, but is reduced instead to a mere acknowledgement that since Hawaii says the President is a citizen, that’s “good enough for him.”
We live in a culture in which it is utterly normal, to a degree that has sadly made it nearly banal, to hear multi-million dollar, best-selling authors and talk show hosts suggest that the nation is on the verge of total fascism, death panels for the elderly, door-to-door gun confiscation, and the reconquest of the American southwest by Latinos bent on ethnic war. In short, in a society where paranoia is the daily currency of mainstream commentators, and pseudo-schizophrenic ramblings are elevated to the level of persuasive argument, we ought not be surprised that such a tragedy as occurred on Saturday might happen.
Whether or not Loughner was influenced directly by any of these words, these verbal daggers aimed at civil discourse, is quite beside the point. For these words, these daggers, are the very ether of the political culture in which he has come of age. They comprise the fabric of the larger ideological tapestry to which he has been exposed. And they are, like any toxin, bio-accumulative in the cells of the human animal, even more so for those whose chemical balance is already dicey at best. Especially when such persons have the misfortune of living in a society that has so completely stigmatized mental illness as to guarantee that most who suffer will receive no treatment.
In such a place as this, to claim that Americans may need to turn to “Second Amendment Remedies” for political change—as defeated Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle did in Nevada—or that Americans should be “armed and dangerous” to resist policies aimed at reducing climate change—as another Tea Party Republican, Michele Bachmann has—or that perhaps liberal politicians should be beaten to death with shovels—as Glenn Beck said about Congressman Charlie Rangel in 2001—is to invite chaos. It is to invite murder, whether by loners like Loughner or someone else down the line. It is inevitable. To insist, as Congressman Boehner did, that health care reform is tantamount to “armageddon”—not merely a matter of philosophical difference but the literal end of the world—is to all but invite the unbalanced to start slaughtering the forces of presumptive evil.
Many others comments have made similar points. Here are two of them: