Today, James von Brunn became the latest domestic terrorist to express his political views with an act of murder, in this case an attempted mass murder. National Holocaust Museum security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns, by contrast, joined an inspiring list of American heroes who have stopped a terrorists bullet with their own bodies.
While we mourn for the loss of Stephen Johns and our hearts reach out to his family and loved ones, it is worth considering a simple question: What can each of us do to stop this startling trend--this horrible switch some Americans are making from talk to violence to express their politics?
To be realistic, the people who have been directly victimized by these crimes never had the luxury of feeling safe. Nonetheless, now is the time for each of us to ask what we can do to stem this trend of violence.
For starters, we can pause and insist on a better political debate and we can talk openly about the kind of political talk we demand from our media, our politicians, and ourselves.
This moment when politics seems to be turning from talk to killing has emerged at a time when our politics is dominated by an alarming amount of over-the-top confrontational rhetoric firing on all cylinders from every form of broadcast media. It is not just unpleasant, but capable of heating already simmering citizens to the boiling point.
As summer heats up, we should all do what it takes to ratchet the political rhetoric down.
My suggestions are simple enough for everyone to do immediately.
First, the next time we hear a radio or TV host bombard an issue with overstated, violent rhetoric--we need to speak out against it. We should turn it off, sure. But we also need to tell our neighbors, friends, and coworkers that we do not want that kind of talk in our media.
Second, the next time we hear a politician incite hateful rage on the campaign trail with unsubstantiated claims and conspiracy theories about their opponents--we need to speak out against it. We should vote for someone else, sure. But we also need to tell our neighbors, friends, and coworkers that we do not want that kind of talk in our elections.
What each of us can do is stop consuming the rhetoric that pushes people to even consider violence as legitimate politics. And then, we need to say in our own words what kind of civic culture we want to reclaim.
Insisting on a better public debate will not magically do away with the various hateful ideologies that drive political assassins to kill, but it can go a long way to cooling things down.
The fact is, Americans are out of practice standing up and saying in our own words what kind of public discussion we expect in our politics. What we want is a conversation in the media and in the public square that helps us get the information we need to understand the complex problems we can only solve together.
We want a productive, pragmatic debate. To get back to it, we need to say so out loud.
As we head into summer, each of us can honor the memory of Stephen Tyrone Johns not only with our silent prayers, but by sharing with others the kind of talk we want in our politics.
(cross posted from Frameshop)