When a troubled young man opened fire on a crowd in Tucson, Arizona, a few years ago, the world mourned the violent deaths of the six people he killed, including one child, in that rampage. Jared Loughner also wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, as well as others.
Giffords, a Jewish Democratic Congresswoman from a right-wing, anti-immigrant, pro-gun state, had been targeted before. When she voted to pass President Obama’s health care overhaul, her office was vandalized and she received tons of hate mail. Loughner himself had written paranoid, anti-government rants all over the web. As a result, those on the left wondered if hateful, right-wing rhetoric was to blame for this tragedy.
Sarah Palin had posted graphics on her website that showed a bulls-eye target over several districts, including the one represented by Giffords. In what some saw as a too-little, too-late gesture that at least partially acknowledged the power she yields, especially among angry and unstable psychopaths, Palin took down those graphics after the shooting. Jesse Kelly, Giffords’ opponent in their last election, was also blamed for inciting violence through the use of weapons and gun metaphors in campaign literature. He, too, removed those images from his website after the shooting.
As a response to the massacre, reporters perused the writings and statements of many conservative leaders, and a disturbing trend showed time and again. Both extreme and moderate pundits targeted liberals throughout the country with language that has undoubtedly formed a tidal wave of hate.
Encouraging people to consider “2nd Amendment solutions” in order to “take back our country” most certainly motivates the unhinged among us to move toward ever more extreme intolerance.
Right-wing commentators and politicians, who have used such imagery, laughing all the way to the bank or ballot box because they so successfully appeal to the dangerous fantasies of troubled souls, cannot then distance themselves from their biggest fans’ actions. We can’t let them. Since the late 1960s and early 1970s, the right has emerged as a comfortable home for fundamentalists who resort to threats, coercion, and violence.
But are they to blame for Loughner’s actions? Or the actions of any crazy person hell-bent on destruction?
They bear some responsibility for the atmosphere in this country, an atmosphere where such violence is to be expected. Palin, Kelly, Glenn Beck, and everyone else who encourages others to “reload” and “aim” for Democrats should be shunned instead of celebrated.
But two people have more influence over unstable gun-owning murderers than political pundits: parents.
And they are the ones who hold a lion’s share of the responsibility for inflicting damaged human beings on the rest of us.
Parents of troubled children should be considered accessories when those children are living comfortably at home and committing violent acts that threaten the health and safety of others. Moms and dads have more influence over their offspring than anyone on television, in the newspaper, or online. When they squander that influence or are found to have failed their kids, they fail the rest of us, too.
Various reports show that too many parents ignore or otherwise incorrectly respond to warning signs that their sons are in trouble. When tragedies happen, we hear about how the parents too often failed to provide the help their boys so clearly needed and yet they are allowed to hide from a public that deserves answers and accountability.
We are not prisoners in a world constructed by hateful conservatives. Parents can counteract negative energy with their own important influence. I should know. I do it every day.
For years, I’ve noticed the rhetoric getting darker, uglier. My family listens to the radio and hears Tucker Carlson saying Michael Vick should be killed. We read the newspaper and see Mike Huckabee calling for the execution of Julian Assange. My family and I were looking for the Boston Bruins game on television a few years ago and happened along NESN where two broadcasters talked about Jane Fonda’s breast cancer diagnosis. One said she should have been executed for treason based on her actions as a young woman visiting Vietnam.
In each instance, we took our children aside and explained that good people, true patriots, do not kill those with whom they disagree. Kind and loving Americans do not advocate violence in any form. My sons were eleven years-old when they first became aware of those who spew hatred, and my husband and I counteracted those images with logic, a reverence for life, and an appreciation for those who disagree with our views.
I remember too well the Columbine murders when many blamed Marilyn Manson and negative pop culture influences for the unthinkable violence and carnage. My fellow liberals suggested that such reasoning was flawed, because, really Manson was simply a rehashed Alice Cooper wannabe. Fine, but then those same liberals point a finger at Republican politicians, along with so many other vitriolic right wing pundits, without any sense of irony.
Granted, today’s conservative fundamentalists are more pervasive than a lone rocker who never advocated violence in the same way, but we must remember that we are not powerless under political pundits. If parents raise their children with positive values, administering mental health counseling and medication when it’s needed, the haters of the world won’t win.
When moms and dads do their job properly, troubled young men and women learn from the vitriol in others without acting on it. In such a world, that little girl would be alive and Gabby would still be a Congresswoman.
And the rest of us would be a whole lot safer.