When I first heard the news Wednesday morning of the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise, an aide, and two Capitol Hill police officers in Alexandria, Virginia, my first reaction was “The shooter must have been influenced by the hate spewed by liberals and the main stream media.” While the shooter, James Hodgkinson, must be mentally unstable to commit such an act, the hatred directed toward President Trump specifically, and the GOP in general, has to have the effect of poisoning many people’s minds against a segment of our nation’s government, indeed toward a segment of all of our citizens.
When such talk becomes ordinary and accepted, the boundary between civil and anti-social behaviors becomes blurred, making it easier for people to act on their anti-social impulses.
If you doubt this influence of negative, hateful news reports and commentary about political opponents and their supporters, think back on your own recent reactions; I’m confident that the vast majority of this paper’s readers had very strong reactions, perhaps even up to the level of hatred, after hearing such reports. Liberals react in strong agreement with anti-Trump reports just as conservatives had such reactions in agreement with anti-Obama reports during the previous administration, and both react strongly against verbal attacks on their “favorites.”
Hatred breeds hatred, and violence breeds violence. Acts such as Kathy Griffin publishing a photo holding President Trump’s bloody severed head, and The Public Theater in New York staging a modern production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” with an obvious Donald Trump icon in the title role being stabbed to death by women and minorities should not be acceptable in our democracy.
Public displays of hatred from the press and from politicians influence people who have trouble separating fiction from reality, and it is a too-short step from hearing and seeing such talk to actually shooting someone who is in the “wrong” party or holds the hated “wrong” views. The act of shooting lies with the individual, but the attitude that made the act seem acceptable, even praiseworthy, is created by the polarization and hatred in our society, our politics, and our mainstream media.
So what can you and I do about it? We aren’t political leaders, or movie stars or athletes with hordes of followers hanging on our every Tweet. Some of us may feel that we don’t have any influence on society at all. But any of us can talk with friends and neighbors, or write letters to this paper (and many of us do!). And in doing so, we can remember the importance of using “civil discourse,” respecting our audience as individuals even when we disagree with their views. We can try to help them understand our viewpoint instead of sinking to insults and name-calling.
I ask everyone who submits a letter or “Valley Voices” commentary to this paper to put themselves in the readers’ shoes before submitting the comments. Would you like to be talked to as you are addressing your readers? Are you “talking down” to them with insults and name-calling, or are you treating them with respect? Are you defending your ideas, or belittling your opponent?
The right of free speech not only gives us the right to make our viewpoint public, it also charges us with the responsibility of honoring that right for others. Have your say, but present your arguments with grace and logic, not insults and brow-beating.
Dr. Charles Smith earned a Ph.D. in finance, and taught business and economics courses at two different universities before switching to high school math teaching. He retired from Silverado High School in 2013, and continues to pursue a lifelong interest in politics and political economy.