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What happened in Tucson this weekend has rightly shocked and horrified many of us. The papers, and the blogosphere are a-twitch with attempts to put this in some kind of focus, or to hope that the tragedy of so many lives lost might help refocus America’s political atmosphere.

From my distance in miles and years, I fear that all this will be but a nine day wonder. The problem is simply too deep rooted, and the canker too far spread to be easily removed.

The problem, if it could be called a problem, is that it is the lack of political violence in the last twenty years that is the anomaly, rather than the shooting of a Congresswoman. For the last twenty years America has moved as in a dwam, a dream of endless comfort and ready credit, cheap cash and strong dollars and she fell into a sleep. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the universally acknowledged hegemony of the free capitalist West, America has basically had it easy. Easy credit, easy jobs, easy home purchases all seemingly coming from the triumph of liberal economies, unregulated markets and slackened political oversight.

That dream crashed with the economy, and the population has again woken up to politics in the real American world. It is not a pretty sight. This is not a collapse into political anarchy it is simply a return to business as usual.

Remember too, that four out of the six Presidents in the sixties, seventies, and eighties had attempts on their lives, and one was successful.

America is a violent society. It has always been violent and its politics have been particularly so. Nine Presidents out of the 43 have suffered assassination or attempted assassination: Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, Harry S Truman, John F Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford (twice) and Ronald Reagan. Of these nine, four died.

An attempt was made on the life of Franklin D Roosevelt when he was President-Elect, and on three Presidential candidates, Theodore Roosevelt, Robert Kennedy and George Wallace. Kennedy was killed, Wallace was left in a wheelchair.

Add to this eight governors, seven United States Senators, nine United States Congressmen, eleven Mayors, seventeen state legislators and eleven judges and it’s a pretty grim butchers bill.

Prima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, said on Saturday “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. This has not become the nice United States of America that most of us grew up in and I think it’s time we do the soul-searching”. Not wishing to tread on the Sheriff’s grief, he has clearly forgotten his childhood in the sixties? Remember all the riots in those “long hot summers”? Remember Kent University?. Remember Malcolm X, Medgar Evans and remember Martin Luther King?

Remember how the rights of the black man and woman were kept down by force and murder in the post reconstructionist South even into the 1960’s! There has been a violent history of Trades Unionism too. America is no gentle giant. No other country in the western world, nor any of the developed democracies can claim such a violent political history.

Shall I list them all? No I can’t, for there simply isn’t room. Rather, can I recommend that you search for “Political violence and terrorism in Modern America: A Chronology” by Christopher Hewitt. It’s available on line and does just what it says on the cover. Page after page, after page, in carefully researched, tabulated, serried ranks.

Americans are an emotional people who wear their hearts openly. Politicians stir up these emotions by the use of terms such as “second amendment remedies” (by which Sharron Angle meant the use of firearms). The rants of right wing shock jocks, Fox news and the likes of Glenn Beck only inflame an already febrile state. And overarching all else, easy gun law means that where, in other countries, an egg or a punch is thrown, in America people are killed.

Does Sarah Palin bear the heavy end of this? No I don’t think so particularly. But as the currently most obvious user of this rhetorical style, she will attract the greatest flak. She is deliberately confrontational and aggressive. Her using terms like “Don’t retreat-reload” merely plays to the violent and the bully. It may also prove the shortest political suicide note in US history.

To allow banners such as that illustrated at the head of the post, and which is by no means a solitary example, to be openly displayed is to be deliberately inflammatory, to use the trigger advert to target chosen opposition, and then trying to claim cross hairs are usual surveyors marks on maps, these are not the hall marks of the responsible politician, they are instead the hoof prints of the Demagogue and the mere rabble-rouser. It plays to the members of Klans, Order, Silent Brotherhood, The Covenant, Army of God, or Posse Comitatus and the rest, and gives them credibility and succour.

I do not think this will be the wake-up call for America that some hope, I fear instead it is simply the first event in another cycle of anger and violence.

Copyright David Macadam 2011

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