Over the weekend I did my best to stay away from the news, but in an age where technology makes everyone a walking, talking breaking news desk, I was subjected to the world against my will.
Needless to say, everything I saw in my Twitter feed disgusted me to the point where all I wanted to do was cast the phone into the nearest storm drain and let Pennywise feel what it’s like to be terrorized for a while.
It was a cruel weekend. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul was attacked from behind by his neighbor while the Senator was mowing the grass. Five of his ribs were broken. People who know both Paul and the attacker describe the men as political opposites in all ways, with Paul being somewhat of a small l libertarian and his neighbor being a socialist.
I know Senator Paul. Not as well as I’d like, but we’ve met a couple times, and I like him. That he was physically assaulted and hurt not so long after being shot at breaks my heart. Love him or hate him, Paul doesn’t deserve the kind of flak he’s getting outside normal political discourse.
If that was the worst of it that would be bad enough, but it wasn’t, and the events that took place on Sunday were simply horrifying.
The story goes that a man often describe by his peers as an outcast and something that I call an “evangelical atheist” — meaning he’s so anti-religion that almost everything out of his mouth is to preach an anti-deity message, usually against Christianity specifically — walked into a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church and shot 26 people, killing them.
What hit me went beyond the fact that innocent people were being harmed by crazed individuals. It was the reaction to it that hit me.
According to many, Rand Paul deserved to be attacked by his neighbor. To people in my timeline, it was right that those Christians died. Why?
Because Rand Paul is a Republican. Because those Christians were white and in Texas, and that means they have to be Republicans.
Some took a different tac, and immediately attacked Republicans for the Sutherland Springs attack whole hog like Chelsea Handler did. For her, it was the Republicans’ fault because they like guns. Or for others, it was the NRA’s fault, because they’re supposedly putting guns into the hands of anything with a pulse.
Despite my years of working in the media and being confronted with all the worst humanity has to offer, it’s things like this that I still cannot wrap my head around. In the course of my career, I’ve had to listen to audio tapes of men beating their girlfriends, and watched videos of terrorists decapitating prisoners with a knife. I’ve seen horrible things that will haunt me the rest of my life.
But I can at least recognize evil when I see it. I can understand evil. I can fight evil. Most importantly I can hate evil, the reason for hate’s existence in the first place. I know it sounds odd but despite the horrific atrocities I’ve seen, I can at least wrap my head around a thing so black and white.
But in a time when our nation is bleeding, the idea that a mob could unite to further turn on their fellow countrymen is still a thing I cannot understand.
A Republican didn’t pull the trigger in that church or attack Senator Paul. The NRA didn’t advocate that a convicted felon should be able to own that gun. In fact, they believe the opposite. A Christian would condemn all of these horrific things and more. In fact, all groups being pointed at in blame do.
So why do so many people believe this group deserved to die or suffer assault? Why would the mob condemn the targeting of one group on one day, and celebrate the targeting of another group the next? They rejoice in these deaths like the people in that church were terrorists, instead of the innocent people minding their own businesses that they were.
You would think that psychotic killer was a hero, or that he was helped along by the very people he targeted and killed by some accounts.
It’s hard for me to believe that many of these people who attack Republicans or rejoice in the deaths or harm of political opponents are evil. They’re everyday Americans like you and me.
Has the media painted the right as evil so well that people literally think that the average white Christian is akin to a terrorist, and must be eliminated? Has our political discourse gotten so nasty that we would turn our guns or fists on our neighbor simply because we disagree on healthcare reform? That shooting Christians in a church, or politicians on a baseball field will become a regular occurrence?
Are we edging toward a civil war, not waged on a battlefield, but this time from town to town, or street to street, in a string of random violent attacks? Will we see more events like the one in Charlottesville, but this time not between two radical groups, but between divided community members?
I don’t know where we’re headed, and I hope this is the worst it will get, and from here it only gets better. However, judging from the ultra-partisan reporting of major news networks, the rise of radicals, and the innocent blood that is flowing like a river to power this or that narrative generating machine…I’m not so sure.
It used to be enough to put down my devices and walk away, but even my escapism is riddled with political narratives, negativity, and tiresome messages that are too often insulting to me and mine.
We are being driven mad, and as some have demonstrated, some of us madder than others.
We are literally killing ourselves with our political discourse. I’m all for a heated debate, but the narrative that one side or the other is a boogieman coming to get you have to stop.
It’s creating real boogiemen, and too many are not surviving the encounter.