This being Washington, D.C., where I write in the wake of the horrible shooting on Saturday of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and 19 other people in a Tucson shopping mall, many observers are rushing to calculate the role of our political culture in this tragedy. The questions fly off our TV screens, our laptops, our daily newspapers, demanding immediate answers.
Is the nation’s toxic political discourse—crosshair gun sights on Sarah Palin’s web page to target Gifford’s congressional district—to blame? What should President Obama do or say? Will anything change in the way some activists point to the government and its representatives as totems of all that’s evil in our culture? These questions, often followed by speculative opinions, fell from pundits’ lips well before the details of the shooter’s motives could be clearly understood.
“A day after the shooting of Ms. Giffords and 19 other people in Arizona focused the nation’s attention on the heat of its political culture, Republicans and Democrats began the delicate task of navigating a tragedy that has the potential to alter the political landscape,” wrote Jeff Zeleny and Jim Ruttenberg wrote in Sunday’s editions of The New York Times. “Yet beneath that public sense of comity was a subtlche round of jockeying—on cable news, blogs, Twitter and even Ms. Palin’s Facebook page—as both sides sought to gain the high ground and deal with the risks and challenges presented by the shootings.”
This is the wrong way to reflect on the Tucson massacre. There are no winners, only losers, when individual acts of violence suddenly shatter political discourse. History ought to inform us that this sad incident in and of itself will change nothing politically, only inflicting unspeakable pain and suffering on undeserving people.
Yet our culture is ever-evolving and changing, I believe, for the better. Indeed, the enduring message of the last great surge of violence in our nation during the Civil Rights movement should remind Americans that attempting or even succeeding at assassinating community leaders never stops the march of history. More likely, the horror of violence pushes cultural changes along faster than those madmen who wield weapons desire or imagine.
Read the full column here.
Sam Fulwood III is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. His work with the Center’s Progress 2050 examines the impact of policies on the nation when there will be no clear racial or ethnic majority by the year 2050.