The Circular Firing Squad

Recently I was watching one of those cop shows known for high speed chases, graphically dead victims and plenty of macho banter.

There was a scene where the good guys confronted the bad guys.  Then someone twitched and all the guns came out.  There they stood in a circle, everyone pointing a gun at someone else.  A lot of shouting ensued.

Hold that thought.

Recently my wife and I discussed why no one seems able to move away from the precipice of anger over which we collectively lean.  I think most of us agree backing up a few steps would be in everyone’s best interest.

So why isn’t anyone moving?  This week’s dangerous shenanigans provide a good case study.

When pipe bombs addressed to prominent Democrats started arriving in the mail last Wednesday, President Trump talked about them at that night’s political rally.  He called the mailings unamerican, but seemed pretty stiff doing it.  (Watch the clip.)  He was considerably more animated a week earlier at a Montana rally while praising local congressman Greg Gianforte for body slamming a reporter at a campaign rally in 2017.

“Greg is smart,” said the president at the Montana rally.  “Anybody who can body slam—he’s my guy.”  Trump’s comments were greeted with applause and laughter as he mimicked throwing someone to the ground.

And now we have an arrest in the pipe bomb case; Cesar Sayoc, 56, of Florida, an attendee of several Trump rallies.  His cousin described him (Sayoc) as “having taken too many steroids back in the day,” adding, “that stuff will melt your brain.”

Meanwhile, the president continues to declare himself blameless for creating an atmosphere resulting in Sayoc-like behavior.  It is, he insists, completely the fault of the capital-M Media, which consists of pretty much everybody but Fox News.

And many, of course, agree with Mr. Trump.  Democrats are not alone in being attacked by Americans angered to the point of violence against those with whom they disagree.   Last year Republican House Whip Steve Scalise was critically injured and several others were hurt when 66-year old James Hodgkinson, an ardent opponent of Trump, fired off 70 rounds from an assault rifle at a House Republican softball practice.

It baffles me that politicians of both parties believe they can say all manner of crap about their opponents, and then feign disbelief that people would act on their words.   If you say often enough that someone is an enemy of America, sooner or later someone will believe you—even though you’re just saying it to get a few more votes.  Enemies of America must be eliminated. Your deranged follower surely believes he is doing you a (wink, wink) favor.

Or, as NBC writer Danielle Campoamour observed Thursday, “History proves one cannot stoke ideological divides and then be appalled when those who listen to you take action.”

And so here we are, our American society, armed and dangerous, standing in a circle, with our guns, or pipe bombs, all pointed at each other.  Each of us shouting at the others to stand down, to drop their weapons, while we make no move to drop our own.

And we are led like marionettes by those who know well enough that fear, anger, and an all-out us-against-them mentality, expressed in 12-second sound bites that loop forever on social media, is a far faster way to get into our heads, hearts, and wallets than words of peace, conciliation, and bridge-building.

So what will it take get us all to lower our guns before the shooting really starts?  In Northern Ireland, 3,500 people died during the political and Catholic-Protestant battles known as “the troubles” between 1968 and 1998.  In the end, very little was resolved. Neither side won.  After thirty years people just got tired of all the fighting and death.  They decided to drop their weapons, sign a truce, and try working together instead.

Will it take us thirty years to decide the same thing?  And how much of what binds us together as Americans will be left when we do?

After all, it’s not the politicians’ fault we’re in this mess.  It’s our fault for tolerating it.

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