Climate of Hate

by on January 10, 2011 · 25 comments

in Civil Rights, Popular

By Paul Krugman / The New York Times / January 9, 2011

When you heard the terrible news from Arizona, were you completely surprised? Or were you, at some level, expecting something like this atrocity to happen?

Put me in the latter category. I’ve had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach ever since the final stages of the 2008 campaign. I remembered the upsurge in political hatred after Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 — an upsurge that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing. And you could see, just by watching the crowds at McCain-Palin rallies, that it was ready to happen again. The Department of Homeland Security reached the same conclusion: in April 2009 an internal report warned that right-wing extremism was on the rise, with a growing potential for violence.

Conservatives denounced that report. But there has, in fact, been a rising tide of threats and vandalism aimed at elected officials, including both Judge John Roll, who was killed Saturday, and Representative Gabrielle Giffords. One of these days, someone was bound to take it to the next level. And now someone has.

It’s true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled. But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate.

Last spring Politico.com reported on a surge in threats against members of Congress, which were already up by 300 percent. A number of the people making those threats had a history of mental illness — but something about the current state of America has been causing far more disturbed people than before to act out their illness by threatening, or actually engaging in, political violence.

And there’s not much question what has changed. As Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff responsible for dealing with the Arizona shootings, put it, it’s “the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.” The vast majority of those who listen to that toxic rhetoric stop short of actual violence, but some, inevitably, cross that line.

It’s important to be clear here about the nature of our sickness. It’s not a general lack of “civility,” the favorite term of pundits who want to wish away fundamental policy disagreements. Politeness may be a virtue, but there’s a big difference between bad manners and calls, explicit or implicit, for violence; insults aren’t the same as incitement.

The point is that there’s room in a democracy for people who ridicule and denounce those who disagree with them; there isn’t any place for eliminationist rhetoric, for suggestions that those on the other side of a debate must be removed from that debate by whatever means necessary.

And it’s the saturation of our political discourse — and especially our airwaves — with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence.

Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the right. It’s hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be “armed and dangerous” without being ostracized; but Representative Michele Bachmann, who did just that, is a rising star in the G.O.P.

And there’s a huge contrast in the media. Listen to Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, and you’ll hear a lot of caustic remarks and mockery aimed at Republicans. But you won’t hear jokes about shooting government officials or beheading a journalist at The Washington Post. Listen to Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly, and you will.

Of course, the likes of Mr. Beck and Mr. O’Reilly are responding to popular demand. Citizens of other democracies may marvel at the American psyche, at the way efforts by mildly liberal presidents to expand health coverage are met with cries of tyranny and talk of armed resistance. Still, that’s what happens whenever a Democrat occupies the White House, and there’s a market for anyone willing to stoke that anger.

But even if hate is what many want to hear, that doesn’t excuse those who pander to that desire. They should be shunned by all decent people.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been happening: the purveyors of hate have been treated with respect, even deference, by the G.O.P. establishment. As David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter, has put it, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering we work for Fox.”

So will the Arizona massacre make our discourse less toxic? It’s really up to G.O.P. leaders. Will they accept the reality of what’s happening to America, and take a stand against eliminationist rhetoric? Or will they try to dismiss the massacre as the mere act of a deranged individual, and go on as before?

If Arizona promotes some real soul-searching, it could prove a turning point. If it doesn’t, Saturday’s atrocity will be just the beginning.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Ernie McCray January 10, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Whoa, was Paul Krugman reading my mind? I’ve never seen my thoughts laid out so well, so in line with what I’ve been thinking. This is an important piece and I’m glad it’s in a paper that’s read by so many people. Oh, if we don’t do some serious soul searching…

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avatar Danny Morales January 10, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Ernie- Just finished reading Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower”. It made me feel grimly that where we’re headed is where we are! So I’m not going to hold my breath for any soul searching coming from the G.O.P. leadership. Let’s face it, they have no soul. The dismissal of this “… massacre as the mere act of a deranged individual” has already begun. And so has the degeneration of capitalism into barbarism. It’s politics as well. Grim stuff this violence.

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avatar Ernie McCray January 10, 2011 at 3:24 pm

You hit it, Danny.

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avatar Frank Gormlie January 10, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Dave Maass of San Diego CityBeat just sent us a link to his new post:

“San Diego white nationalist renews revolutionary rhetoric after Tucson shooting”

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avatar Sarah January 10, 2011 at 2:53 pm

I very glad that they took the post down. All we need is more of this awful stuff being posted on the internet.

Too bad everyone had to grab a screenshot and repost it everywhere so it’s seen even more.

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avatar The Bearded OBecian January 10, 2011 at 4:09 pm

While everyone can jump on board and lash out at the tea party, in particular, and conservatives in general, this tool was described as a pot-smoking leftist by kids who knew him in high school. Maybe that’s why he had an interest in Karl Marx and Animal Farm. That’s a square peg that doesn’t quite fit the round hole, so to speak, methinks. Perhaps it’s ironic that some are calling for a more civil discourse while casting blame at Sara Palin and conservatives for leading this nut job to kill so many people. Maybe we should step back from the ledge, take a deep breath, and place blame where it correctly lies, with the crazy who committed the mass murder, and not some imagined wet dream that would have Sara Palin and the tea party employing jedi mind tricks to compel that tool to murder.

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avatar Frank Gormlie January 10, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Also one of his favorite books was Mein Kampf by A. Hitler, and at least one by Ayn Rand. Ol’ bearded one, you are letting the extreme right off too easily. They have ratcheted up the hate speech for the last 2 years, and an unstable person is able to buy a gun, and attempt to intentionally assassinate a Democratic politician. The ‘why’s’ really don’t matter, it’s the wherefores that do, and the extremists, the militias, the gun toters and their leaders – including many in the tea parties have created a climate in this country where it’s okay to threaten the use of guns if you don’t get your political way.

As has been discussed on earlier posts here about this massacre, true conservatives and good Republicans do not support this kind of conduct in American politics. It’s those elements on the extreme right who do, and the rhetoric has been “reload”, “Second Amendment remedies”, threats of armed insurrection. This “crazy who committed the mass murder” – as you put it – did not operate in a vacuum – he operated in an atmosphere poisoned by the violent rhetoric of the extremists on the right.

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avatar The Bearded OBecian January 10, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Didn’t Jackie O once lament that Oswald was a communist instead of a right winger? That didn’t quite fit the narrative. Before we cast such a wide net, and that net includes just as many on each side of the political spectrum, perhaps we should wait and temper and vitriol. Why is everyone so sure that this tool is politically ideological? It’s nonsense on stilts to suggest that this freak show finds a home on the right. Had Congresswoman Giffords an R behind her name instead of a D, what motive would we impart? Likely the same reason that led to this senseless act, a psychotic who has held a grudge against Ms Giffords since apparently 2007, before anyone had heard of the Tea Party or Sara Palin; You remember, the good old days when protesters gladly paraded signs of a decapitated President Bush and likening him and his administration to the 3rd Reich. Not to mention when movies glorified his assassination. Nothing to see here, move right along. That was so last decade when people spoke truth to power. There’s nothing inherently extreme about wishing our then-president dead. Extremists to the left of me, jokers to the right.

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avatar Shane Finneran January 10, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Bearded, have you seen the video clip from last March where Congresswoman Giffords talked about how she felt threatened by Sarah Palin’s hunting-themed campaign:

“The thing is, the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that action.”

Seems to me it’s going to be very hard for Palin to overcome that clip, and the clip of the sheriff, and the clip of the 9-year-old’s crying father. Even if it turns out the shooter wasn’t a Palin fan, there already has been a lot of anti-Palin evidence presented in the court of public opinion, which doesn’t always embrace the concept of innocent until proven guilty.

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avatar Marilyn Steber January 11, 2011 at 9:41 am

Got a picture of the decapitated Bush poster? I never saw one in San Diego in the whole time I protested against Bush. I do, however, have several tees saying Arrest Bush. And I have one with the countdown of soldiers killed in Iraq. That became too unwieldy to keep up to date and I gave up trying.

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avatar Dorothy Lee January 10, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Krugman writes for the New York Times, ….not WaPo, as indicated on the OG Rag main page.

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avatar Frank Gormlie January 10, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Thanks Dorothy for catching that. I had made the original error on the post’s page, and caught it, made the change, but then forgot to make a similar change on what we call the “excerpt” – what readers see on the home page.

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avatar Diane5150 January 10, 2011 at 7:28 pm

June 2000, I was hospitalized the first time in Missoula, Montana. My offense, I made a fake pipe bomb, and I wanted to die by cop. Well, things do not turn out like we think they will. I’m still alive, and I gave the city of Missoula valuable bomb squad training. I was fortunate that I wound up in Missoula, a city of compassion. My point is this, until we as a culture begin to value human beings over profit, there will be more acts like the Tuscon massacre.

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avatar annagrace January 10, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Diane- It is apparent that the Tuscon shootings affected you in a deeply personal way. And that you have a very unique personal perspective. I am glad that you are here to tell part of the tale.

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avatar Diane5150 January 11, 2011 at 10:53 am

Thanks Anna, It has been a long strange journey so far. I remember Reagonomics and the mental patients who were turned loose on the streets, becoming homeless and unmedicated. That’s the problem with capitalism and our system of PACs and Political Parties. Without money there is no voice. Violence is the inevitable end.

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avatar RB January 11, 2011 at 12:53 pm

There was a reason patients were turned loose on the streets. The ACLU fought several court cases and lead the effort to de-institutionalize the care of these patients. As a result of their court efforts mentally impaired patients can only be held for 72 hours and cannot be held without their consent.

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avatar Shane Finneran January 11, 2011 at 1:25 pm

It’s more complicated than that, RB. Here’s a good primer:

“The law that Reagan signed was the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (LPS), passed by the legislature & signed into law in 1967 by Governor Ronald Reagan… to “stem entry into the state hospital by encouraging the community system to accept more patients, hopefully improving quality of care while allowing state expense to be alleviated by the newly available federal funds.” It also was designed to protect the rights of mental patients… It facilitated release of many patients—supposedly to go to community mental health treatment programs…

“What Reagan did was, at the same time the bill was passed, to reduce the budget for state mental hospitals. His budget bill “abolished 1700 hospital staff positions and closed several of the state-operated aftercare facilities. Reagan promised to eliminate even more hospitals if the patient population continued to decline. Year-end population counts for the state hospitals had been declining by approximately 2000 people per year since 1960.

“This law presumed that the people released from hospitals or not committed at all would be funneled in community treatment as provided by the Short Doyle Act of 1957… unfortunately, at the time LPS was implemented, funding for community systems either declined or was not beefed up. Many counties did not have adequate community mental health services in place and were unable to fund them. Federal funds for community mental health programs, which LPS assumed would pick up the slack, began drying up in the early 1980s, due to budget cutbacks in general…”

(above quote is from discussion of this topic on Snopes message boards: http://msgboard.snopes.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=37;t=001063;p=0 )

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avatar Diane5150 January 11, 2011 at 2:05 pm

There is a great divide between the law and reality. In 2007 I was held against my will for two days in an emergency room. I was forced to give blood. I was intimidated into compliance by four large officers who were brought in just for me. There were no drugs in my system. Drugs and alcohol have never been my problem.

After those two days I was shackled, handcuffed, then put in a sheriffs van with two officers who were sharing internet porn with each other on their phones while driving me to Yuma. The driver would often swerve across the center divide. When I asked him to please keep his eyes on the road, I was threatened with violence if I did not shut up.

I was then held for a week at a treatment facility, in lock down. I was not medicated. I was observed and intimidated.

My crime, I wanted to die and I went into the desert to do that. I was going to starve and dehydrate myself until I died. I was out there for ten days. I was happy to be there.

I was tracked down like an animal then body searched by a female officer in full view of the male officers. Based on their comments, the male officers clearly got a twisted thrill while watching this happen to me.

In my experience mental illness puts me in the same class as a criminal. With one exception, I have no rights, despite laws to the contrary.

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avatar annagrace January 11, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Diane- I recently read another sobering look at suicide by the daughter of Anne Sexton. I don’t know how or if it applies to your personal situation. As a young woman I read Anne Sexton’s poetry, and Sylvia Plath and of course Virginia Woolf. Their words continue to haunt me.
http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2011/01/08/half_in_love_excerpt/index.html

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avatar Diane5150 January 11, 2011 at 5:20 pm

I have learned one thing about life, never, say never. Thanks for sharing that link.

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avatar Frank Gormlie January 11, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Thanks Shane for clarifying this. Nicely done.

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avatar annagrace January 11, 2011 at 4:09 pm

“n the past year, Pima County, Ariz., where Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others were shot Saturday, has seen more than 45 percent of its mental health services recipients forced off the public rolls.” Nothing to do with the ACLU, but has much to say about Arizona’s Brave New (Right wing Republican) World.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/11/pima-county-mental-health-services_n_807522.html

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avatar Frank Gormlie January 10, 2011 at 8:39 pm

… and on another note … Tom DeLay, former Republican House majority leader, sentenced to three years in prison.

Tom DeLay was convicted of conspiring to direct laundered money to Republican candidates for the Texas legislature in 2002.

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avatar Patty Jones January 10, 2011 at 10:26 pm

During late night television last week I saw something about the RNC Chairman Debate where one of the questions asked of the panel was “How many guns do you own?” The audience and the panel thought it was pretty funny and maybe it was supposed to be some kind of joke… Here’s a YouTube link to the video of the 2011 debate

I looked around a little more and found that they asked the same question in 2009, although with some snarky comment that the question was coming from the incoming Obama administration.

Is this a standard question?

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