It is a high pitched squeal that pierces the air of this cold Sunday morning in America. Emanating from the rocky coast of Maine to the thin atmosphere of Arizona, it screams out from televisions and radios, over computer screens, around dinner tables and even, sadly, from more than a few pulpits. It is a sound both familiar and expected, but no less irritating for being so. The unmistakable screeching of brakes, coming from those wishing to distance themselves from the horror of yesterday’s shooting of a Democratic Congresswoman at a public event.
It spews from the one-half term governor of the state of Alaska, who now claims the crosshairs she placed over the congresswoman’s name on the map of the Democrats she “targeted” for removal in 2010 were actually nothing more than “surveyor’s symbols”. (She has yet, to my knowledge, explained away her admonishment to her followers to “Don’t retreat, reload!”. Perhaps that applies to surveyor’s as well?)
It is a sound that pours from those who refer to the individuals with whom they disagree as “evil” or “nazi”, who compare our President with Adolf Hitler and tell their unfortunate listeners that he “hates America”. To the sane amongst us, these words are preposterous, heinous and disgusting to be sure, but we hardly see them as marching orders. To the unbalanced, however, they can be heard at an entirely different decibel.
Here in America, we are taught at an early age that we live in the “greatest country on Earth". (Although, as writer David Sedaris so perceptively says, “no country ever proudly declares... we’re number two!”) With age, hopefully, comes a bit of wisdom and we begin to see that our greatness is not guaranteed merely because of our existence. If we cannot admit our deficiencies and alter them for the good, if we lose our ability to feel shame, history clearly teaches, our greatness will wither and die.
The rules were different when I was growing up. I can only imagine the thunder in my father’s face if anyone dared to ask him for whom he intended to vote. We knew not to go spelunking in the deeply held beliefs of others. Society was a bit more gracious and respectful then and, at the risk of sounding like an old crank, our country was all the better for it. But we now find ourselves in world greatly altered, as well as one infinitely smaller. Change can be threatening for those who lack the propensity, or perhaps, sadly, the capacity, for reasonable thought. But we cannot flourish with our hands over our eyes and our fingers wedged deep in our ears, locked in a room that admits no one save those who think and look and are just like us. If those of us of sound mind, with a love of home and country that walks hand in hand with a heart for good... if we do not stand against the hate and vitriol that is surging through our streets and over our airwaves, exactly where will we find ourselves in the next decade? In the next year?
There is a clear picture that remains in my mind of our senators and congressmen standing shoulder to shoulder on the Capitol steps, some weeping, some with heads bowed low, singing with humility instead of pride the well-known verses of God Bless America. This happened in the wake of September 11th when we were attacked from without. I can now only wonder what their reaction might be after the horror of yesterday’s attack from within.
“Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.”