Feature

Where hate speech meets gun culture

Is anyone really surprised at the massacre in Tucson? asked The Irish Times in an editorial.

Is anyone really surprised at the massacre in Tucson? asked The Irish Times in an editorial. The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the killing of six bystanders during her “Congress on Your Corner” event “did not come out of a clear blue sky.” The political rhetoric in the U.S. has become ever more martial since the election of Barack Obama two years ago. “Metaphors of war, a coming Armageddon, and armed revolution” are now common, at least on the right. Sarah Palin’s use of gun sights on a map of “targeted” Democratic districts, including that of Giffords, and her urging her followers to “RELOAD” are “among the more egregious” examples, but they are “not untypical.” In a country “where automatic weapons are bewilderingly available,” such talk is beyond irresponsible. Let’s hope this tragedy will be a wake-up call to America, and not just a “sad milestone on the continuing descent into poisonous intolerance.”

It’s too easy for Europeans to “climb on their moralizing high horses about the alleged propensity of Americans for politicized violence,” said Michael Burleigh in the London Times. In fact, no American politician has been killed in office since 1978. In Europe, by contrast, we’ve seen two Swedes assassinated, Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986 and Foreign Minister Anna Lindh in 2003. Pim Fortuyn, head of a Dutch political party, was killed “by a deranged environmentalist” during the 2002 election campaign. And that’s just from the lone killers. Europe also has produced plenty of terrorist groups, including the Irish Republican Army, which killed some 1,800 people over 30 years; the Basque group ETA, which killed about 800; and the many Greek anarchist groups. “Compared with Europe, the U.S. has had very little experience of domestic terrorism.”

Unfortunately, that could change, said Michael Stürmer in Germany’s Die Welt. The United States is not the place it used to be. There is an unaccustomed “atmosphere of strife and self-doubt as America encounters new limits to its power almost daily.” Americans have long thought of their country as a superpower that could do anything, with the world’s most dynamic economy and strongest military. In the past few years, though, the U.S. has stumbled badly on both fronts. The debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan were demoralizing enough, and then the financial system collapsed. It’s no wonder that “hatred and fear” now dominate the discourse.

There’s a more mundane reason for the coarsening of U.S. political rhetoric, said Mary Ann Sieghart in the London Independent. The vitriol on news broadcasts is a direct consequence of the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine. That regulation used to require news broadcasters to air “all sides of a controversial issue.” Its repeal in 1987 paved the way for the rise of Fox News, the right-wing channel whose stars regularly call President Obama a traitor and a socialist and warn that violence and revolution are coming. “If America is now as politically polarized as it has been since the Civil War, this is surely one of the reasons.” Americans can now spend their whole lives “in a reality bubble that’s way off the mainstream.” That is dangerous for politics—and “for the lives of politicians.”

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