Sunday, December 14, 2008

Palin's Church Torched

Today's Examiner reports that the church attended by Governor Sarah Palin and her family has been badly damaged by a fire which has been determined to have been caused by arson.

The details, perpetrators and motives are still under investigation, and I will, of course, suspend judgment until all the facts are in, but let this stand as a conditional statement: Here is a glaring example of the depths to which the vitriolic atmosphere which grows like a cancer in American politics will ultimately take us. Somehow we have come to a place where policy differences become yoked to a visceral hatred which invites the unhinged to take actions like these.

It is a very ominous trend, one which undermines the very foundations of our democracy, and of our pluralistic society as a whole. If we cannot disagree without demonizing, then we will surely reap the whirlwind.

If this shameful incident turns out to be what it appears, then it is a stain on our Republic, and I hope even the most fervent Palin-haters out there will use it as an occasion to reflect on the pathology which the Governor has awoken in dark hearts of some people. Aside from all the other ways in which an act like this is nauseating, it points to a fundamental breakdown in the faith which some citizens of this great Nation place it its system of laws and in their validity for resolving differences among us. Chaos waits hungrily, just outside the gates of such an outrage.

UPDATE: Link fixed.

UPDATE 2: Just to be perfectly clear, here, I am not equating those who emigrate from the US as a result of their beliefs with those who would torch a church, bomb a government building, etc. The latter are dangerously deranged, and deserving of nothing but scorn and punishment as the criminals that they are, regardless of their views. The former may hold beliefs that I find problematic...but at least they have the courage of their convictions. Further, those who choose to check out of the US are exercising their freedom under its laws (more than a bit ironic, actually), while those of a terroristic bent are implicitly voting "no confidence" in those laws and the freedoms they protect.

It's an important difference, which bore clarifying.


Mr.Hengist said...

For the purposes of discussion I will assume that this deplorable act of arson was committed by a Liberal on ideological grounds. There is an understandable desire to point to an incident such as this and wave the red shirt, i.e., to cast blame on ideologues for their inflammatory rhetoric. I don’t think it’s appropriate in this case.
Although it is true that quite a few Liberal politicians, pundits, and bloggers have made the most wild accusations against the Right of “shredding the constitution”, remaking of America as a theocratic police-state, making comparisons of Bush to Hitler, and so forth and so on, there is a case to be made that it is received in as unserious a manner as it is made. This hysteria of Liberals is a rhetorical bludgeon with which they shift the bounds of political debate out of the realm of reason and facts and into the realm of raw emotion. It is, however, unserious, and to demonstrate that concretely I submit that Liberals who promulgate this kind of slander and sputtering idiocy do not, in fact, act as if it were true. Few and far between are the ex-pats who have fled the fifty states to seek sanctuary from the coming dissolution of our republic, and fewer still have made any preparations whatsoever to defend what’s left or take it back once it is lost. In short, they talk as if Bush is like Hitler, but they don’t act like it – because they know that’s not true.
There those unhinged folk who walk among us – the loose cannon with a screw loose – who really do believe and take it upon themselves to strike a blow for freedom, or whatever it is they think they’re doing. Unless those Liberals spewing fear and hatred have directly incited acts of violence I can only condemn their rhetoric; I cannot blame them for the actions of a lone nut.
This is not to defend those Liberals who have engaged in the rhetoric I allude to above, but rather to exonerate them from having to take responsibility for the actions of an individual. If we can’t draw a line between them then it shouldn’t be penciled in by inference. We cannot say that, in general, Liberals have encouraged acts of violence such as was committed against the church and churchgoers of Wasilla, and if we do then we invite that double-edged sword to be swung against us in turn as we have our own kind of “politics of fear” – the justifiable fear of Islamic Jihadists and their plots against we infidels of the West.
If indeed this does turn out to be the act of a crazed Liberal then we need to hold other Liberals accountable to their own reactions. That is to say, those Liberals are to be condemned who apologize for it, or excuse it, or support it. “He torched the church, and who can blame him?” is the wrong answer to this crime, and while no Liberals will be required to address the issue, those who do must condemn it without reservations or themselves be condemned for their support, however tacit.

Noocyte said...

my point is not so much that the overheated paranoiac rhetoric which has infected our political discourse is the cause of incidents like the church burning, as I know you know. Crazy people will do crazy things.

Rather, my point is that such ranting acts progressively (har-har) to erode the checks on crazed vigilantism (or whatever you would call "activism" like this) by fostering an environment of hatred and mistrust. When even less crazy people come to believe that they live in a country in which a Right-Wing Fascist Theocratic Conspiracy (or, for that matter, a Left-Wing Communist Islamist-Enabling one) can grow unless they Do Something, the threshold for such Doings slips dangerously low.

Of course, the vast majority of Bush Derangement Syndrome sufferers do not do more than grumble and shriek and complain....while continuing to ply their trades and pay their taxes and live in this country. A vanishingly small number of them take matters into their own hands in any material way, whether by moving out of the country or by perpetrating some sort of mayhem within it. Thankfully.

Referring to such grumblings and shriekings and complaints as merely "unserious" is usually true, and mostly that's how I get myself through the night. The concern I have is that letting the "raw emotion" you correctly identify continue to hold sway in our discussions of policies and candidates has a corrosive effect on our faith in the lawful political process to maintain the integrity of the Republic.

I have had discussions with people of the Left who have said --with a perfectly straight face-- that if they were diagnosed with a terminal disease and had nothing to lose, they would seriously consider making an attempt on Bush's life. Seriously. Would they ever actually do it? Probably not. But that such a thought would ever even occur to a citizen of this Nation points to a Very Big Problem with the way politics are conducted and digested.

Can anything be done about these perilous trends in American politics? Probably not (though this very blog represents my own small attempt to portray a contrasting viewpoint in as balanced a way as I can to those who might otherwise go through their days in a state of certainty that no other perspective exists in any valid I used to believe, before I really started to get into the habit of digging).

Mr.Hengist said...

There's a nuance in this that's causing me some trouble. You state that "overheated paranoiac rhetoric ... [is not] the cause of incidents like the church burning ..." You also state that "such ranting ... [erodes] the checks on crazed vigilantism ... by fostering an environment of hatred and mistrust." Allow me to paraphrase: paranoiac rhetoric may incite marginally non-crazy citizens to acts of violence, but that doesn't apply to this church burning because that was the act of a crazy person. In my own comments I think I left this point ambiguous, but are we - you and I - automatically assigning the mental status of the perpetrator of this act to that of a crazy person? If we do so then we are giving a pass to the hateful rhetoric of Liberals which (we will assume) have inspired this crime, but to reiterate my original point (which bears repeating in this context), while no group can control the acts of a lone nut, we must hold the group accountable for any supportive reactions to the nut acting on their behalf. I would no more want to be held accountable for some right-wing nut taking a shot at President-elect Obama because I have expressed concern over his Liberalism than I would countenance a Liberal being held accountable for the actions of this church-burner on the basis of overheated rhetoric.
I'm not sure I have a point here - I'm just chewing this over.
At any rate, it is sad but unsurprising to me that you know Liberals who say they would have made an assassination attempt on POTUS Bush in the event of their being diagnosed with a fatal disease. I've always found it curious that those who would commit themselves to a cause would do so on what amounts to hearsay. It's sort of similar to the country club investors of Bernie Madoff, I suppose - rather than do their own due diligence with their fortunes they relied on the say-so of trusted peers, and in doing so fell victim to fraud. Richard Fernandez at The Belmont club happened to have an interesting piece on that today (specific to the Madoff crime, but focusing on the trust network that enabled it).
I think there is something that can be done about it in regards to national politics. Although the Bush Administration has never been able to figure out a way to get their message delivered by the gatekeepers of the MSM, they always chose to placidly reiterate their message ad infinitim when wild and unfounded accusations were made against them. It might serve the Republicans to add a bit of well deserved theater to their refutations, although they need not descend to red-faced sputtering. I would think that mocking ridicule would goad the MSM into at least carrying their message.

Noocyte said...

I think the point I'm trying (not altogether successfully!) to make here is that political speech which is allowed, nay encouraged to degenerate into histrionic, zero-sum screeching which does not allow nuance or balance is corrosive on many levels.

For people whose reality-testing is more-or-less intact, it alienates them from their fellow citizens though the certainty that anyone who does not hold the same views must be corrupt, stupid, or, at best, woefully ill-informed. It damages relationships and pollutes conversations which might otherwise be mutually beneficial by illuminating contrasting views and exchanging valuable information which might actually lend itself to varying degrees of compromise.

For those whose purchase on reality is more tenuous, it can prompt more direct action which might otherwise be suppressed. Crazy people will do crazy things, but I can visualize pretty clearly a scenario in which more crazy people would do more crazy things when the ambient atmosphere lends itself a sense that the workings of society can be so readily subverted by assorted cabals and conspirators. It is unwise to play "six degrees of separation" with a paranoid.

So, when the cable news broadcasts are promulgating (and the blogosphere is amplifying) the most lurid and tendentious versions of various political narratives, I don't think it unreasonable to posit that it might light a fire under those who are predisposed to see Design in mere coincidence. And to act on that conviction.

The reaction of partisans to events like the church burning (or the oft-cited abortion clinic bombings) is a related but distinct point. Surely, it reflects very poorly on a group which would fail to roundly condemn such an act. But it also is coextensive with the broader, explosive atmosphere which is so alarmingly conducive to such commentary.

Were the nature of our national conversation more temperate in tone, I can't help but think that many of these potential delusional vandals and terrorists would be operating at a much lower threat level. This would be a good thing.

If nothing else, it would titrate the agita of various social and family gatherings!