I wish to present a letter to the editor of a local newspaper. It was written by Darin Robbins, who is the treasurer of the Steuben County (NY) Green Party. He wants it to be clear that the views expressed are his own:
The shooting of Congresswoman Giffords, and the injuring and murder of others, should bring some facts to the foreground in our public debates. Much more than the need for civility, which is warranted, is the fact that the widespread expansion of rumours and outright lies as if they were true distorts people’s ability to comprehend reality. The shooter in this situation clearly had a history of mental illness, but we live in a time where outrageous and patently false claims are being considered possible facts by people of supposed average intelligence and sane disposition. For example, some elected members of Congress actually believe that president Obama is a “foreign-born secret Muslim socialist.” Stringing these lies together in one phrase shows how ridiculous they are, yet they continue to poison our discussion of policy and national direction.
If lies are considered truth, then how can real alternatives such as the Green Party emerge to supply the needed change in our economy and government? The use of violent imagery by the right, spread as far as the lies, also implies that violence is the only way to respond to this imagined threat. This use of violent rhetoric is part of the conservative movement’s belief in redemptive violence, or violence’s ability to solve problems. The violent rhetoric can be dismissed on its own by sane people, and the lies can be dismissed by sane people. But taken together they form an equation which those who truly believe the lies will see and try to enact.
One thing I would probably add is that those in the center and on the left aren’t exactly immune from violence—or lies, for that matter. Ultimately, each of us, no matter our perspective, must take responsibility for what we say, for what we put out into the world. Imagine what would happen if we first developed our ability to listen…and then to speak.
(Thanks to Darin for his insights and his kind permission to post them.)