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Michael Roth

Michael Roth

Posted: January 10, 2011 08:11 PM

Sowing the Rage

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In the wake of the killings in Arizona we should not be talking about Sarah Palin, or about media elites and who should apologize to whom. We should be talking about the ease with which a very disturbed young man was able to plug his demons into a culture of rage cultivated by the Right. And then why he was able to buy an automatic weapon to turn his personal eccentricities into a public nightmare.

"Energizing the base" has become just a euphemism for demonization, the glorification of macho violence, and the cultivation of hatred through stoked resentment. It makes for popular television but not decent citizens or good government. For many, rage is fun to watch because it seems to convey sincerity and concern, but now we are reminded again that the borders of rage are porous, and that it easily spills into violence. The theatrical mock rage of right-wing commentators suddenly becomes very real when a dope or a crazy person can buy an automatic weapon and turn buffoonery into tragedy. The rhetoric of eliminating one's enemies cultivated by the right-wing media may seem like just a place to sell ads and products. If dopes and kooks along with the rest of us didn't have access to guns then it would just be another part of our consumer-oriented politics.

But we all do have access to guns, and guns made for killing people not for hunting. We have created a political culture that stimulates rage and then ensures easy access to the tools of violence. We have stacked the kindling, poured on the lighter fluid, and left the matches out. But many pundits don't want to blame our political culture for the fires that erupt because "there isn't any causal link" between the conflagration and our politics.

We sow the rage for all it is worth. Anger is routinely mistaken for caring, for intelligence, and, worst of all, for courage. But when you sow the rage, you reap the violence. I fear the crop is just beginning to come in.