Somebody is going to get shot.
If I am wrong - and I hope desperately that I am - we will be extremely lucky. Because there is a suffocating, sweltering mood brewing in our country, like that of the anxious early 1960s.
Consider the all-too-ubiquitous racist Tea Party signs and the rash of death threats against congressmen who voted for health care reform. There's the stomach-churning image of teabaggers calling civil rights hero U.S. Rep. John Lewis a "nigger" and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank a "faggot." Another tea partier caught on camera chucked a dollar at a health care supporter with Parkinson's disease, sneering, "Start a pot; I'll pay for you. I'll decide when to give you money."
Congressional town hall meetings have dissolved into fisticuffs. I nearly witnessed a couple on Thursday when U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer spoke in Battle Creek (and managed to keep his cool, despite frequent jeering).
And in a move only George Orwell could love, Second Amendment patriots will be holding rallies on April 19 to commemorate the 15th anniversary of when far-right militiamen incinerated 168 people in Oklahoma City.
There is a festering ugliness that's gained safe haven on the right and in the Republican Party. It makes no sense to deny it.
Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and other craven carnival barkers stoke the rage of the fearful, the unemployed and the generally unbalanced for fun and profit. There's not a lot of money to be made being the reasonable guy in the room, as oft-fired former Bush speechwriter David Frum can tell you.
GOP leaders, desperate to regain power, know that the only energy in their party is from the farthest of the far right. So Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele declares that he's the Original Teabagger (O.T.) and House Minority John Boehner whips up a frenzy warning that national Romneycare will beget Armageddon.
Do leaders condemn the attacks on John Lewis or tell a Republican congressman he was out of line for calling U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak a "babykiller" on the House floor? Nah. Wouldn't want to display basic human decency and tick off the wingnuts.
Wallowing in victimhood, some so-called conservatives make excuses that these are just the cries of an ignored majority. The liberal media is just highlighting a few bad apples. The Democrats brought this on themselves.
They conveniently forget that journalists heard all this from liberals during Bush's tenure, especially after most Americans turned against the Iraq war. They, too, were angry and felt powerless. But anyone who's been to an anti-war rally or gay pride parade knows that crazy gets the coverage - whether it's the sign of Bush as Hitler or the bearded beer-bellied dude donning a bikini.
Getting control of your message is Politics 101.
What's interesting is that Democratic leaders didn't embrace the nutters. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi - the embodiment of San Francisco liberalism - refused to impeach Bush and Dick Cheney and was thus challenged by far-left anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan.
There is a very good reason for this strategy.
I did not grow up in the '60s and barely recall the '70s. But as a student of history and a journalist, I have read dozens of accounts and done my share of interviews. America was a tinder box, rocked by protests of all stripes, racial strife, assassinations and an ever-escalating war.
The left went too far, with extremists blowing up buildings and spitting on soldiers. Those disgusting acts poisoned liberalism for decades. Democrats scurried to distance themselves from the whackjobs, but the GOP successfully branded it as the party of "acid, amnesty and abortion."
Violence and fear killed the old Democratic Party, whose coalitions had been crumbling since FDR's demise.
The new strain of this on the right is symptomatic of the Republican Party, which appears to be in its death throes. Oh, the GOP will do fine and dandy in November, primarily because one in 10 people can't find a job. Anybody who tells you the economy ain't reasons one through 100 for Republicans' success is probably hawking gold as a foolproof retirement plan on teevee.
But demographics make the sustainability of an overwhelmingly white, male, far-right party infeasible. Women vote more on domestic issues that favor Democrats. America is hurtling toward becoming a majority-minority country. Young voters are steadfastly socially liberal.
A fiscally conservative party that tolerates tax increases like Ronald Reagan and does not fetishize abortion, gay marriage and illegal immigration could win these groups over. They may not yell as loudly as the tea partiers, but there are sure a lot more of them. They could, ironically, emerge as the new silent majority.
I don't know how the picture changes if serious violence occurs. My guess is that there will be revulsion for the far right and those who coddled extremism, though they'll quickly attempt to distance themselves from it.
America would catapult into a period of instability. Our moral standing in the world would decline. And we can't afford either of those scenarios.
Politics and public policy are serious business. Emotions run high. But both sides need to draw a line at threats, violence and bigotry.
As a country christened in violent revolution that later endured a bloody civil war, there is a history. Adams and Jefferson verbally crucified each other repeatedly, Brooks caned Sumner on the Senate floor over slavery and four presidents have been assassinated.
But the glorious thing about civilization is learning from the barbarism and fallacies of the past. Let's hope we do so before it's too late.
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