After the shooting, a question

By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Many are asking if politics made the shooter crazy. That’s an important question. Another is, what is it doing to the rest of us?

Here’s what we know, as of Thursday morning. A man had lived a relatively normal life, even serving as a foster parent. There had been a few acts of violence and minor run-ins with the law, including one scary episode where he allegedly punched a woman in the face, pointed a gun at a neighbor and then hit him with the stock, but there’s plenty of evidence that he was sane. In recent years he’d become increasingly political and agitated, angrily obsessing over the injustices of a system he could not change. He posted political rants in Facebook’s echo chamber and joined a page pushing to “terminate” the Republican Party. He’d once practiced shooting his rifle outside his home, prompting a neighbor to call the sheriff. He moved to the Washington, D.C., area a few months ago, lived in a van, and frequented a bar where he would sit and drink beer with a creepy smile on his face. Then, on Wednesday, he took his rifle to a congressional baseball practice, calmly asked a congressman which party was practicing, thanked him for his answer, and then started shooting.

I started to write that he “snapped,” until my wife corrected me. No, she said. He made choice after choice after choice to fuel his anger until he’d crossed a line and there was no going back.

Most of us are not going to cross that line, or tiptoe anywhere near it. But we are making many of the same choices the shooter did. We obsess over societal forces we can’t change, that we don’t really understand, and that we’re not objective enough to define. We let our frustrations over these things bleed over into the parts of our lives that we can control, affecting our relationships with the people who matter. We seek shelter in our tribes and then adopt language that dehumanizes the outsiders, turning them first into caricatures and then, naturally, enemies. Political opponents are to be impeached, or locked up, or terminated.

The shooter and many of the rest of us are all marinating in those juices. We differ from him in that almost none of us are going to start shooting other people. But, like him, we can stop seeing them as human.

The American experiment is now almost a quarter of a millennium old. Its founding document, the Declaration of Independence, states that government exists to secure unalienable rights that include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Unfortunately, American democracy has evolved to the point that it often more deters happiness than defends it. A spirit of anger hangs over the air, unleashing the monster in one man and turning many of the rest of us into angry jerks.

Solutions? I wouldn’t have space to write them even if I knew what they were. But here are two that might help.

The first comes also from my wife, who’s taking somewhat of a news break after spending too much time worrying about the election last year, like many of the rest of us. She’s trying to refocus on real life and on the things she can influence. In a recent conversation, she said Americans should judge President Trump’s individual actions one at a time, rather than declaring him completely right or dismissing him as completely wrong, and that same standard should apply to all other elected officials as well.

That’s true. There are times to judge the totality of an elected official’s performance. They’re called elections, and there will be another one soon enough next May. Until then, let’s try to regain some objectivity – for our own sakes, if nothing else.

The other comes from Proverbs 22:24, which states, “Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go.”

That verse has two meanings. The obvious one is to avoid angry people.

The second is less obvious but just as important: Don’t be that angry friend. It’s the first bad choice from which a lot of worse ones can follow.

5 thoughts on “After the shooting, a question

  1. There has never been a presidential candidate like Trump. He is fueled by anger, hate, constant hostility, insults, numerous prejudices, and the erratic personality of a disturbed 6 year old. He is supremely a divider-in-chief. How can we wonder that we have come to this ugly place in the road?

  2. Ok, I am a Democrat and have voted for a Democrat most of my voting life. While I was disappointed in the outcome of the presidential election, I am not disappointed with Arkansans of both parties. While I know the kind of hostile divisiveness that exists in Washington, I don’t see it as much in Arkansas. I see Representatives reaching across the aisle and supporting each other when the issues are in the best interests of Arkansas, not just party lines. I see a Governor and a Commissioner of Education, while Republicans, supporting educational initiatives that are progressive and student centered. Heretofore, these types of initiatives would have been associated with Democrats. They care about doing what’s right regardless of party affiliation and I am proud of that!

  3. I Am a independent voter, and see nothing of the anger you are talking about in Trump, however, I do see a lot of hate in big shots from the music, Hollywood, news, haters of our service men and policemen and policewoman, and of course the people that want their 15 minutes of fame for themselves.
    God tells us he won’t heal our country untill we come together as a nation and pray. Everything else has been tried, and failed, I suggest we take God’s plea for a nation to be united not diveded

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