The Necessary Battle for Human Decency
The rise in violence and GOP extremist hostility and indifference to human life cannot stand as America's future
A teenage boy kills two human beings with an AR-15 assault rifle, and the right-wing and elected GOP extremists celebrate him. A congressman posts an anime video depicting him assassinating a congresswoman, and nearly every GOP House member chooses to look the other way. Five humans died and some 140 other humans in uniforms were assaulted and injured—including concussions, lacerations, burns, rib fractures and more—and Republicans have minimized or even denied the deadly, violent reality of this January 6 Capitol attack.
The pattern is obvious. Amid a rise in violence—and of menace and intimidation—we are witnessing so-called leaders celebrating, looking the other way and even openly denying what has been recorded and visible for anyone with eyes, ears and an interest in the truth.
This coarsening of the public square, this indifference to human life, is not by coincidence. It’s part of the shameless, sociopathic enterprise of the Republican party that’s focused on feeding the worst impulses of their extremist base. It follows four years of a White House occupant methodically and repetitively degrading and denying the essential humanity of refugees and other vulnerable populations. It comes in the wake of over 770,000 deaths from COVID-19, and a homicidal indifference—if not consciously criminal effort—to stand by and lie while Americans died.
As Thanksgiving approaches, a day when Americans break bread and celebrate the beginnings of European settlers in this new land, the history of America can be seen as a history of genocide and violence. Historians have estimated over 10 million Native Americans populated the Americas when colonists arrived. By 1900, the population was less than 300,000.
This and the history of slavery underscores the willingness of Americans to employ violence to expand their dominion and forge a future that too often extracts the ultimate price on those lacking the power to overcome them. A story of violence is surely nothing new for America’s Indigenous peoples or the millions of Africans taken from their native lands.
But at a time when the Republicans have shown their readiness to put an end to the American democratic experiment if they can take and keep power, President Joe Biden and the Democrats are facing the complicated, multi-pronged necessity to be both tougher than their hostile opponents and advocate for humanity. (The passage of Biden’s Build Back Better social and climate bill will provide one example of the ability to accomplish this tricky balancing act.)
“For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world but lose his soul?” The Republicans have made clear that they have no reluctance to sacrifice said soul if they can hold power. That increases the need to speak out every day about the degradation of the human spirit and the hostility toward fellow human beings.
Which brings me back to the response to Kyle Rittenhouse. It is dispiriting to witness how many people are fine with the killing of two humans—perhaps because of their love for guns and savoring of vigilante justice, their hostility toward Black Lives Matter, their sad excuse that these dead men had committed previous crimes. In this view, in the name of politics and power or, worse, the gratuitous pleasure of a death cult, humanity can be sacrificed. This cannot stand.
Too many have come to say that the examples of death and destruction, the savoring of violence and lust for power, disproves the notion that “we are better than this.” That view strikes me as an easy out (and it avoids the hard work ahead to change gun laws and intensify the fight for justice and voting rights).
As dark as some days reveal themselves to be, as many reasons as their are to fear the future, let’s not lose faith that we can still prove our capacity to make a better country, show respect for the full diversity of our people, bend the arc toward justice, and demonstrate that decency and true civilization can win out over ruthlessness, nihilism and hate.
In the next two days, recognizing the anniversary of the JFK assassination, I will be sharing with paid subscribers an excerpt from my book, The Gunman and His Mother: Lee Harvey Oswald, Marguerite Oswald, and The Making of An Assassin. If you are not already, I hope you will consider becoming a paid subscriber.