I’ve opted for the term “assumption” instead of “judgement” because the latter implies an evidentiary standard that has been non-existent in the accusations, hypotheses, and vitriol that have been hurled around by political pundits and everyday citizens alike in the aftermath of the attempted murder of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the successful murders Christina Green (9), Dorothy Morris (76), Judge John Roll (63), Phyllis Schneck (79), Dorwan Stoddard (76), and Gabriel Zimmerman (30). Cross hairs on a map, psychotic breaks from reality, political hate speech, a troubled life, lax gun control, mental illnesses, etc. All have been claims made as to “why” Jared Loughner did what he did, and not a shred of evidence has been provided (yet) to substantiate any of them. During his initial appearance, he did not provide the court any details about his motives or intent, which means any hypothesizing as to what they were is mere conjecture. Unlike most instances; however, doing so in this case only threatens to further undermine what is now an even more fragile political environment in the USA.
It’s already begun. MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann has been flying off the handle trying to pin this on Sarah Palin and her Tea Party movement, and then at the same time saying that political discourse needs to evolve into something less accusatory. Rush Limbaugh accused the Democratic Party of using the tragedy for political gain yesterday on his talk show. This prompted Tuscan Sheriff Clarence Dupnik to blast Limbaugh, which prompts the question why is a local sheriff engaging in a war of words with a conservative radio talk show host?
So tell me, with all of the calls for less vitriol in modern American political discourse, where is it? How long did we wait for the dust to settle before the finger-pointing started?
I, of course, am not innocent. When I first heard about the shooting via Twitter, it was coupled with information about Sarah Palin’s “hit list” of Democratic candidates, and I flipped. I was furious and I couldn’t think straight. The knee-jerk reaction would have been to hurriedly publish a condemnation of the parties that I “knew” were responsible to this website, and as evidence began to accumulate that it might not be that simple, continue to defend my assertions as if I had first-hand access to the ongoing criminal investigation. But that would’ve been silly because a) the criminal investigation had not even started yet, and b) I clearly do not have that kind of access, so any argument I made would have looked foolish.
Thankfully, for me anyway, I didn’t do that. In fact, this nagging debater instinct (it’s still there even after all these years!) that I have stopped me from doing so because I knew anything that I said would be inspired by emotional outrage and not a reasonable examination of the evidence at hand. As time wore on I knew that I eventually would want to say something about this tragedy on here, but I didn’t know what. I finally figured out yesterday that instead of commenting on the so-called merits of the “left vs. right” positions, I wanted to call out that very process of arranging this into a “left vs. right” fight in the first place. Six people were murdered. A political official was nearly killed. Fourteen more were injured. People lost their lives and those who didn’t will be forever affected by it. Their families and friends will be forever affected by it. This is not a political issue; it’s a human issue, but it’s (increasingly) being treated as the former and I find that to be the most disheartening fact of all.
It’s been roughly 72 hours since the shooting took place, and all we know for certain (at least what’s been published by the news media) is that Loughner attended a similar event held by Giffords in 2007 (prior to Palin breaking out on the political scene and certainly prior to the inception of the Tea Party), he received a standard thank you letter from the Giffords’ staff after his attendance in 2007 and he kept that letter right up to the day he attempted to kill her, and that there is a good cause to believe that he has some sort of mental illness or anti-social personality disorder based off of his alleged encounters with the people around him, his schools and professors, and even the US military when he tried to enlist. He also had a habit of posting random anti-government currency rants and condemnations of American literacy rates online, and seemed to have an eclectic reading list.
Where in those facts do you find conclusive evidence for any of the hypotheses that have been hurled around for the past 72 hours? It literally seemed to start before Representative Giffords even got out of her emergency surgery! And it only seems to be getting worse as times goes on. As I remember telling someone yesterday while talking about this: “no one knows yet. This could very well be the product of a psychotic break of a lone individual as much as it could have been motivated by cross hairs on a map.” Today I’d add “hell, it could be both!”
Look, I get it. I understand the emotional element in all of this; I was in the same state on Saturday afternoon. The very core of our political process was violated in the most extreme way imaginable, which was both scary and infuriating for all Americans because that is part of what makes us who we are. However, this alone doesn’t make the rush to assume anything and everything, and worse, “know” for a “fact” that you are right and everyone else is wrong any less damaging. To date, there is no conclusive evidence to support your “facts” yet, so stop. Just stop. There is nothing productive in rushing to assume you know what happened when you don’t, and all of this nonsense has overwhelmed one very simple fact that we should all be focused on: a significant human tragedy has occurred and the very essence of who we are as Americans was violated. Don’t obscure that by trying to explain something that you can’t possibly understand because you don’t have all of the facts yet.