In times of great loss, it is easy to succumb to the visceral emotion of the moment as personal biases are either confirmed or challenged. One side of the coin feels the need to take a tragedy and make a point out of it while disregarding its sensitivity, while the other looks to merely dismiss its importance in the debate altogether. Both are ultimately unhealthy for rational discourse on hot-button issues, which is part of the bigger idea that, in the wake of tragedy, the only agenda that should be pushed is one of banding together and honoring our fellow countrymen.
As the smoke clears and the yellow tape is thrown up, the battle lines are already being drawn. Controversy stirs, and it becomes so easy to lose hold of rationality and tact, in effect devolving the narrative into a vicious back-and-forth of blame and name-calling. One side becomes a group of so-called high-roading hypocrites and the other becomes a collective of so-called malicious opportunists. What’s most shameful of it all is how straightforward the narrative truly should be, how clear the enemy truly is. There is but one enemy in a time of crisis such as now: evil. No matter what one may think about the current political climate, opposing evil is bipartisan. The methodology of doing so varies surely, but at the very core of it all, every player, regardless of affiliation, in the political field rallies around reducing the influence and power of evil in society.
Yet if the enemy is so clear, why are the two weeks following a tragedy so rife with heated debate and controversy? Especially when one takes into account the fact that mass shootings account for fewer than ⅓ of all gun deaths (with suicide being the highest source of gun deaths) and terrorist attacks are responsible for less deaths than heart disease or auto accidents according to FiveThirtyEight polling. The media certainly plays a role – car accidents and heart disease aren’t exactly headline material – but it is also the targeted victimization that puts the average American into the mindset that they could be next. Targeted venues range from theaters to baseball games, places meant to be escapes from the sometimes vicious real world. It’s understandable to consider the last time you caught a movie and think “That could have been me.” But statistically, that just doesn’t add up.
And this does not even begin to touch the surface of why politicizing tragedies and pushing for sudden drastic measures just isn’t wise. It doesn’t just trample upon the lost lives or stage innocent civilians as political props. It instills the kind of awful, reactionary mindset that gave us the Patriot Act or created the toxic idea that “if it weren’t for the other, this wouldn’t have happened” senselessness forced upon the populace in the wake of situations that are, ultimately, outliers. Take, for example, Vox writer German Lopez’s sentiments.
“The political system is supposed to address crises,” Lopez wrote. “If something bad happens, and governments can do something to prevent it from happening again, we should expect our lawmakers to respond.”
Here Lopez references a growing argument that surfaces after every terrorist attack: “if now isn’t the time when is?” This argument encourages the American people to only look at the small picture, at events that, while devastating, do not reflect the true grand scheme of the issues. It is at the center of the stronger push for immigration control after a Muslim terrorist attack or the stronger push for gun control after a mass shooting, and it is what ultimately flaws both arguments. Letting a side of the debate be consumed by momentary outrage will not push us forward productively. So, the answer to the question of “if now isn’t the time, when is?” is pretty clear: when the blood has dried, the emotion has settled and the populace isn’t seeing red anymore.
When this question is demanded, and the party of outrage this time around steps up in a fit of anger, it merely feeds into the fear and the fury of the people and blinds them with emotion. The populace then conflates the most extreme, vivid scenarios as commonalities while grazing past the grander context of such events, creating a vapid passion regarding the issues involved and effectually pitting fellow Americans against one another across party lines. This conflation is in part behind the phenomenon where support for stricter gun laws tends to spike immediately after a mass shooting and settles afterward. Not soon after the Pulse nightclub shooting in June 2016, 55% of Americans surveyed said they favored stricter gun control laws in a CNN poll, which was a major spike from the 46% in fall 2015, and the highest it had been since after the Sandy Hook shooting. If, even after such a terrible event, a side looking to prevent the circumstances to repeat again can still only eek out narrow majority, it shows the issue is still one that has the country evenly divided, and to take advantage of this momentary weakness to force out reactionary policy is to subvert the reality of the issue altogether.
Overall, it takes more discipline to drop the overarching narrative and instead focus on the greater good that triumphs in times of overwhelming tragedy (this goes for all agendas, no matter their position on the spectrum). Instead of calling attention to the monster itself, the spotlight should be thrust upon those who rushed heedlessly into harm’s way to protect their fellow Americans. In times where the bleeding heart of the United States is raw and pounding, we should shelter one another, not vilify the opposition or assign malicious intent to those with varying perspectives from ourselves. This isn’t to vilify those who have taken the opportunity to push an agenda (the opportunist party swaps depending on the circumstances and issue), but instead to encourage them to simply rally the people together as opposed to dividing them even further.
Our fellow Americans are not the villains; no, our only villain is the kind of evil we will, in the end and across both aisles, seek to destroy.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com, CC license