1. Ideas Have Consequences
Back in February, Virgil wrote about the “climate of violence” swirling around President Trump:
Is there a media-driven “climate of violence”? You bet there is, and it’s being whipped up by the left and the Main Stream Media, here and across the world.
At the time, Virgil was focusing mostly on a cover story in Village, an Irish magazine that gained its 15 minutes of fame by superimposing a crosshairs over a photo of Trump.
In the four months since then, this climate of violence has gotten worse: various performers, including Snoop Dogg and Kathy Griffin, have portrayed themselves injuring or killing the President. And in Manhattan’s Central Park, a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar featuring a Trump-like Caesar—that is, a tyrant deserving to be killed—is drawing admiring crowds every night. Indeed, Breitbart News’ Daniel Nussbaum and Jerome Hudson have tallied up no less than 15 significant incidents in which celebrities have threatened or depicted violence against Trump and the GOP.
So now, on Wednesday, we saw that low life imitates this sort of low art. The shooter at the Congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, VA, one James T. Hodgkinson, was a social-media addict possessed by murderous anti-Republican fervor.
Just last year, Hodgkinson not only supported, but actively campaigned for, Bernie Sanders. For his part, the Vermont senator labeled the shooting a “despicable act,” adding, “violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”
Yet Sanders’ message doesn’t seem to have penetrated to all of his supporters. As Breitbart News noted,
A Facebook group called “Terminate the Republican Party” seemingly celebrates Wednesday’s assault. The Belleville News-Democrat reported that Hodgkinson belonged to this group.
Interestingly, this “Terminate” group is still on Facebook, boasting more than 13,000 followers.
So while we may never know exactly what triggered Hodgkinson’s crazed action—he was killed at the crime scene by better-aiming cops—it’s reasonable to surmise that the climate of violence he was drenched in had at least something to do with his actions.
In the meantime, journalists, investigators, and the merely curious have uncovered many other leftist threats; the Twitterverse, for example, seems to yield up multitudes of lefties chortling over the shootings of Rep. Scalise and the others.
So we’re seeing, yet again, the weaponization of words. And here we might add that the problem isn’t just angry words that might inspire people to do crazy things. There’s also the problem of mendacious and misleading post-incident spin.
For instance, many will recall that in the wake of the January 2011 shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), the Main Stream Media declared that the shooter, Jared Loughner, was a talk-radio-crazed right-winger. Thus in this telling, the blame extended beyond Loughner to include Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and others. Yet this telling was completely false. In fact, if anything, Loughner was on the left. Even more to the point, he was just plain crazy.
In other words, the predominant MSM narrative on the Giffords case was fake news. And amazingly, even after the true reality of Loughner was revealed, the more shameless elements of the MSM keep repeating it. Just on Wednesday, an editorial in the New York Times repeated the myth. In response, Breitbart News’ Joel Pollak tartly dubbed it “very fake news.” Happily, the Times’ false claims were rejected by many in the MSM, which normally chooses to navigate by the Gray Lady’s opinions. To name one, Chris Hayes, the MSNBC host, called the editorial “nuts.”
2. What To Do—Near Term
In the pithy words of the 20th-century sci-fi author Robert A. Heinlein, “An armed society is a polite society.” Not everyone will agree with that formulation, of course, but it’s worth recalling Heinlein’s further elaboration, which made a solid, if somewhat grim, conservative point: “Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life. For me, politeness is a sine qua non of civilization.” In other words, if we want good behavior—the linchpin of a wholesome society— then there must be consequences for bad behavior.
So it’s with this Heinleinian backdrop that we can recollect the famous phrase of the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre, uttered at a December 21, 2012 press conference just a few days after the Sandy Hook mass killing in Connecticut: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.”
LaPierre’s words, carried on national TV, caused a hot mess of outrage on the left, and yet at the same time, they froze the hoped-for momentum of gun-control activists, who had wanted to use the tragic killings, committed by a deranged young man, as a springboard for new legislation.
Yet evidently, a critical mass of Americans agreed with LaPierre. As we recall, even though President Obama had just been re-eIected by a wide margin, nothing came of the Democrats’ renewed gun-control push. Indeed, in the next national election, in November 2014, anti-gun control Republicans won a sweeping victory.
So today we might think on LaPierre’s words—about the power of a good guy (or good gal) with a gun—as we consider the testimony of a survivor of the Alexandria shooting, Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX):
We’re blessed, but I want to tell you…these Capitol Police saved every one of our lives. We would not be here today if it was not for the thin blue line that the Capitol Police did. We owe it all to them.
Yes, let us praise The Thin Blue Line.
As an aside, we can observe that in the wake of this shooting, there’s certain to be a bull market for law enforcers and related bodyguards. Indeed, we have since learned that Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah has a security detail of 23. Of course, Hatch is the president pro tempore of the Senate, and thus third in line for the presidency—so of course, he merits solid security. And yet at the same time, it’s a cinch that a lot more VIPs will be receiving beefed-up security entourages. And, frankly, who can argue?
Okay, but what about the rest of us? How do we protect ourselves? In addition to a strong security system for society as a whole—and perhaps more personal side arms—we also need positive cooperation from the citizenry.
So it was gratifying to learn, for example, that on Wednesday, some folks showed wonderful civic spirit, as recorded by Politico’s Kyle Cheney: “I watched as random passersby delivered Gatorade, iced tea and even a bag full of Chick-fil-A to police on the scene.” Then, Cheney added, the cops kindly turned that generosity around: “The police then shared the spoils with journalists, pedestrians and others baking in the Alexandria sun.”
Such a civic spirit of mutuality in a crisis is essential to public safety, even as there is more yet to be done.
For instance, we need to continue thinking about technological enhancements to our security. Surveillance cameras are a norm, now, in our lives; as of last year, there were an estimated 62 million of them in North America. In fact, the average American is caught on camera 75 times a day. Moreover as of 2016, hundreds—and probably by now thousands—of law enforcement agencies have been using aerial drones.
Is all this observation a bit creepy? Sure it is. But killers, and other menacing criminal, are creepier.
Meanwhile, we might venture further into the realm of technological fixes for the sake of our safety. How about, for example, force-fields, and other kinds of directed energy safeguards? Various militaries have been working on the concept for years; it’s the subject of continuing debate, which will only accelerate as new threats emerge. We can further note that force-fields wouldn’t have to be “up” all the time, they could spring into effect only when a gunshot is heard or a shockwave detected. In other words, such force-fields could be a true life-saver.
In fact, there’s a kind of high-tech arms race already going on as these technologies make themselves felt on the home front. The scientists at Battelle, for example, have come come up with a counter-drone system that offers a “non-kinetic” way of disabling drones. To put it simply, this directed-energy defense tool uses rays to disable the drone and bring it down to earth harmlessly.
We can conclude: Amidst this dizzying contest of measure and counter-measure, we will have to figure out how to maximize our security. Some Luddites will still be skeptical of these evolutions, but the rest of us shouldn’t be reflexively hostile—the life that’s saved could be our own.
3. What To Do, Long Term—the Lincoln Lesson
In addition to immediate security measures, we’re going to have to think, too, about what sort of society we wish to live in. After all, extrinsic technology will never be more important than intrinsic virtue. So if we can agree that people shouldn’t talk about harming or killing each other, then we should say so—and mean it.
Thus it was comforting to hear nice words, about healing and unity, from figures as diverse as President Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. And it was comforting, as well, to see this headline in the Washington Examiner: “Democrats turned a dugout into a sanctuary to pray for Republicans.”
And yet we can’t kid ourselves: Nice words, candlelight vigils, and hashtag campaigns, by themselves, won’t do anything to soften the hearts of stone killers.
In the meantime, as we have seen, the left is getting plenty pumped up on militant rejectionism that has a way of veering into violence.
And yes, there’s some of that on the right, too. So we might all take a closer look at our words, including those words scattered out into social media. For instance, on June 23, 2016, Sen. Rand Paul tweeted, with seeming approval, a comment from Fox News’ Andrew Napolitano:
@Judgenap: Why do we have a Second Amendment? It’s not to shoot deer. It’s to shoot at the government when it becomes tyrannical!
Virgil doesn’t think for a minute that Paul is an advocate of violence. And yet now, in the light of tragic circumstance—Paul was one of those Congressional ball players coming under fire on Wednesday—this might be a good opportunity for the Kentuckian to pull down, or at least clarify, that tweet.
Next, we can consider the impact of the popular culture on public safety. It’s worth remembering that at that same December 2012 Wayne LaPierre press conference, the one in which the NRA man forcefully defended gun ownership, he attacked the endemic violence in movies and video games as a harmful influence. And yet nothing happened.
Indeed, in the five years since, we can observe: If the left’s push toward gun control has been stymied, so, too, has the right’s impulse toward cultural restrictions on violence-mongering. And Virgil uses the word “impulse,” and nothing stronger, because, in truth, the American right has pretty much abandoned any serious effort to regulate even the most maniacal aspects of the current pop culture.
Still, maybe this would be an apt time to revive those conserving arguments about the value of cultural stability and good order.
After all, the danger today seems acute. As talk radio host Michael Savage put it in the wake of the Congressional shooting, “We are at a boiling point. There’s going to be a civil war.”
Maybe Savage is correct, although let’s hope not.
Yet before domestic war comes, some wise leaders will try preemptive measures. For instance, in the wake of the most recent terror attacks in Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May argued that Internet companies were giving terrorists “the safe space to breed.”
As Peter Roff, a conservative writing for US News put it, what we saw here on Wednesday was “terrorism,” pure and simple. And terrorists, as we have learned, are often incited by media and social media.
Yes, of course, with any attempt to limit the Internet there will come legitimate concerns about overweening censorship. And yet already, we’ve come to accept some reasonable limits on unacceptable activity on the Net. So now, maybe, we need to accept, even embrace, new limits. After all, it’s always been a conservative virtue to extoll a well-regulated liberty. That is, the freedom to do what one ought to do.
Thus we come to the realm of basic civics; that is, how shall we behave in our country? And here, proper virtue is often more a matter of custom than of statute. As the great 18th-century conservative Edmund Burke put it,
Manners are of more importance than laws. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.
Of course, in our own time, with technology that Burke never dreamed of, we’ve seen a new concern: the ideological spiking of online stories, or the burying of them in search-engine rankings. Once again we can say: Here’s looking at you, again, Silicon Valley!
Yet the undeniable reality of liberal game-playing, even censorship, at the commanding heights of the media—that is, inside the high sanctums of Google and Facebook—is not an argument for doing nothing. Instead, it’s an argument for getting it right.
We can say: If conflict first arises in the human mind, then if we wish to avoid conflict, we must change our minds—and hearts. And that has to start somewhere. It’s called leadership.
For Americans, the best source of leadership inspiration is our own sacred history. And if we seem to be on the verge of a low-grade civil war, we might direct our attention to the actual Civil War.
Toward the end of the 2012 film Lincoln, the 16th president rides his horse through the aftermath of a bloody battle at Petersburg on April 3, 1865, tipping his hat to the fallen. Then he tells Gen. Ulysses Grant that after the Confederates’ surrender, which will be coming soon, he wishes to see a post-war spirit of reconciliation:
No punishment, I don’t want that. And the leaders—[Jefferson Davis] and the rest of ‘em—if they escape, leave the country while my back’s turned, that wouldn’t upset me none. When peace comes it mustn’t just be hangings.
We can step back and say: Lincoln was no softy. He was willing to fight for what was right, and shrewd enough to find a winning general in Grant. And yet then, when the guns fell silent, he wanted good will toward men—all men, including former foes.
Of course, if we prefer our history straight up, without help from Hollywood, we can read the stirring words of Lincoln’s second inaugural address from the month before:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
In the current supercharged atmosphere, nobody should expect an outbreak of turning the other cheek. And yet at the same time, we don’t want to continue down this current path.
So somewhere, from our midst, we will have to hope, and maybe pray, for another Lincoln. He was more than a good man, he was great leader—and an inspiration forever.
Now today, once again, we need that magnanimous spirit. There’s been enough blood.