The “War On Christmas” in 4 Minutes

Jesse Dollemore

I regret that I didn’t discover it until Christmas Day, but Jesse Dollemore has a nifty little video that addresses the silly “War On Christmas” narrative that surfaces every year around November.

Dollemore shows a clip of Donald Trump proclaiming to an adoring throng that “we’re going to start saying Merry Christmas again.” (Does that mean he’s going to issue an imperial proclamation that everyone must say it?) And clips of the talking heads at Fox “News” reacting in a manner that (honest to Pete) brings to mind teenage girls screaming over The Beatles.

They declare that their War On Christmas has been won now that Trump is elected, and because of him people are starting to say “Merry Christmas” again (as if they’d been prohibited from doing so up until now), and even ask “When was the last time you heard a politician say” the taboo magic phrase.

Then, after presenting a few actual facts on the matter, Dollemore serves up a clip of President Obama wishing Americans a Merry Christmas 16 times — and Michelle Obama twice.

When was the last time you heard a politician say “Merry Christmas”? Depends on how much you’ve been paying attention.

 

Culture Of Confrontation

Argument clinic

Of all the many great Monty Python sketches, I think my favorite is Argument Clinic. In addition to being just plain hilarious, it makes — as great comedy often does — some very astute observations about what passes for modern culture. It underscores how people love and crave interpersonal conflict. It illustrates that a great deal of what we call argument is just mindless “automatic gainsaying”. And it suggests that a great deal of arguing is as pointless and absurd as voluntarily being insulted or hit on the head.

But perhaps the most amusing aspect of all is the preposterous irony of the premise that a person would have to frequent a special clinic in order to find a confrontation. In truth, you’d be more likely to have to hit a clinic to avoid confrontation. It’s all around us. Modern life is saturated with it — as you well know if you’ve done very much driving. Or watching TV. Or attending sporting events. Or browsing online forums. Confrontation is the coin of the realm in contemporary America. Many people seem, quite literally to live for it. They’ll spit venom at you on the excuse of just about any topic they can seize, though there are three in particular (politics, religion and guns, not necessarily in that order) that are just about guaranteed to generate fireworks. Coincidentally, those are probably the three topics that Americans on the whole consider most vital.

We’re not talking about mere conflict, which is a healthy thing. Conflict makes us stronger, gives us direction, and ultimately solves rather than creates problems. But we get all the conflict we need (and sometimes more than we can handle, it seems) in the natural course of living. Confrontationism is the act of creating conflict artificially: attacking someone physically or verbally, not for the sake of defending your turf or accomplishing a purpose, but for the sake of sheer antagonism.

Mind you, there’s really nothing new about any of this. In what is considered the world’s oldest recorded story, the epic of Gilgamesh from about 5000 years ago, the Babylonian king Gilgamesh and the wild man Enkidu engage in a head-butting, eye-clawing, mud-rolling fight to the death, such as a couple of WWE gladiators would have you believe they do. In the end, the fight is a draw and so, each impressed by the other’s ability to wage a viciously senseless donnybrook, they become the best of buds. Likewise in the medieval yarn about Robin Hood and Little John crossing the footbridge.

But this is a different world now. We can get our thrills from bungee jumping, skydiving and alligator wrestling. We can also watch other people beat each other senseless in the ring or on the football field, and blow each other to bits on the big screen. And we can indulge in all sorts of violent video games and other simulated delights.  Yet our thirst for confrontation does not seem to have abated one whit.

I rarely read online discussions about topics that are the least bit controversial, because it seldom takes more than a few exchanges for them devolve into “flame wars”.  Even on this present site, although most of its readers are a cut above average in the maturity department, there are plenty of people who try to replicate the same cafeteria food fight atmosphere they’ve seen elsewhere. But you may not be aware of it because I’m more fastidious about filtering it out than most blog moderators — I don’t want this site to become another one of those. Consequently, I just delete the attack messages unless there’s a compelling reason to publish them — e.g., they contain factual or logical errors that it would be instructive to examine.

I remember reading about a guest on one of the Fox “News” screaming fests — Bill O’Reilly’s, as I recall — and during commercial break he was advised that he was not being combative enough, so he should ramp it up.  Viewers might assume that the sparks are a by-product of debate; but they’re actually the steak rather than the sizzle.  It’s an addictive vicious cycle, with Fox etc., etc., giving the public the in-your-face clashes it craves, which in turn fuels further craving.

And it isn’t just a matter of experiencing vicarious confrontations in the media. It isn’t at all unheard of for people to get into violent, and sometimes fatal, disputes over parking spaces or other matters even more trivial. Sure, people do stupid things behind the wheel, and they might make you justifiably angry; but is that any reason to call them names, threaten them, shoot at them or follow them home?

One day I was riding my bike across an intersection on a thoroughly green light when a car whipped around the corner and nearly ran me over. Justifiably peeved, I yelled at the driver to watch where he was going; and then I went on my way. He, however, chose to take it as a personal insult that I would reprimand him for being reckless and nearly killing me, so he yelled after me angrily, calling me a “pussy” and challenging me to duke it out. I ignored him, but I could still hear him yelling for as long as I was in earshot. A similar experience occurred even more recently with the driver of a vehicle who nearly hit me when I was crossing on foot — only this time I didn’t even say anything first. The motorist just started yelling, threatening and challenging me because I dared to be in his way.

Nor is it just among strangers. Friends and relatives sometimes shout it out, slug it out or shoot it out, with the initial conflict beginning with the silliest of matters — e.g., who gets the dark meat of the Thanksgiving turkey (the actual impetus for at least one fatal family shooting I read about).

One of the strangest and most disgusting experiences I’ve had in this regard occurred back during the Bush-Cheney years, and involved a friend (or so I thought) whom I’ll call John (since that was his name). John was a very intelligent and well-read fellow who possessed several degrees in a variety of disciplines — or so he claimed at every opportunity. He was also, as I understood it, essentially a Libertarian; and thus I would not have expected that he would have been fiercely defensive about Dubya. Big Mistake.

Pursuant to some comments his wife had made on a related topic, I sent her an article describing how the present GOP in general, and the Bush administration in particular, had a habit of glossing over, if not downright throttling, scientific research that did not support their ideology. It was John, and not his wife, who replied to me, and in the most scathing terms. After first assailing the credentials and credibility of the author — with whom he admitted being unfamiliar — he ridiculed me as a scientific illiterate (after himself regurgitating the myth that scientists in the Seventies had subscribed to a global cooling model) and a believer in “conspiracy theories” (after himself suggesting that thousands of the world’s top scientists were cooking the books on climate change).

Ignoring his surprise invitation to a schoolyard pissing contest, I gently reminded him that neither I nor the writer in question had expressed a stance on any issue involved — e.g., stem cell research. The discussion, I pointed out, was about the Republican attitudes toward science, not my own. And I sincerely urged him to pass along any information on that subject that he thought I didn’t have.

Instead, he responded with more insults and unfounded speculations about my beliefs, motives and background, declaring that he couldn’t explain anything to me because I didn’t have the capacity to understand. Politely insisting that I had the utmost confidence that a man of his talents could summarize recent political developments in such a way that even I could grasp them, I asked him again to clarify why he felt the criticism of the administration was unwarranted. Which just prompted even more insults and bizarre assumptions.

The upshot was that after three or four exchanges like this, John announced that he was terminating our friendship and wouldn’t read anything else I sent him. It was entirely his decision — I’d always enjoyed talking with him even though his pomposity had been evident from the start. In his last message to me, he said it was time for the “Monty Python Solution”. It wasn’t a reference to Argument Clinic; it was a reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which one combatant gets all his limbs whacked off by the other, and agrees to “call it a draw”.

Let me emphasize that at no time did I return any of John’s puerile insults.  At no time did I challenge his opinions or express any of my own. I didn’t even correct any of his factual errors, although he certainly committed a few. Yet in his mind, we had engaged in a clash of Gilgamesh-Enkidu proportions, which he of course had won with his diplomas tied behind him.

I wish I could say that this incident was unique, but alas, it isn’t. Just recently, there was something eerily similar with a longtime reader of this blog who in the past had been a valuable contributor to discussions on the forum. But he apparently decided that it would be more fun to indulge in “automatic gainsaying”. He became obsessed with trying to discredit me about something, anything — even if it meant putting words in my mouth or contradicting his own. Among other things, he played three of the most common attack games: ad hominem (shooting the messenger, a la John), tu quoque (“you’re a hypocrite who commits the same offenses you criticize others for”) and what I call psychic psychoanalysis (“You may say X but you really mean Y because you secretly believe Z”).

I’d seen all of this before, so many times that it made my eyes roll; and normally I’d just ignore it. But because this reader had made comments of substance in the past, I thought I’d try being patient with him, and made some short replies to him to the effect that if he would be patient, he would see that his assumptions were off track. Big mistake. Lesson learned. He just interpreted my lenience as an invitation to attack further, and became so desperate to find a reason to snap at me that he offered wild — and wildly inaccurate — predictions about what I was going to write in the future so he could attack his own predictions.

I mention these two episodes because they illustrate four important points about confrontationism. First,  it’s essentially a proactive rather than reactive mindset. Confrontationists may claim that their nastiness is a response to something that someone else has said or done, but it’s usually an aggression rather than a defense; and to the extent that it may be a response at all, it’s usually vastly overblown and altogether inappropriate. John and the reader may have convinced themselves that they were arguing with me about something or other, but the former was arguing against a straw man, and the latter against himself.

Second, while attacks like these are generally, to quote Ambrose Bierce, “merely stupid, although a few add the distinction of silliness”, one can’t always chalk them up to ignorance or ineptitude. John and my reader were both rather bright and very well-educated fellows; clearly, then, their combativeness was a matter of calculated intent rather than unwitting default. Hell, maybe even the two drivers I mentioned were brilliant guys.

Third, they all indeed were guys — and it would be hard to imagine otherwise. Confrontationism is unmistakably linked to the Y chromosome. There are certainly exceptions, of course. In the verbal arena at least, Ann Coulter can Hulk-Hogan with the worst of them. And in peer pressure settings — e.g., schools — there very well might be as many female bullies as male bullies, verbally if not physically. But in the vast majority of cases, this is a behavior mode that goes with being male, not female. Which suggests that maybe one cause might be body chemistry or cultural conditioning. There’s a reason verbal assailants so often use “pussy” as an insult (“dick” is also sometimes pejoratively, but the contexts are very different.) And it’s interesting to note that John’s first vicious missive included a demand that if, in the future, I had any reading matter to send his wife, I instead should send it to him for screening.

The fourth and most important point is that these confrontations are counterproductive and stifling.  As you can see (I hope) the antagonism that these two gentlemen chose to vent toward me totally quashed any chance for fruitful dialog. And that, mind you, is the best-case scenario. Quite often, as we’ve mentioned, such incidents escalate into pointless violence.

Does confrontationism serve any useful purpose at all? It’s difficult to see what that might be, aside from its cathartic value — which, as we’ve noted, can be satisfied through other means. It’s possible that some people use it, even if subconsciously, as a way to test the mettle of a potential ally. It’s possible that if I’d been as nasty toward John as he was toward me, he would have had a great deal more respect for me. Even so, it’s just not worth it as far as I’m concerned. If I have to kick someone in the crotch to win their respect, they’re probably not the kind of person I’d want to deal with anyway.

Many people seem to think confrontationism is really cool and empowering. For my part, I just wish I could make it go away. But I can’t. And it won’t.

Reactions to Boston: The Good, the Bad, and the Batshit Loony

Bombing Victim Jeff Bauman

Bombing Victim Jeff Bauman

A senseless act of violence (or a tragedy if you will) like the Boston Marathon bombing has a way of bringing out the best in most people. A wounded veteran of combat in Afghanistan comforted an injured woman, showing her his scars and assuring her that she would survive. An intern who had just finished a 14-hour hospital shift pitched right in and began treating the wounded. Hundreds of local residents rushed from their homes to supply water and first aid, sometimes using their belts for tourniquets.

Unfortunately, such an incident also brings out the worst in some people. For the right-wing fanatics, every such occasion is a golden opportunity to do what they live for: spread hate, divisiveness and paranoia — and try to score political points by taking cheap shots at President Obama and “liberals”.  Part of the spin after this particular incident was to declare that Obama is irresponsible and incompetent with national security because he allowed 3 Americans to be killed in a terrorist strike on American soil — while Bush kept us safe because he allowed only 3000 to be killed.

These folks can’t  even display enough respect for the victims or  basic human decency to wait a few hours before launching into attack mode; they start cranking out the venom as soon as the news breaks. Nothing is more important than giving voice to their irrational,  deranged, all-consuming hatred for the guy in the White House and anyone who might possibly like him even a little bit.

Naturally, guns always figure in the mix. Right on cue after Sandy  Hook, the gun lobby went into “it could have happened with a nail file” mode,  making puerile smears against anyone who dared challenge the supremacy of the almighty gun. The ever-entertaining National Review characterized Gabrielle Giffords’ outrage over the NRA’s grip on Congress as “childish” and “an embarrassment”.  The general attitude among right-wing reactionaries toward shooting victims is that by making their voice heard they are “bullies” and “props” of the Obama administration who have no business getting involved in the discussion over guns. And while the grief in Newtown was still raw, the NRA displayed its usual classiness by targeting the community with pro-gun robocalls and other propaganda.

But the attack in Boston wasn’t a shooting. So there was no reason to even bring up guns, eh? Do you really thing they’d let a little thing like that stop them? Sure, it took Wayne LaPierre a couple of weeks to proclaim that we obviously need more guns to protect us from pressure cookers —  to invoke the bombing in incendiary pro-gun rhetoric, and to exploit violence for personal gain, while accusing the proponents of “gun control” of doing the same, of course. (In case you didn’t know, when the president responds to gun violence by supporting measures to prevent it from occurring it again, that’s called political grandstanding and suppressing freedom; when the gun lobby exploits violence to whip up paranoia and increase profits, it’s called defending liberty. Everybody clear?)

But not to worry, Arkansas legislator Nate Bell took up the slack for LaPierre’s excessive delay. While authorities were in pursuit of the attackers, he Tweeted:

I  wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?

This understandably sparked a great deal of outrage, especially among Bostonians.  Some of the responses were as crude as his comment solicited. Others were more sophisticated. My favorite was this:

I invite you to Boston. So you can witness true toughness, compassion and humanity. Toughest city on earth. No guns required.

That’s the Boston I know and love. Incidentally Bell, unlike others of his breed, at least had the decency to issue a half-assed apology — not for the “content” but for the “timing”. In other words, it appears he still believes that anyone who doesn’t hide behind a hunk of metal is “cowering”, but he realizes he didn’t select the most tactful possible time to say so.

Immediately after the bombing,  right-wing pundit Laura Ingraham seized the opportunity to ratchet up the hysteria over immigration, and Fox contributor Erik Rush suggested of Muslims, “Let’s kill them all.” Mind you, both of these responses were delivered before ANYTHING was known about the suspects.  After the suspects were identified, and one of the alleged bombers and three of his acquaintances were discovered to be students at University Of Massachusetts-Dartmouth,  Bill O’Reilly concluded that there must be a “huge problem” with the school itself.

The Westboro Baptist Church also weighed in, blaming the violence on Obama, abortion and gays. Makes perfect sense if you snort gunpowder and Bibles long enough.  At least a couple of right-wing gun fanatics declared that “liberals” love it when things like this happen. (If anybody “loves” it, it would have to be the people who seek occasions to make idiotic utterances like that.) And that dear old radio personality whose name rhymes with mush  concluded that the bombers were obviously influenced by the “liberal elite intellectual thought” in Boston. Can’t allow any of that intellectual thought, it’s quite dangerous — among other things, it might damage his ratings.

In fact, it appears the terrorists were influenced by rabidly right-wing slime merchant Alex Jones, whose tin hat delusions have been mainstreamed by Republicans in Congress (not the first time a terrorist has been a fan of his). Jones, who is gifted with an extraordinary capacity to find a sinister conspiracy in every leaf and snowflake, didn’t disappoint this time around.  Within MINUTES of the news from Boston, he was Tweeting things like this:

Our hearts go out to those that are hurt or killed #Boston marathon – but this thing stinks to high heaven #falseflag

Explosions at the Boston Marathon. Don’t that the FBI [sic] has been behind virtually every domestic terror plot in the US, as NY Times reported.

A false flag, in case you’re still unfamiliar with the term after all the batting about it’s been getting in the last few years,  is an incident in which a government attacks its own people (or even an individual fakes an attack on himself/ herself) in order to cast blame on someone else.  It has become an automatic response among the Alex Joneses of the world to declare that any terrorist attack, any disaster, any act of mass violence must have been staged by the Obama administration for some reason or other. The existence of emergency preparedness drills that utilize “crisis actors” is all the proof these folks need that the victims of actual disasters are merely faking it. There are people out there who believe that nobody really died in Boston, in Newtown, in Aurora, or even in the World Trade Center. And whenever you encounter such an individual,  the odds are excellent that he’ll be a fawning fan of Alex Jones.

It’s also an excellent bet that he’ll be a big fan of Alex’s chief rival for the Kool-Aid Crown, Glenn Beck — who also was true to form.  He declared not only that Obama was behind the bombing, but that he was shielding a Saudi who had carried out the deed at his behest. Furthermore, the Beckster gave the president an ultimatum to come clean by April 22, or else he would “expose” the administration big time. Don’t look now, Glenn, but April 22 has quietly come and gone, and you still haven’t exposed anyone but yourself — and most Americans are really wishing you’d zip it back up. By the way, don’t you and AJ even talk to each other enough to get your stories straight? Did the president orchestrate a real attack or a hoax? Sheesh!

Granted, some people also suspected initially that the culprits were connected with a radical Tea Party faction. (I was among them, but I exercised the discretion not to voice that suspicion in public.) After all, the attack occurred on tax day, and one of the primary objectives of the Tea Party is, supposedly, to protest taxes. It occurred in Boston, site of the real Tea Party. And Tea Party rhetoric tends to be incendiary, and often is laced with subtle and not-so-subtle exhortations to violence.  These are all solid facts, not just “evidence” pulled out of the ass of someone who’s been fed a steady diet of ideological frenzy. In any case, there’s a difference between entertaining suspicions and turning them into presumptions, paranoia, propaganda and perfidy.

The most sickening trope to make the rounds, for my money at least, concerned Jeff Bauman, who lost both of his legs to terrorism. The wingers circulated a graphic photo of him at the scene, falsely identifying him as a vet who’d lost his limbs in combat, and suggesting that he’d been fitted with prosthetics that day so he could add a touch of realism to the elaborate hoax. (As Snopes mentions, it’s a common tactic among perpetrators of such rumors to find a Person B who bears a superficial resemblance to Person A, and declare that they’re one and the same.)

In our own universe, however, Bauman’s legs were intact until April 15. But he did become a hero of sorts by assisting in the identification of the suspects. Heavily medicated in the hospital, and unable to speak, he nonetheless grabbed pen and paper and scribbled a note to indicate that he had seen one of the bombers. and the information he provided proved useful in zeroing in on the alleged terrorists.

This, surely, is Boston at its best. It’s what men like Jeff Bauman do while other people are using him as a prop to circulate nutty rumors about the president. And demonstrating their “patriotism” by venting their obsessive loathing for half of their fellow Americans.

Chaos in Japan, Cognitive Dissonance in America

“And Lord, we are especially thankful for nuclear power – the cleanest, safest energy source there is. Except for solar, which is just a pipe dream”.        —Homer Simpson

Earthquake. Tsunami. Radiation. Japan was certainly struck with its share of disasters this month. And as a result, the U.S. was struck by a huge wave of hot air. Not produced by nature or technology, but by the media, as the pro-nuke punditocracy raced to assure us that things like this don’t really happen, and even if they do there’s no sense in getting alarmed because there’s no way radiation would harm the Japanese people (since that’s never happened before), and even if it does it couldn’t happen here, so we should forget the dangers and go full speed ahead with nuclear plants, just because, and if you question that then you must be tree-hugging  librul moonbeam jockey or something.

I heard people point out that the only ones who were questioning the advisability of nuclear power at this time were the ones who’ve always done so. To which one can only respond: “Well. duh.”  But it was the others, the ones who believe that expediency and profit trump all else, who have been dominating the “debate” in the media. (For the kind of informed, intelligent debate on nuclear energy that you probably won’t see on TV, go to TED Talks.)

To some, it seems distasteful that the topic should come up at all. There is a pervasive attitude about radiation hazard that is somewhat like the Victorian mindset about sex: everybody knows it exists but acknowledging it is deemed an impropriety. I heard an RRR (Rabidly Right-wing Relative), apparently reciting a Fox talking point, say, “Well look, we have hundreds of people killed by the earthquake and the tsunami, but some people are obsessed with radiation, which hasn’t killed anybody.”

Even though I was all too aware that the opinions of RRR’s are infallible even when they’re secondhand, I felt compelled to point out a couple of key differences here.

First, earthquakes and tsunamis are more or less instantaneous; and in this case they’re already past tense and we’re just dealing with the aftermath. Radiation, on the other hand, may not makes its effects known for years, even decades. (Care to ask the Japanese about this?) To say that the radiation hasn’t killed anyone is to make an extremely premature call.

Second, nobody knows how to prevent an earthquake or tsunami. Nuclear disasters, on the other hand, are one hundred percent preventable.

The question of whether they should be prevented with certainty (by eliminating nuclear power)- in other words, the question of how the risks stack up against the benefits, is open to debate. But the very existence of risk itself is not. Everybody knows it’s real. Well, everybody except this person maybe. Even the interviewer, fellow Fox funhouse fanatic Bill O’Reilly, is taken aback by this one.

With the exception, however, of this one sad individual who clearly is making yet another desperate attempt to draw attention to herself, we all  are more or less aware of the danger. We just prefer to look the other way. Because that’s what the punditocracy says we should do.

And in that regard, it’s very hard to come up with a more apt quote than this, from former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill: “If you set aside Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the safety record of nuclear is really very good.”

Oh.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

So Why Are They Blaming the Nice Little Tea Party for Those Nasty Shootings?

Hardly had the cyber-ink dried (or whatever cyber-ink does) on the last post, touching upon the patriotic posturing of today’s right-wing zealots, when the news broke of the Tuscon tragedy and its repercussions. Whenever such an episode of gun violence occurs, there are at least two responses that are very predictable. First, the NRA and its cohorts will rush to the defense of whatever weapon was used, insisting that “guns don’t kill, people do” (apparently believing that all those bullets were fired by bare hands) – even though, thanks to their tireless efforts to make firearms easily available, the line between gun and gunman has become hopelessly blurred. And second, the media will try to fit the incident into some kind of pattern, some kind of narrative.

The big question that has been thrown around over and over again is this: were the assassin’s actions in some way attributable to the poisonous polemics that have become the norm in the American public forum?  Right-wingers, naturally, were quick to answer in the negative, and bolstered their case by pointing out that in addition to being fond of such right-wing reading matter as “Mein Kampf”, the gunman was also known to read Marx. So obviously he’s a librul, huh?

In fact, he doesn’t appear to have been particularly motivated by ideology at all. He was obviously quite disturbed, and theoretically the violence could have happened to anyone at any time, anywhere. But is it really just chance that the victims were a Democratic congresswoman and her supporters?  Or has right-wing invective been ratcheted up to the point that non-right-wingers are bound to be the target of violence? Considering that the gunman was so disturbed, isn’t it likely that he was susceptible to suggestion? And if he was exposed to media rhetoric at all (which is all but certain), isn’t it probable that he was exposed quite a bit to Fox “News” and other purveyors of the constant message that “liberals” are evil beings who must be exterminated?  So what’s so far-fetched about the suggestion that Palinesque polemic egged him on?

In just the first 3 months of 2010, there were 42 security threats against members of Congress. All were Democrats. Just coincidence? And the wording of the threats often echoed Tea Party talking points. Just coincidence? Gabrielle Giffords herself had previously been the object of many such threats. Still coincidence? The election of a black Democratic president has sparked such a spike in threats of violence that the Secret Service is too swamped to deal with them all. Mere coincidence? During the first few months of 2010, death threats against members of Congress rose by 300 %. Also coincidence?

The real question then is not whether hateful rhetoric actually did prompt the killings, but whether it might have; in other words, whether it might do so in the future. And we already know the answer to that question. There have been at least three attempted violent attacks on “liberal” figures that were directly inspired by the frenzied, deliberately misinformed rants of Glenn Beck alone. The murderer of  Dr. Tiller in Kansas apparently was inspired by Bill O’Reilly’s demonization of the victim as a “baby killer”.  A gunman who opened fire in a Tennessee church stated that he wanted to kill all 100 people singled out in a book by Bernard Goldberg, another talking headless at Fox. A Pittsburgh man who murdered three policemen was motivated by the fear that the government was going to take away his guns – a paranoid fantasy frequently peddled by Fox, which he watched regularly. And lest we forget, the Oklahoma City bomber was a right-wing radical who spouted the same “anti-government” (i.e., anti-Democratic) worldview as these media figures.

Nasty bickering over ideological differences is certainly nothing new. But today’s Republicanoid rhetoric has gone way, way WAY beyond incivility, beyond ridicule, beyond anger, even beyond hatred. It now operates in the realm of what is known as “eliminationism” – i.e., the attitude that those who disagree with you are very real threats to life and liberty who must be removed by any means necessary.

But that’s only half the equation. The other half is that this political faction is closely linked with a creepy subculture that glorifies, even idolizes, guns. Combine those two elements and you’re bound to have an explosion eventually. Is it really so far-fetched to think that even the shooter in Tuscon might have been to some degree influenced by this toxic brew?

Inevitably attached to the media discussion about nasty polemics is the knee-jerk defense that “both sides do it”. It just ain’t so, not by a long shot. Oh sure, you’ll occasionally find a left-winger who spews hatred, or who threatens or even commits violence. But with right-wingers it’s not just an occasional thing. It’s deliberate standard operating procedure, 24/7, day after day after day after day. And there’s nothing the least bit subtle about it. Keith Olbermann, who’s generally regarded as the most strident pundit on the left, actually apologized for something he’d said that might be taken to be hateful. The day Beck or Limbaugh or Coulter or O’Reilly or Hannity or Malkin does that, better take cover to avoid being smothered by the droppings from all the flying pigs. In a truly bizarre twist of irony, one of the Arizona shooting victims who vented his rage against a Tea Party official by making a threat similar to what Tea Partiers make with impunity on a routine basis, was arrested and submitted to psychiatric evaluation.

Only one side routinely brings guns, and signs (some mass-produced) promising to use them, to political rallies. Only one side has leaders and revered mouthpieces who routinely say things like  “I tell people, don’t kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus – living fossils.” (Rush Limbaugh) Or “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.” (Ann Coulter). Or “Members of Congress) ought to be lined up and shot. I’m talking about the liberal leadership.” (Duke Cunningham, former CA congressman) Or “You know, it took me about a year to start hating the 9-11 victims’ families”. (Glenn Beck) Or “We are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism.” (Randall Terry of Operation Rescue) Or “Now if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes to disarm you and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms. Go for a head shot; they’re going to be wearing bulletproof vests.” (G. Gordon Liddy, felon turned talk show host) Or “So keep your guns, and buy more guns, and buy ammunition. Take back America.” (Kitty Werthmann, speaker at the “How to Take Back America Conference” in St. Louis) Or “Let’s talk a minute about ‘well-regulated militia’ and why you might need one because the government isn’t doing their job”. (Glenn Beck) Or “If ballots don’t work, bullets will.” (Joyce Kaufman, radio commentator and Tea Party speaker)

When called on the carpet for such remarks, these characters often insist that they were just joking – even though jokes generally are at least marginally funny. Freud would have a field day analyzing how their “humor” is almost always expressed in the vocabulary of violence and hatred.

Another thing you can predict with uncanny accuracy is that whenever the extremists get called out for their hatemongering, they will deny, spin, evade and – inevitably – shift the blame to “liberals”.  Before the shooting, Sarah Palin urged her followers to “reload”, and put images of crosshairs with names on a map. Afterward, she insisted that they were not really crosshairs at all; and yet she promptly took them off her site -why was that? The predictable reply is that she didn’t want anyone to misinterpret after the fact. But wouldn’t it have been just as easy for someone to “misinterpret” before the fact? And then, ever the hand-wringing victim of the “lamestream media” (which in fact promoted her like the greatest thing since toothpaste, even before she became one of its highly paid components), she raged about how libruls were out to get her with “blood libel” – a term that probably was not deliberately offensive, but just typically clueless.

Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh declared that the assassin had the full support of the Democratic Party (even though the prime victim was one of their own).  The head of the Tuscon Tea Party said that getting shot was Giffords’ own damn fault. Media talking heads lambasted “liberals” for supposedly exploiting this tragedy for political gain – even while the Tea Party Express was evoking the incident in fundraising emails. Many suggested that the whole thing might not have happened if only libruls hadn’t tried so hard to take away our guns, and everyone at Safeway had had one so we could’ve had a good old-fashioned Arizona shootout. (In fact, Arizona has some of the most lax gun laws in the universe, and firearms there are more abundant than rattlesnakes.) Bill O’Reilly, who apparently never listens to his own network or even his own words, fumed at those who dared question his brand of discourse as “merchants of hate” whose actions are “unprecedented”.

In my endless exploration of propaganda, I recently came across a website that promises “conservative commentary with an edge” (Is there any other kind of “conservative” commentary these days?) on which the moderator indignantly denied that any leading right-wing politicians had uttered incendiary statements. I promptly enlightened him about a few that readily came to mind, including Tea Party fanatic Sharron Angle, who very nearly was elected senator in Nevada after urging voters to “take out” Harry Reid and mentioned “Second Amendment remedies” as an option when you don’t get what you want. Well sir, he really went on a tear then, declaring that I was obviously one of them moon-eyed libruls, and I was quoting her out of context because she clearly was referring to arming yourself in general  against guvmint tyranny (such as, oh, the current administration) and  meant that you should FIRST try to take out Reid at the voting booth, and how could I be such an idiot as to think she was actually encouraging violence against elected American officials. Despite the well-demonstrated futility of attempting a real discussion with a frothy-mouthed ideologue, I couldn’t resist asking just, um, what country he thought “Second Amendment remedies” alluded to, anyway.

Within days of the massacre, as Gabrielle Giffords lay fighting for her life, fans of Sarah Palin weighed in on a Facebook page, and one had this to say about the 9-year-old girl murdered in the attack: “Christina Taylor Green was probably going to end up a left wing bleeding-heart liberal anyway. Hey, as “they” say, what would you do if you had the chance to kill Hitler as a kid? Exactly.” If you think the other commentators reprimanded her, think again. The next comment was about how “liberals are gong to use this as an excuse to take away all guns.” These folks haven’t just drunk the Kool-Aid, they’ve been baptized in it by total immersion. And sooner or later you have to wonder what kind of ideology would attract such life forms in such large numbers. For while it’s certainly not fair to judge any group by its dregs, these sentiments are all too typical of what you hear expressed at Tea Party gatherings, and by the faction’s political and media leaders.

For a very short time, it looked like there was going to be an era of civility, sanity and mutual respect in the wake of this tragedy. (Even Glenn Beck posted an appeal to stand against violence – next to a photo of himself brandishing a pistol in an attack-ready pose. You think we’re making this up?)  But needless to say, it was very short-lived. The venomous rhetoric will continue, and so will the violence and threats of violence. It’s just too profitable to give up. Eventually, there probably will be a massacre on a much larger scale, and odds are that such an incident might include a right-winger or two among its victims, if only by sheer chance. Then and only then, perhaps, they’ll finally start to look at the root of the problem. And they’ll no doubt conclude that it must be gay marriage.