An argument for considering the Tucson Massacre a political event

1. Jared Loughner had a politics, one that included violence as an expressive political event.

2. Rep. Giffords was a national politician, who was engaged in local political work at a public place when Loughner attempted to kill her.

3. Rep. Giffords had local political opponents who contested her election and her policy choices, sometimes by using violent speech, symbols and actions. Some of her opponents were Republican partisans and some were likely movement activists associated with that Party.

4. America's political culture, along with the society of which it is a part, is composed of fragments, some of which consider themselves authorized to act violently in order to defend their interests and to defend what they consider to be an authentic American way of life. They believe they have this authority because they utilize the thoughts and symbols of the American Revolution and because they, in some cases, draw upon the Protestant political theology that many of America's colonists brought with them from Europe.

5. Those social fragments which consider themselves authorized to act violently in order to defend their interests and to defend what they consider to be an authentic American way of life are mostly if not exclusively located within the orbit of the national Republican Party.

6. The national Republican Party seeks and has long sought to monopolize the naming and defining of what is truly American. The Republican Party attempts to achieve this monopoly, in part, by excluding every competitor they encounter in this matter. In this way the national Republican Party practices what can be identified as an absolutist politics.

7. As a practitioner of an absolutist politics, the national Republican Party seeks to effectively if not to actually eliminate its opponents as political opponents. It is motivated to achieve this end because of its commitment to an 'authentic American life' and because of the religiosity of some of its member groups.

8. Mr. Loughner's attempt to assassinate Rep. Giffords neatly encapsulates this dangerous and uniquely American political situation, a situation which provides the context in which we must evaluate the Tucson Massacre.

The attempted assassination of Rep. Giffords was a political event because her assailant had a politics that made her a target while, in turn, she had a politics that motivated some politically violent individuals to make her a target; she was a politician with a local following and a national reputation; the assassination attempt occurred at an open, public political venue, more specifically, at a place where Giffords practiced her politics; Loughner's violent act reflected key features of the local and national political culture; and the killings could be irrationally justified by the assailant and others by drawing upon the symbols, rhetoric and violent nature of America's founding. To the reactionary, assassinating Giffords could be defended as an act of a patriot. He sought to water liberty's tree with the blood of tyrants.

It can be and has been argued that Jared Loughner was incapable of reasonable thought and action because he suffered from a severe but as of yet unknown mental illness. Loughner, because of his illness, was incapable of acting politically because politics in general assumes a modicum of rational thinking capacity and because Loughner was incapable of rational thought. Consequently, Loughner's actions cannot be rightly considered political because, to put it simply, he was not sane or, at best, barely sane.

This argument fails, I believe, because it ignores the context in which the Loughner lived and thus learned to think, feel and act. In recent years this context was flush with violent rhetoric and behavior, most of which issued from the mouths, keyboards and bodies of the reactionary right. Much of the locally generated violent talk took Rep. Giffords as a key target. This discourse of violence crystallized during the 2010 midterm campaign. Moreover, Giffords was a member of Congress, and thus a plausible threat to the weak and marginal in America, at least she was thought to pose this kind of threat by those on the right who believe government to be an evil in every instance when that government exceeds its minimal size. Loughner, it seems, was such an individual. His internet videos reflect this kind of thinking. His deed and words reflect this local and national political context. And his action was premeditated. He acted purposefully in the weeks that preceded the massacre. Thus, Loughner's deed can be judged a political act because it was meant to be a political act and produced political effects.

That said, even if one believes that Loughner's mental distress meant that he was unable to form a politics, that is, even if Loughner was insane and unable to rationally formulate a politics and a practice, it remains the case that his deed also reflects the thinking and recommendations of the reactionary component of the national Republican Party and the movements related to it. The context confers political significance on the event no matter what Loughner intended or could intend.

It is for these reasons that I believe the Tucson Massacre to be a political event, and ought to be considered a political event even if Jared Loughner were to proven to be criminally insane. Any claim which refuses to consider Loughner's act a political act also refuses to consider the facts as they are known and refuses to treat politics as an activity that cannot be wholly reduced to the subjective intentions of this or that individual.

This essay was cross-posted at OpenSalon and All Tied Up and Nowhere to Go

No comments: