Violence in America: Why its Political Class Bears the Brunt

Gabrielle Giffords, Democratic nominee and gen...Image via Wikipedia
Everything in the USA tends to be bigger than elsewhere in the developed world, from skyscrapers to violence. The recent shooting in Arizona of  Democrat Rep, Gabrielle Giffords, that left her clinging to life - the bullet travelled through her brain - and killed six people, including a child (9 years old) and a Federal judge, is a case in point.

The blogosphere and the media immediately went a-twitter: this was so much better than Wikileaks! Of course, Arizona is a state awash with anti-immigrant and anti-government passions, so assigning the blame to the political right was a no-brainer. The fact that she's a pretty, 40 year-old woman, wife of an astronaut and Navy captain, added to the unholy glitter of the news.

Politicians jumped on the bandwagon of comments: starting with the local county sherif (a Democrat) raging about "the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on this country", a direct result, as he saw it, of Republican Tea Party rants against the government, all the way to President Obama who immediately condemned the shooting and said "we're going to get to the bottom of this and we're going to get through with this".

The bottom seems to be rather shallow: for the moment, the culprit, already arrested, is an unbalanced young man who'd been putting threatening messages on YouTube. But he might have had an accomplice and things could get more complicated. Local law enforcement authoricities believe Giffords was specifically targetted.

Reactions in the political world in Washington have been fairly uniform. Beyond expressions of sorrow, Democrats have fairly uniformly pointed the finger to "inflammatory rethoric that incites political violence". Republicans have vigorously denied the accusation but some among them have admitted that it amounts to a "cautionary tale".

Cautionaury? Indeed! We're back to the usual formula: violence + politics= social unrest. By the way, that's a formula you can read both ways: from left to right and from right to left. Definitely America is going through a very, very difficult period. The Great Recession is hardly over, unemployment has given no sign of improvement for the last 19 months. Even the news that unemployment went from 9.8% to 9.4% last month didn't bring smiles on anyone's lips, since it was clearly not near enough to solve the problem. Economists and various other pundits had hoped for the creation of 200,000 new jobs when in fact (depending on how you crunch the statistics) probably some 50,000 were created - way below what's needed just to mop up the people who've been laid off in the past 6 months. And let's not talk about the chances of the thousands of new, young college graduates out there, trying to land their first job...

From our standpoint in Europe, it is always surprising to see how violent America gets. One can sympathize with the glum climate in the US - things are not any better on this side of the Atlantic: indeed, on the unemployment front, especially in Southern Europe, they are much worse. Unemployment can reach 40, even 50 percent among certain segments of the population, particularly the young. And the kind of job on offer, mostly in services (like for example, call centres or washing dishes) are definite downers, especially for the hopeful young with a university degree.

But political violence in Europe tends to be expressed in street protests and near-riots, burning cars and breaking up shop windows, rather than political killings like in the US.We all remember the ghastly and spectacular shooting of President Kennedy in 1963. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that only Democrats get shot. President Reagan was also subject to attack. It's just that America is a trigger-happy country, all the more so that it is the only democracy in the world with such liberal gun laws.

How about considering a tightening of gun laws? I'd love to know how my American readers feel about this. That issue so far, in the first hours and days following the shooting, remarkably, has hardly come up, either in official comments, the media or the blogosphere. With a rare exception, like Keith Olbermann who aired a special session on TV to condemn "violence in democracy" and called on Americans to "put their guns down". While a highly commendable stand, it is still clearly rethorical. What is needed is a call to legislative action to curb the reach of the gun laws. If anyone has made that call, I haven't seen it. Please tell me I'm wrong and that the issue IS coming up!

Interestingly enough, Gabrielle Giffords, like most Americans, was not in favour of cutting back on the gun laws. For some unfathomable reason, Americans see toting a gun around as part of their fundamental citizen rights. If she ever recovers from her wounds and makes it back in political life (something I fervently wish for her sake), I wonder how she'll feel about her country's gun laws...
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