A Wake-up Call For Americans
Wednesday - January 19, 2011
“But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized - at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do - it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”-President Barack Obama
At a time when we needed it most, these were the words the president used. He used them as a salve for a country emotional and raw from yet another senseless tragedy. Another massacre - another man with death on his mind and a high-powered gun in his hands. He shot 19 people, gravely wounding a congresswoman and killing six bystanders.
People immediately blamed the hateful rhetoric that has been choking our political atmosphere like a cloud of angry, vengeful bees. And then came news that the accused gunman, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, might be mentally unstable. That set off another round of fury and recriminations, this time from the right. How dare anyone, they said, accuse us of causing this tragedy? Words don’t kill, they said, people kill. And the back and forth began anew, threatening to overcome the tragedy with the all-too-familiar toxicity lately that has both defined and divided us.
That’s when President Obama stepped in. At the memorial for the Arizonians who lost their lives, he reminded us all of some things we may have forgotten.
One, that we are one nation, and we need to stand together. Two, that we are people, not sheep, and we are not doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over and over. He reminded us of our goodness, our decency and our capacity for love. He pointed out the heroes. And he gave us hope.
“I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here - they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us.”
We don’t yet know Loughner’s motivations for such a heinous act. I am convinced, though, that we need to add something else to the national discourse - the need for stricter gun control.
I do believe that extreme and warlike political rhetoric (lock and load, anyone?) created the poisonous atmosphere that feeds violent tendencies. Who will argue that hateful words do not breed suspicion and fear?
But it must be obvious that it’s the easy availability of guns that makes the killing easy, and inevitable. Loughner, so unstable that he had been turned away by the military and a college, was able to buy a gun and a high-capacity ammunition clip without any hassle at all. Why do we allow this bad nightmare to happen repeatedly?
The president did not make accusations. Rather, he used his words to calm, praise and heal. Most poignantly, he spoke as a man and as a father. His voice choked when he described the youngest victim, Christina Taylor Green. She was a 9/11 baby and a girl who was already interested in making the world a better place. She had been elected to her school’s student government. She was idealistic and innocent. She loved our country and was curious about our system of democracy. She wanted to meet her congresswoman. And now the little girl who could have one day done so much good in this world is dead.
I feel like we - all of us - let her down. President Obama, himself the father of two little girls, said this:
“I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us - we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.”
He is right. We have to do it for ourselves, for our nation and, yes, for our children.
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