Have Americans lost trust in each other? - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Have Americans lost trust in each other?

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Posted: Friday, January 14, 2011 10:50 am | Updated: 8:15 pm, Sun Jan 16, 2011.

A shooting spree in Tucson on Saturday left six dead, and 13 others wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., the target of the attack. Within hours, the Internet melted down as commentators left and right began ascribing political motives to the attack.

President Obama on Wednesday attempted to cool tempers and called for greater civility in the public discourse. "At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized," he told a memorial service crowd at the University of Arizona, "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."

Do President Obama's words offer hope for less-toxic discussion? Or does the reaction to the events in Tucson expose an irreparable rift in the public discourse? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, wade into the discussion.

BEN BOYCHUK

President Obama delivered a fine speech on Wednesday. He called Americans to rise above the petty rancor of the moment, reminding those who wish to be reminded that there is more to life than politics.

Unfortunately, it's a reminder Americans are unlikely to heed for long. We've had similar unifying moments in our recent history that didn't last. Sept. 11, 2001 was one of them.

If your first thought upon hearing the news Saturday that a gunman shot down a congresswoman and innocent bystanders was to blame the Tea Party, fine. It was a confusing, emotional day. If after a week you still blame the Tea Party or Sarah Palin or some phantasmal "climate of hate," you have a problem.

But it's worth remembering that the rhetoric that divides Americans today has been at the center of our politics from the very beginning.

"Give me liberty or give me death," Patrick Henry said. "Guard with jealous attention the public liberty," George Mason said. "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants," Thomas Jefferson said.

Those aren't incitements to violence. It's who we are as a people. At the risk of gross oversimplification, most of our political fights come down to a struggle between a faction that puts individual liberty first, and another faction that would trade a little liberty for a little security. The gulf between those two factions gets wider by the day.

We should hope and pray Rep. Giffords and the other victims fully recover from their wounds. But it's hard not to conclude from this episode that some rhetorical wounds can never be healed when the principles at stake are so vital.

JOEL MATHIS

Glenn Beck is right.

Not about everything, mind you, or even most things. But Beck is right to lament how Americans have lost the spirit of unity that filled the nation, oh so briefly, after 9/11.

Remember those days, and remember them with some bittersweet fondness.

They may represent the final moment -- ever -- that Americans came together in the aftermath of tragedy. Nowadays, everybody retreats immediately to their ideological camps and girds for battle, no matter the facts on the ground. Despite President Obama's very nice speech Wednesday night in Tuscon, that's unlikely to change soon.

Why? Because our politics is more about denying legitimacy to the "other" side than it is about solving the problems that face the country.

It's understandable why many liberals thought the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords was the work of a right-wing terrorist: the rhetoric on the right in recent years has been alarmingly militant.

But liberal commentators were wrong to publicly cast blame before we even knew Jared Lee Loughner's identity and motives; a wait-and-see silence would've been appropriate.

It's understandable why conservatives recoiled from associating their rhetoric with any kind "climate of hate" surrounding the shooting: Loughner is clearly mentally ill; Republicans aren't responsible for the vagaries of his brain chemistry. But right-wing commentators were also wrong not to pause and reconsider the appropriateness their side's recent talk of "Second Amendment remedies" in the political realm.

Nobody pauses. Nobody reflects. The only way to start trusting each other again would be to shut up and listen to each other once in awhile. But what are the chances that will happen? Non-existent, it seems. I'm right, you're wrong, and that's all anybody needs to know.

Boychuk and Mathis blog regularly at www.somewhatreasonable.com and joelmathis.blogspot.com.

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