The Coming War on Violence: Vitriol, Violence and the Politics of the Two-Party State

In the wake of yesterday's massacre in Tucson, Arizona, Americans are struggling to make sense of an act of violence which is all-too-common in American society.  Indeed, overnight a police officer and another man were killed, and five others were wounded, in a shooting outside a Baltimore nightclub.  Today, it appears that the words of Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik have provided some direction to the national dialogue, with his denunciation of "all the vitriol that we hear inflaming the American public."

After the first round of finger-pointing yesterday, in which partisans on both sides of the duopoly divide sought to capitalize upon the tragic shooting to score cheap partisan political points, we can conclude that the next round of discourse will likely result in the de-politicization of this act of violence, also in the interest of scoring cheap partisan political points.  Democrats and Republicans began by each blaming the other for supplying the assassin with his political motivation.  They will end, as always, by agreeing that neither is culpable though both share the blame.  This is their mode of operation.  Like Pontious Pilate, they wash their hands of the affair, but like Lady Macbeth they can't seem to remove the "damn'd spot." 

It is perhaps only to be expected that Dupnik's denunciation of partisan "vitriol" has resonated with the public, the media and elected officials alike.  The focus on rhetoric ensures that we need not confront any of the deeper political issues that might be brought into focus by the tragedy.  Howard Kurtz writes:
Let's be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn't act shocked when politicians do the same thing.
He effectively concludes, however, that this tragedy is not about the political context of political violence, but rather that "it's about a lone nutjob who doesn't value human life."  One might say the same of Pilate and Macbeth, yet that would not do justice to the tragedy of the New Testament or Shakespeare.

It is no new discovery that the language of Democratic-Republican party politics and government is the language of armed warfare.  The converse of Clausewitz's classic military maxim is their operating principle: politics is the continuation of war by other means.  The desire for political enemies among Democrats and Republicans is so great, they are rarely content when their only adversaries are on the other side of the duopoly divide.  The Democratic and Republican parties are always effectively in a state of civil war, as the mindless drones of the corporate media never tire of telling us.  Republicans are not only at war with Democrats, they are also at war with Republicans-in-name-only.  Democrats are not only at war with Republicans, they are at war with Democrats-in-name-only as well.  

In most cases, however, the real violence that results from the politics of the reigning two-party state does not reign down upon the agents of that politics.  Rather, it is displaced from the two-party antagonism onto others, whether legitimately or not.  In either case, it is undeniable that Democratic-Republican party politics often amounts to nothing more than the base glorification of violence.  People complain that Democrats and Republicans cannot come together to solve problems for the good of the country.  But Democrats and Republicans do not solve problems, they just declare wars on them: the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the culture wars, the war on terror, the war on obesity, the war on common sense and decency, the war on religion, the war on science, the war on healthcare, the war on business, the war on rights, liberties and the rule of law and so on.

We should not be surprised if our nation's political leaders were to declare a war on violence this week, blinded to the irony of the act by their display of bipartisan showmanship itself.  Arguably, political violence is just the logical and tragic conclusion of Democratic-Republican party politics and government.  In this way, it spirals back toward its point of origin.  It is no coincidence that the Democratic-Republican two-party state was born of the nation's First Civil War.  Hopefully that will remain its last.  It is long past time to declare our independence from the failed politics of the two-party state.

Update:  It appears the war on violence has already begun, and the first target is the first amendment.  From CNN:
Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pennsylvania, said he will introduce legislation making it a federal crime for a person to use language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening or inciting violence against a Member of Congress or federal official.  [Emphasis added.]
Apparently, the legislation is also aimed at pacifying the hysterical spouses lobby, a highly influential special interest group.  The article continues:
Brady said he is hearing that the spouses of some of his congressional colleagues, specifically the newly elected members, are terrified and questioning whether they should remain in Congress. . . . "The spouses are in an uproar," he said. "They are panicking."


Samuel Wilson said...

The question of the suspect's sanity should temper any rhetoric about rhetoric this weekend. Until we learn more about him beyond the internet postings attributed to him, it's hard to say whether "hate" or "intolerance" or partisan rhetoric contributed to his mental state. What I've seen points at a mania against power (identified with "mind control")that flourishes beyond party lines. You were right yesterday to note the absurdity of each party blaming the other for the shootings, but it may be that neither is to blame rather than both.

d.eris said...

Just to be clear, I don't think a causal link can be drawn between Democrat-Republican rhetoric and the Tucson shooter's act. At least on the basis of what is currently known. But it may well be the case that the shooter's act, in its very senselessness, irrationality, and brutality, is an appropriate metaphor for the actual violence that results from the actual policies of the ruling parties.

I do think the shift in focus from an act of violence to violent rhetoric and vitriol is an avoidance maneuver typical of Democratic-Republican politics. The change in focus allows everyone to cease talking about actual violence in the guise of doing something about violence by talking about how we talk about politics. It's the next stage of the circle jerk.

It is by means of a similar/related ideological sleight of hand that Democrats and Republicans routinely depoliticize the violence that results directly from their policies, by which they avoid taking responsibility for it.

It is often violence perpetrated in the course of pursuing the Democratic-Republican party's various real and metaphorical wars which is depoliticized in this way. For example, the "war on drugs" is metaphorical in a sense, but, in another sense, it is a real war that the ruling parties have declared on millions of Americans, who are killed and brutalized by government agents promulgating that failed war on a daily basis. Yet this violence is de-politicized such that no one is effectively responsible for it. But the bodies pile up and the prisons overflow, and the police (warfare/welfare) state can continue to expand.

Anonymous said...

If you're not ready to take a bullet, you don't belong in politics. I am not condoning what happened. It has just been my position for a long while now that the people who's agendas/policies cause wars should be the people targeted for death. Why should tens of thousands of civilians become casualties because of governmental policies they have no control over? Why waste billions of dollars on "defense" spending? I firmly believe that all wars should be fought via assassination. It would make all politicians far more willing to find compromises when their lives and the lives of their families are directly tied to their political decisions.