It is an idea that has dogged me for years now: that our nation has entered a kind of civil war fought mostly with words and mostly in the wild public spaces only the internet and omnipresent mass media can offer. Yet, it is a war nonetheless, with clearly defined sides, battles, attacks, and retreats; all with the objective of dominating and subjugating, if not completely eliminating, the opposition.
In the midst of this war, caught along its battle lines or even in the no-man’s land in between, are people who do not know how to cope with the forces the rest of us have unleashed, or at least have stood idly by while others unleashed them. Sometimes, when the pressure of this rhetorical war gets heavy enough, when the heat of the words gets hot enough, it pushes these kinds of people–those caught in the middle–to unthinkable acts, to turn the cold calculation of rhetoric into the white-hot blindness of unchecked rage.
I see Jared Loughner as one of these people caught in the middle.
I do not offer these words as an exoneration or even a defense of what Loughner has done but as an indictment of what we all are doing. It may be that Loughner would have done something heinous even without the rhetorical war so many of the rest of us are fighting, but the fact remains that war added fuel to his own rage that might have otherwise been absent.
At this point, I doubt we can do much to change the course of this conflict from where it has already gone. I think the battle has been joined and the fight will end only when the sides have exhausted themselves or when, God forbid, one side somehow defeats the other. There is no will to return to civility, and I think conflict fills the space civility vacates.
And, I see more people caught in the middle, unable to escape and looking for a way out. They will be the casualties of our rhetorical civil war as surely as they produce casualties of their own.