Civility

Years ago, Terry Gilliam made an excellent and understated movie called “The Fisher King” starring Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams. Jeff Bridges starts the movie off as an incredibly popular “shock jock” who specializes in making shocking statements to rile up his audience — popular in the 90s, popular now. A disturbed young man calls in to ask Jeff Bridges about something during the call-in show and Jeff Bridges’s character, playing to his audience, makes some nasty comments to the disturbed kid. The disturbed kid then takes a semi-automatic into a high-end restaurant and massacres the diners, including Robin William’s character’s wife.

There’s a saying: “Politics is Hollywood for ugly people.” Politics has always had a certain entertainment aspect to it. Saying utterly ridiculous things and getting them repeated in the media is a time-honored tradition since Benjamin Franklin Bache published the politics gossip rag the Philadelphia Aurora. Politicial speech has a certain one-ups-manship to it where, in the heat of a campaign, the more outrageous a statement, the more the base is fired up to go out and vote. And in this call-and-response environment where one is surrounded by one’s followers, one is tempted to say some pretty ridiculous things.

However, someone running for political office indicates that person wishes to be, ultimately, a leader of men. And a leader of men has to be cognizant of how their words will resonate, not just with the base or with trying to “get” the enemy, but with other people, out there, who might be listening — who probably are listening. Those people may not hear your remarks to “reload” or “use Second Amendment Solutions” as rhetorical campaign speech. They may take it literally. Saturate the airwaves with enough of this rhetoric and it will reach out to someone, somewhere.

This rhetoric of guns and murder and “getting them” in our political speech isn’t just Internet mouthbreathers. It’s everywhere: in political commercials that play during campaign seasons 24/7, on YouTube, on Facebook, on the Sunday talk shows, on Twitter, in newspapers, and on talk radio. It even leaks onto NPR. It’s inescapable and it has clearly gotten out of control.

My entire point is this: If you wish to stand up and put yourself forward as a leader of men, you need to be mindful of what is coming out of your mouth, the tone you take, and how it might be received. You might think it’s fun to use gun and violence in your political speech to score points and add a little swagger but more than your followers are listening. You know it will be picked up by partisan press and repeated and amplified a million times. It may be a young man with easy access to semi-automatic firearms with schizophrenia and command hallucinations who listens to you as one of the many authorities floating around and it just… helps things along. You simply do not know and it is your job to lead. If you lead with vicious speech full of violence, you will reap what you sow.

Also, I absolutely agree with the Mighty God King.

There’s other things here — how does someone with schizophrenia walk into a sporting goods store and buy a semi-automatic, why was he never given help, why did our health care system fail yet again, etc. etc. but the root, the core, is a culture currently seeped on TV and the Internet and the radio with violence against elected officials and it’s got to stop.