When Empathy Fails Chaos Follows
The motivation for the shooting of Republican lawmakers at a baseball practice Wednesday remains unclear as yet. Eyewitnesses suggest it could be an escalation of the political conflict going on in the U.S. since Democrats decided Donald Trump was unfit to be president. A gunmen (now deceased) shot up to 100 rounds, wounding, among others, GOP whip Steve Scalise. Early reports indicate a political motive, but details are still developing as the shooter is identified.
The setting of a baseball field on an early summer morning is almost too benign for words, and yet this has happened. It is one of the great riddles of the human experience. How can people be neighbours for 20, 30, 40 years, then one day walk across the road to kill them with a machete or a gun or an explosive?
We have witnessed this phenomenon in Bosnia, Rwanda, Ukraine and India (to mention but a few places) as political divisions caused people who’d said hello to neighbors the week before to turn on them with a savagery that is stunning.
What causes human empathy to fail so disastrously? What explains a disappearance of decency to allow such behaviour?
The breakdown of decency is now a pertinent question as populist surges in the West expose fissures in society. Whether it’s Trump or Brexit or LePen, the unrestrained bile between the sides is stunning. The dehumanizing of the opposition has accelerated at a rapid clip.
Late-night TV comics have become so deranged about the Trump presidency that they have abandoned all pretense of fairness or decency. On the conservative side there is equal vituperation from the Alex Jones ilk for the attempts by progressives to delegitimize Trump’s historic presidency. People feel almost any action is justified to protect their side.
Before Wednesday’s shooting we had seen small clashes between the sides, but outside of a few riotous scenes at colleges, there has been nothing irrevocable yet. Yet the language has been corrosive. Here’s David Simon, producer of HBO’s The Wire: “If Donald Trump fires Robert Mueller and is allowed to do so, pick up a goddamn brick. That's all that's left to you.”
The notion that society won’t be as lucky forever is getting traction, however. On my podcast, The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin, two of our recent guests have suggested that it’s just a matter of time till this type of shooting happens and the Rubicon will have been crossed.
Criminologist Heather Mac Donald, who has debunked much of the Black Lives Matter statistical analysis on her book The War On Cops, told me that she fears the intractable militancy of BLM and the intimidation of moderate blacks will provoke a civil war. “What’s frustrating is seeing the racial animosity built up, that we are spreading this false (BLM) agenda that Obama has embraced, that (NFL QB) Colin Kaepernick has embraced, that is exacerbating existing levees of racial animus in inner-city areas, exacerbating hatred of cops, putting their lives at risk,
“I think we’re playing with fire here. I think we are risking a race war in which one side fights. It’s a worrisome situation.”
Author and immigration critic Peter Brimelow was even more bleak. “I think we’re headed for civil war in this country. The divisions are so profound, the American left has become increasingly extreme and totalitarian, I don’t see any way of resolving it. This is a country that’s armed, and there’s going to be an occasion like Berkeley… one day someone is going to take out a gun and start shooting.”
Were there a mollifying figure in the White House, there might be hope to calm the crisis. But the previous two presidents have inflamed the issue. By promoting a grievance culture that intimidated opponents for eight years, Obama enabled and encouraged the most extreme elements of the left. The erratic Donald Trump, meanwhile, has destabilized American society as he veers from crisis to crisis.
America is not alone in this cauldron. The Brexit vote and the recent British election show a badly fractured the British society is about race, equality and grievance. Arguments are just as bitter and divisive in the UK, minus the prospect of an armed citizenry.
While the election of Macron in France seemed to quiet that country’s populist movement under LePen, underlying racial tension breaks out in violence on a sickenly regular basis. No one believes there is any solution on the horizon.
There is hope that, if reason fails, perhaps financial pressures might cool the savage beasts. Outraged leftists used a commercial fatwa to rid themselves of FOX TV’s legend Bill O’Reilly. A similar campaign against the sponsors of Sean Hannity, FOX’s other mansplainer, severely ruffled his hair.
Stopping the dollars is an even greater threat to the left, which depends heavily on government handouts for their arts and dark crafts. Kathy Griffin was the first to discover how cold it gets when the cheques stop arriving. Her decapitated-Trump-head cost her a good gig as CNN’s New Year’s Eve beard for Anderson Cooper. She also lost a comedy tour and a commercial sponsor. (Then, in true progressive fashion, cried she was a victim.)
The latest lefty outpost to lose its money was the NYC Public Theater’s Shakespeare In The Park. They staged Julius Caesar with a Trumplike figure with yellow hair and long tie being graphically stabbed to death. In New York’s cultural klatch it was considered a million laffs.
But Delta Airlines wasn’t laughing. They cancelled their financial support for the production and the theatre. Bank of America took a powder from financially sponsoring the show. Other corporations are now under pressure to follow. You could see the mortification at Sunday’s Tony Awards as the tea-cup crusaders suddenly realized they might just be killing the golden goose with their Stephen Colbert crush.
Imagine if the same financial pullback were applied to the college campus insanity epitomized by BLM, Antifa and Occupy. It would be equivalent to the chill felt within the DC bureaucracy when alleged leaker Reality Winner was arrested for leaking government secrets. Cutting off the easy money of the Obama years might be the best way to cool the crazies. No wonder they’re fighting so hard to defeat Trump.
But it needs to happen soon. Before these shootings begin in earnest.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)