Let’s stop bemoaning the ball park shooting in Virginia. I know it sounds crazy, but please, can we stop bemoaning and wailing about what happened. Not because it’s not horrible. It is horrible. It’s heart breaking and it’s anger making. But almost all of the bemoaning has to do with, “our coarse political culture and we’re so polarized and we don’t know how to talk to each other.” It’s amazing how much time we spend bemoaning that culture rather than doing something to change it. It’s amazing, and it’s maddening.
There is a real difference between complaining about the past or the present, and committing ourselves to doing something to changing the future. There is a real difference between the empty, and often hypocritical, chest beating that is going on all over the media, and doing something about the predicament in which we find ourselves. It demands that we ask ourselves some very tough questions and change our own behavior, and not simply bemoan the behavior of others, which is what most pundits and pols are actually doing — some more subtly, and some less so. Almost every person who was talking about how polarized we are and vicious we are to each other, actually tends to mean how “they” — some imagined “they”: if you’re on the right it’s the left, if you’re on the left, it’s the right — how “they”, are doing something horrible and we together have to do something better.
It is unbelievable, though I guess it should not be, to wake up the morning after this tragic, dangerous, upsetting (use any words that you think are most appropriate as people are lying in the hospital and Rep. Steve Scalise is in critical condition) to witness what it going on by way of response. How, for example, can the Washington Post actually feature such a beautiful op-ed as they did, addressing how we need to do better and we are all in this together as Americans before we are affiliated with any particular party, and the very same day publish an opinion piece by Kathleen Parker entitled, Is Donald Trump Making American Mentally Ill? Even if you think he is — really?! The morning after this happens, you come out swinging that way?
People are lying in the hospital in critical condition, even if you think it’s true, to even suggest that Donald Trump is responsible for mental illness collectively, and that somehow you are creating a context for better understanding the attempted murder of decent people, is outrageous. The Washington Post senior staff can publish all the things they want about what we need to do better, but if they’re not willing, at least the morning after such events, to discipline their own writers and say, “You know, today might not be the day for that particular piece,” or “today is the right day for that particular piece, but we are not going to title it that way.” It’s nuts! And by the way, it happens from the right at least as much.
To wake up in the morning and watch Fox News continuously over a two hour period return to explaining how the man who shot then Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was crazy, but the person who shot Steve Scalise and the others, that was political terrorism. It’s unbelievable. The person who shoots Democrat Gabby Giffords, well he’s a crazy person. Now that’s bad because it’s bad to be a crazy person, but of course there’s no political context which stirs people to that kind of outrage against that Democratic Congresswoman. But, when a lefty picks up a gun and starts shooting people, precisely because, it seems, they are Republicans, that’s a political assault. He’s not mentally ill, he’s driven by political hate that’s been created from the left. Really? You want to go down that road, fine, but you better apply it to yourselves also when someone picks up a gun of his own and starts shooting Democrats like Giffords.
It’s the same argument that we hear all the time. Why is it when a Muslim uses Islam to commit murder, he’s a terrorist? But when a Christian uses Christianity, or a Jew, much less often but it has happened, uses their tradition to commit murder, they’re mentally ill. I’m sorry, if we want to see things get better, we start by policing our own, not by policing someone else. And ultimately, it’s not even about the press. It’s about of each us, because we are the culture. There is no “they.” It’s all us together, and if we really want to see change, it has to begin with all of us.
For me, one quick suggestion in that regard would be the current production of Julius Caesar at New York’s Public Theater. I staunchly, if not comfortably, defended that production… until the morning of the shooting. And I still defend the idea that government should not step in and shape and limit what artists can do. That said, it would have been really helpful if the morning after the shooting, the artists got together and said, “We defend and uphold as sacred our right to make this art, but it may be, for at least a little while, that the image of murdered presidents is not what we need.”
There is a reason that sometimes you need to take a break, and this is one of them. Why? Because asserting our rights is not a replacement for being decent or wise, and critiquing others is not a replacement for looking inward and saying how are we — not someone else — going to do things differently if we actually want things to be different.
Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC’s Nightline UpClose, PBS’s Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, “For God’s Sake,” for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.