I won't go into all of the political charges and counter charges relating to the mass shooting in Arizona over the past weekend. Andrew Sullivan over at The Atlantic is, as usual, doing a great job of looking at both sides, so if you want an overview I suggest you go there. What concerns me is, I think, much bigger and much scarier.
I've mentioned before that I'm worried about the confluence of a presidential election in our current heated political environment with the increasing awareness of, and crazy ideas, centering on end of the world theories involving the year 2012. Briefly, you'll remember, the ancient Mayan calendar ends a long cycle of measurement on December 21, 2012. This seems to coincide with other predictions and prophecies made through history, as well as some astronomical events involving the alignments of the solar system and the planets. Couple this stuff, explained and examined over and over again by the History channel (among others), with the end times prophecies of Apocalyptic Christians, Jews and Muslims (also presented with graphic images of A-bombs exploding and Horsemen riding on cable channels) and you can see why some, including your Curmudgeon, worry.
The usual response to such worries is a chorus of, "It can't happen here," followed by the suggestion that the worrier may need to get a life. I think after Tucson that argument has lost most of its force. What has driven me to the keyboard now was hearing a cut from Glenn Beck's radio show after the shooting. In describing what Beck said was an exchange of emails with Sarah Palin, Mr. Beck mentioned that if, God forbid, Palin were shot the country would just explode. (Or words to that effect, since I can't locate the link to see exactly what he said) That pretty much raised my blood pressure, coming as it did in response to the shooting of a Democratic member of Congress whose district was targeted, by Palin, with gun sight cross hairs, in the last election. Talk about projection!
So, just what is my nightmare and what, if anything, can we do to prevent it from happening? My 2012 story goes like this:
After a highly charged primary race the Republicans nominate former half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as their candidate for the Presidency. The campaign leading up to the election is both brutal and somewhat unconventional. Instead of debates between the candidates we are blistered by wave after wave of social media attack and counterattack. The rhetoric gets so bad that both Facebook and Twitter attempt to moderate postings. Bad idea! The cries of censorship flow from both camps and the rhetoric just gets hotter. Election night feels, to most, like the air pushed ahead of a really bad hurricane. Something awful is about to happen. And then the polls close and, as President Obama is declared the winner in his bid for reelection, all hell breaks out across the country with riots, shootings, fires and looting.
Now, as a nation we have faced these kind of things before, most recently in race related actions like the Rodney King riots in L.A. But this time it's different. It's not just one city or even one region, it's all across the nation. And it doesn't burn itself out in a few days because, unlike in previous periods of our history, a large chunk of popular media in the form of Fox News and talk radio not only doesn't push for restraint but actually fans the flames with anti Obama rhetoric. Obama sends the National Guard to, say, Memphis to quell the rioting there and the troops are fired upon by packs of citizen soldiers trying to protect their families from the naked provocation of this "Illegitimate President." The rioting gets worse. Armed attacks are made against the President, and somewhat surprisingly, against the Vice-President. A brief dip into the talk radio cesspool reveals that the Tea Party types have finally realized that a Republican, Speaker of the House John Boehner, is now second in line for the Presidency and Twitter and the blogs are aflame with talk of the idea that he, after assuming the office, can then appoint the defeated Sarah Palin to be his VP. Then, just weeks away from the dreaded date of December 21, 2012, the end of the world types add their own fuel to the fires. If the world is going to come to an end anyway, they think, why should I follow any laws enforced by "those" people in charge. And besides, the religious among them reason, only through the Apocalypse can we reach the golden era promised by the Prophets. After national martial law is declared on December 19th things go from bad to worse. New Years Day 2013 finds us at war with ourselves. The American experiment has come to an end.
Mighty bleak, ain't it? Now, I don't claim to be any kind of prophet nor do I have a crystal ball. What I do have is a rich understanding of sociology and the real power of both mass media and the new social media to influence people. So, what can be done?
Let's all at least try to get both sides of each and every issue presented to the public. If some friend or family member forwards to you a link or an email that sounds, well, crazy, call them on it. Or at least ask them for their source. Oh ya, and I'd suggest stocking up on bottled water and toilet paper starting around the end of October 2012. Just to be safe.