Here’s a sobering thought. Although little has been made of what the FiveThirtyEight blog once termed “The Facebook Primary”, that is the process of trying to extrapolate votes, election trends or general support for a candidate based on “likes” on his or her Facebook page, it is curious to see just how much support there may be for a candidate based solely on Facebook likes. Of course, this metric ultimately isn’t very reliable as it pertains to actual votes. The Pew Research Center states that 58 percent of American adults use Facebook. However, in what I will call “The Facebook Election”, one must note how many Facebook users are NOT over 18 and therefore cannot vote but are still politically aware and active to the extent that they can. Facebook provides the medium for which this group can express their views.
Further, according to FiveThirtyEight, users are in general “…disproportionately young (although not as young as users of other social media networks), low-income and female”. And because Facebook likes are obviously not votes and because Facebook use, regular or casual, is not a representative sample of the electorate, any discussion of a candidate based on support in social media must begin from the premise that there are limitations on what may or may not be extrapolated based exclusively on Facebook likes.
Much of what Facebook brings to the table is what one erstwhile popular comedian once termed an enhancement of personality. Beyond the ability to comment on posts and express views, Facebook likes may reflect what people in general may think of a candidate simply as a person. I became curious about this one metric and found some interesting numbers. As of March 31, 2016, Hillary Clinton had 3,078,534 likes on their personal Facebook page while her opponent for the Democratic nomination Bernie Sanders had 3,721,242 likes on his. These numbers are deliberately not taken from any campaign page, as many of these are simply unofficial groups of supporters or localized campaigns, but from a candidate’s own official “personal” page.
What does this metric indicate? Well, for one, depending on the number of likes Sanders had prior to his candidacy, it’s fascinating to see how much support he has garnered, especially from the young and tech-savvy, 2 demographics that skew strongly in his favor. It also would indicate that Hillary Clinton is not nearly as despised a public figure that some within the media or her opponent’s campaign would lead the public to believe. However, these numbers of likes are not necessarily large. Neither candidate can boast the numbers of likes of the New Orleans Saints, the lackluster NFL franchise who went 7-9 last year and missed the playoffs, with 4,063,945 as of this writing. Nor are either them as popular as comedian Seth Rogen, whose was most recently famous for playing a man who among other things threw up during a Christmas mass in the movie The Night Before, with 4,291,154 likes. Go figure.
Now here’s where it get’s interesting. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has 6,816,379 Facebook likes as of March 31, 2016. This is more than both Democratic candidates combined by over 16,000 likes. Granted he was a popular celebrity before his run for the White House, so that certainly padded his numbers. Also, if it’s any comfort to people who find the idea of a Trump presidency nauseating, take comfort in the knowledge that all 3 candidates combined still do not challenge the Facebook popularity of Avenged Sevenfold. No, I’ve never heard of them either, but they’re a California-based heavy metal band that hasn’t recorded anything since 2013, if you must know. But considering all that the media has made about Trump’s lack of any redeeming qualities as a person, much less his qualifications as contender for the presidency, coupled with the ability to un-like any Facebook page, this number jumps out at me. If the Democrats, and Bernie Sanders in particular, are going to assert how much popular support they enjoy based on social media and go on to use the idea that they have far greater advantage in November over the Republicans as a talking point, then somebody within their campaigns needs to rethink using the concept of social media popularity as an electoral strength.
Who do 58 percent of American adults, especially young, low-income females, like?
Donald Trump, it would seem.
There has been a surge in outbreaks of violence at Donald Trump rallies over the last few months; violence that in no small measure are being encouraged by the candidate himself. It has even been suggested that such incidents are being wholesale underwritten by the Trump campaign, up to and including now famous offers to cover his supporters’ legal fees if they are arrested and charged with assault. What these displays have done that is positive, however, if anything truly positive can come from a riot, is to provoke a wide national discussion about civility, or the lack of it, in the current presidential election cycle. But while Trump is pilloried in the national media for his supporters’ epileptic outbursts of rage, another type of violence has been going on for months unchecked and virtually unreported.
The crusade to elect Bernie Sanders the 45th President of the United States, and it is a crusade, has generated its own ranks of angry supporters engaging in vitriol which has often devolved into downright hate and abuse. It is not the streets or in his opponent’s campaign rallies that these zealots wander, but on the pages of Facebook, Twitter feeds and blog articles written on the premise that any attempt to stop Bernie Sanders is a useless, ill-fated, stupid and futile gesture. Hillary Clinton is a monster. This can be easily demonstrated even to the meanest observer by the fact that she gave paid speeches (that’s right…speeches) before Wall Street executives. She and her husband have a foundation. A foundation! Surely there can be no greater disqualifier to the nation’s highest office than being associated with a foundation. But there is. Worst of all, her campaign has money, lots of it, and it comes from just the worst sort of people. Nobody is quite sure who entirely, but the mere existence of a PAC to Sanders is damning enough.
These and other exhortations that in their totality sound eerily like passages from Quotations of Chairman Mao have made the Sanders campaign into a virtual caricature of itself. People have come to expect wide-eyed throngs at rallies for the candidate. What has been unexpected, the upset in Michigan and run of low delegate contests in the West notwithstanding is that Sanders is rapidly losing any hope of securing the nomination. National perceptions of Bernie Sanders, which translates into votes and the resultant delegate math, may at this stage have left his campaign hopelessly crippled, or more to the point mortally wounded. Like the ill-fated emperor in Julius Caesar, those who are the most steadfast and loyal, those who are closest to him, may be the very ones that wielded the daggers.
Back in July, I wrote a brief observation that garnered little attention which stated using no offensive terminology that I was just not feeling the Bernie Sanders mojo and I wasn’t. I’m still not and that is the fine point of it. To be a Bernie Sanders supporter is to be all about political revolution. It’s not about fixing or reforming Washington politics or ending the crippling gridlock that has plagued Congress for years. It’s not about compromise or bipartisanship. It’s about blowing up the system completely. It’s about approaching every issue that confronts this nation, from the environment to taxes, Middle East policy to guns, healthcare to energy, as a simple matter of income inequality. You aren’t even a Bernie Sanders supporter. You’re a believer. It is a movement that claims to be an honest, sincere and legitimate effort by Sanders to upend the system in Washington. But by the same token, every political candidate in every election, regardless of party or ideology, says that Washington is broken, corrupt beyond repair and needs to be ripped out like a moldy, old rug. So…you want to be President? Well, strange line of work you want to be going into, then.
I should like to state unequivocally that I wrote this long before his campaign and its accompanying hashtag became a national sensation on social media to propel the self-described democratic socialist to national prominence. It was clear at least to this observer that the entire Sanders campaign appeared to be little more than a figment of MSNBC’s fevered imagination. The classic, liberal Democratic candidate, with a curious and somewhat uncomfortable appeal almost exclusively to progressive, college educated white voters under 40, lay firmly in the fact that he wasn’t even a Democrat. Bernie Sanders had only become a Democrat in 2015, being an independent and a member of the old Liberty Union party prior to that. The move looked cynical. It appeared quite clear to almost everyone at the time that running as a Democrat was the only way he logically compete for the Presidency. How quickly we forget.
Of course, no discussion of Sanders’ quixotic campaign would be complete without noting the endless hashtag advocacy mentioned earlier that has become a hemorrhoid on the rear end of political discourse on social media. It is unbelievably irritating and nothing seems to relieve the “Berning Sensation” to coin an overused phrase. Virtually anything can be said, regardless of how outlandish or offensive, if one simply follows the statement with #FeelTheBern. It’s like Catholic indulgences in the Middle Ages. There is no sin that cannot be expunged with just a simple hashtag expressing the love and support you feel for your beloved candidate. You could put a picture of your child holding her new puppy or a statement wishing someone a speedy recovery after an appendectomy and invariably some moron would come along to post “F*** YOU! #FeelTheBern”.
A friend of mine recently described Bernie Sanders online media enthusiasts as “smug, entitled, clueless, and overall annoying”. Another friend showed me a screen print from a so-called “liberal chat room” demonstrating how she was subjected to interminable abuse from male Sanders supporters incensed at Clinton’s interruptions of the Revolutionary Leader at a televised debate, something permissible to him but never to the unrighteous. Even on her own Facebook page, my friend found herself on the receiving end of needless haranguing after posting an article from the blog Blue Nation Review that had the heretical temerity to question Sanders’ integrity. Any argument that was brought up to defend the author’s viewpoints or, heaven forbid, show any support for Hillary Clinton, was met with a barrage of insults and name-calling more suited to an elementary playground. One especially passive-aggressive Sanders supporter went so far as to dismiss any statement favoring Clinton as illogical and made only because my friend had “an emotional investment” in Clinton. Only by divorcing herself from emotions could she make a rational argument, which naturally would bring her around to Sanders. It was like listening to Spock with no Dr. McCoy to even him out.
On November 7, 2012 Rachel Maddow said: “…In this country, we have a two-party system in government. And the idea is supposed to be that the two sides both come up with ways to confront and fix the real problems facing our country. They both propose possible solutions to our real problems. And we debate between those possible solutions. And by the process of debate, we pick the best idea. That competition between good ideas from both sides about real problems in the real country should result in our country having better choices, better options, than if only one side is really working on the hard stuff.” This is the problem so many Sanders supporters fail to comprehend. There is one small obstruction to the glorious revolution that will reshape the future of America: the Republican Party. Like it or not, there is a firmly entrenched, well-funded and frankly rather numerous party that stands in solid opposition to everything both Democratic candidates want and stand for. For her part, Hillary Clinton, as unpopular as the notion may be with the progressive activist wing of her party, is keenly aware of that fact. Bernie Sanders, however, seems only keenly aware of Hillary Clinton.
This past January, in an installment of “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell”, MSNBC asked for representatives to appear from both campaigns to discuss foreign policy. The Clinton campaign sent Christopher Hill, a lifelong diplomat who served as deputy Secretary of State, former US Ambassador to Iraq, Korea and Poland and is currently dean of the Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. The Sanders campaign sent…nobody. Thom Hartmann, a progressive radio commentator, volunteered to offer his thoughts as a supporter. Does anybody see the problem here? Again, this is a cult of personality. The Bernie Sanders message is about domestic oligarchy and doesn’t concern itself with the intricacies, nuances and sheer complexity of American foreign policy. It’s just about War and Peace broadly. Occasionally it may drift to his opponent’s vote on the Iraq War in 2002 if he’s in a particularly feisty mood. But that’s really it. Fundamentally, the Sanders view on foreign policy is the same as his take on domestic issues: Are the rich or corporations involved? Then it’s not important.
Regardless of whether one believes in the ideas of his campaign or not, the question of judging Sanders as a candidate on the merits has become a dangerous game if one wants to tackle it online. There is genuine violence that occurs every day in the relative physical safety of social media. It is violence directed against Hillary Clinton and anyone who supports her that has been generated by many backers of Bernie Sanders. Although obviously not all Sanders supporters are like this, online cooler heads are very much in the minority. Primarily driven by young, college educated white men, the so-called “Berniebros” or “Berniebots” do not allow for the possibility of eventual party unity and that it a concern that must be discussed immediately, before Donald Trump locks up the Republican nomination. These fanatical Sanders supporters, who are legion on social media, are so caught up with the cult of personality that is his campaign (or crusade, or revolution, depending on your perspective), that they cannot conceive of an America that does not include a President Sanders after the election. The “Bernie or Bust” crowd from within the Sanders movement, sworn to vote for him or nobody, has enormous pitfalls inherent within it. As Bill Maher noted, “They’re revolting against the plutocracy. No, actually you’ll be helping elect a plutocrat who’s revolting.” It is, to use Trump’s own words, “a mess…a disaster” just waiting to happen.
The bile from these “Berniebots” is often directed straight at women and people of color. One begins to wonder if the Sanders campaign feels such people support Clinton because they are women or people of color and therefore are corporate trolls like she is who must be eradicated. There are strong racial overtones in this rhetoric that cannot be ignored. Statements such as “We are now moving out of the Deep South and into states more favorable to us” do not subtly imply that “us” are generally white and that is no way to build a coalition for victory in November. The “Berniebots” are approaching the election with all the enthusiasm and poor judgment of a fraternity keger and are beginning to rival Trump’s campaign for rancor. It is time for such people to be called out for what they are: mindless diehards who in their zeal may hand the White House to the GOP if their attacks continue to divide the Democrats. It is the Last Stand of White Male Privilege and it is coming from the left. Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy died trying to stave off this kind of division almost 50 years ago. It’s very disheartening to think that perhaps they were spared in not being able to see the great progressive movement come off the rails like this.
Say what you will, but Hillary Clinton supporters do not even come close to this kind of anger. Any objective observer can go on Facebook and Twitter and see whose supporters are the loudest and most petulant. Remember that she has a campaign. Bernie Sanders has a movement, perhaps even a cult by the Oxford definition standard. Certainly he has a revolution and thus believers and followers. Any opponents to the cause are thus being inordinately harassed, harangued and abused in an attempt to purge heretics from the pure faith and it needs to stop. Bernie Sanders is a good, decent and thoughtful man who wants only the best for his country. He needs to tell the more fanatical elements of his movement to back off, relax and remember who the enemy really is.
Hint: it’s NOT Hillary Clinton. It’s a loudmouth carnival barker with a bad toupee who will be very, very dangerous if allowed to reach the White House.
I didn’t watch the GOP Debate, which again are not debates but essentially WWF matches with suits and ties, and also apparently a form of self abuse I do not wish to indulge in. I would rather swallow glass. Instead, I found much better fare in the MSNBC College Tour Special with Bernie Sanders. It’s amazing how soothing it is to hear a reasonable person speak reasonably about the issues. I did, discover, however, one critical aspect of the junior senator from Vermont’s platform that in one fashion or another will probably doom him in a general election; one that until tonight has been largely glossed over by the mainstream media.
The role of the President as Commander-in-Chief is clearly one that if Sanders could work his will would be divorced entirely from the job as Chief Executive. He has very few substantive stances on foreign policy issues other than he voted against the Iraq War. That fact will carry him only so far against any GOP nominee, as I think Americans in general want to feel safe and be confident that there is no nation or group they cannot demolish on the world stage, anywhere at any time, militarily.
Sanders was clearly extremely uncomfortable with Chris Matthews’ line of questioning and awkwardly pivoted from the discussion about being Commander-in-Chief to what he stated is unequivocally far more important. You guessed it: Wall Street. Campaign finance reform. Millionaires and billionaires.
Sooner or later, Sanders must realize that either Hillary Clinton or the Republicans are going to press him about what he is going to do as President if he is brought to the situation room because America is under attack. Terrorists are not going to care about his vote against the AUMF or the Patriot Act 15 years ago. His campaign and their supporters must come to grips with the reality that Sanders will be pressed about this hard and mercilessly. Matthews went easy on him. Clinton will be vicious. The Republican nominee will be savage. The voters? Cruel, relentless and totally unforgiving.
Let’s not even ponder what will be going through the minds of the ones carrying out an attack.
The following is from a letter sent to the alumnae/i of Vassar College and to the parents of the students currently attending the college from President Catherine Bond Hill prior to a discussion to address “…current issues and tensions within our community related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” This writer is taking no sides in the current debate (yet), but feels that all sides require an airing out, since constructive engagement is clearly the only thing lacking at this juncture. As such, in the words of Shakespeare, “Judge when you hear”:
Vassar has as an abiding principle of “going to the source.” As you likely know, it comes from history professor Lucy Maynard Salmon, who at the turn of the 20th century encouraged her Vassar students to use primary sources to do their research. With so much being written in the media and on social media about these issues at Vassar, much of it without the benefit of primary sources at the college, we want to provide our alums and parents the opportunity to hear what is really happening on campus.
I would suggest that the op-ed about Vassar earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal fell far short of the principle of going to the source. It would have been useful for the authors to come to campus to find out for themselves what is actually going on before writing the piece. I have extended an invitation to them both to come to campus next week to meet with students, faculty, and members of the administration during our annual All College Days.
If they accept, they will see a vital community, grappling with some of the toughest issues of our time. Activist students, supporting a variety of issues, are not necessarily committed to dialogue. And, encouraging balanced programing and opportunities for discussion has been difficult. But, we are making some progress.
Earlier this week, Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist and political analyst, spoke out against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to a supportive audience. Late last month our Jewish Studies program sponsored a lecture by anthropologist Aomar Boum, who discussed his research at the United States Holocaust Museum detailing a partnership between North African Jews and Muslims to fight racism and anti-Semitism.
In late January, with support from my office, the elected leaders of our student government, the Vassar Student Association, along with members from a variety of student groups with differing views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, attended a training provided by the National Coalition Building Institute on addressing difficult issues. These kinds of events make us hopeful for even more productive and respectful exchanges.
This is not to say that we do not face difficult issues, we absolutely do. And, this includes incidents of anti-Semitism. Such incidents are in violation of our college regulations and policies and we do not tolerate them. We denounce them. A recent e-mail I sent to the community denounced anonymous anti-Semitic comments on the social media platform Yik Yak, and our Dean of the College emailed students this week, urging them to treat each other with the respect that is called for by, and is central to, our code of conduct as a community. I have called on our students to think about the impact of their actions on others in our community. I also have asked our community to call out actions that offend and harm others.
The recent speaker to campus who has attracted so much attention has also spoken at Harvard, Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, and Wellesley to name only a few institutions both in the United States and abroad. As academic institutions, we must be committed to academic freedom and free speech. Just as I objected to the call for the American Studies Association boycott of Israeli academic institutions, I will defend the faculty’s right to bring speakers of their choice to campus. I also will let the faculty who invited the recent lecturer speak for themselves.
Along with many others in the Vassar community, I am dissatisfied with the range of perspectives being presented on campus regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we are working to fill this gap. While many people on campus work hard to do this, the megaphone effect of those who think they know what is going on but really don’t, damages those efforts. As I have said before, Vassar deserves, and demands, better.
The real tragedy here, of course, is that Vassar College needed to have this conversation at all. But it is foolish to assume that in the great halls of academia where freedom of thought, inquiry and opinion reign that prejudice does not exist. It does. It always has and it always will. Perhaps some important perspective will be found in the days and weeks to come and perhaps not. One thing is certain. A great institution of higher learning has some explaining to do. Such explanations, however, will do little if people of good will are unwilling to listen. This is essential as listening is the foundation of understanding. It is necessary as understanding leads to healing.
We must remember, however, that bigotry, hatred and anti-Semitism are intolerable in a civilized society. As such, if there is a cancer in this place which so many of us love, it must be cut out, as surely as if were afflicting our own bodies. But a biopsy must nevertheless be done to determine how extensive the problem is. Is it a powerful malignancy comprised of many or the benign idiocy of a few? This we will determine. Some have suggested the patient is already too far gone; that we should now turn our backs and focus our efforts on those still worth saving.
I defy this notion.
Until Vassar College is dead and relegated to history, I, for one, will not allow those who seek to rip us apart because of our religious beliefs, who want wholesale bigotry to define this community, who have already decided that it is an irretrievable cesspool of prejudice or want only their side to be heard and no one else’s any semblance of victory of comfort.
We are Vassar. We are many and we are strong. Do not fuck with us.
One observer noted in regard to the New Hampshire Democratic debate on MSNBC: “The debate was revealing, but the questions were even more so; arguments about how to arrange the deck chairs gave way to the realization that the Titanic is sinking.” It is heartbreaking to admit, but it now appears that the Democrats as a party are at least as splintered and dysfunctional as the Republicans are and perhaps even more so. This is especially agonizing as progressives have long been pointing and laughing at the GOP as a hopelessly fractured party; one that is ripping apart at the seams as more moderate factions within it are beaten mercilessly into submission by Tea Party extremists, rendering the entire GOP as impotent on the national stage. Democrats have become complacent in the Obama years as they have watched the right often flail in the wind as they attempted to impede progressive causes such as the Affordable Care Act, voting rights, environmental protection, gun safety, violence against the African-American community by police, reproductive rights, gay marriage and other important issues.
Now it appears that the shoe is on the other foot and it could not have happened at a worse time. In this election cycle, it is the Democrats who are becoming useless and impotent as their party becomes more and more splintered. Moderates in that party are now being beaten mercilessly by extremists on the left and to make matters worse, Democrats seem to believe that having the party collapse beneath their feet is a good thing, equating implosion with “robust discussion”, because you know…”The Establishment”! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK! Cue horror movie theme music with the deranged killer ripping off his mask to reveal the face of Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Make no mistake. The Republicans are beginning to smell blood in the water and bile on the beltway. They realize that this is the moment they have waited eight long years for. They know that despite the handshakes and smiles on TV between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, their respective supporters loathe each other. On the GOP side, the vitriol generally comes from the candidates themselves. On the left, it comes from supporters of the two candidates against each other and few are willing to acknowledge the consequences if this behavior continues. Now, Democrats will of course say they want so-and-so to be the nominee but will support whoever is eventually on the ticket.
Anyone who believes that is delusional. It’s their candidate or nobody. Well, guess what? Nobody is going to wind up being a Republican. When Inauguration Day in 2017 comes, that man will have nobody to thank more heartily than progressives who hate each other more than a man who wants to take America to a 1950’s television sitcom world that Republicans believe was real but never actually existed.
I have seen nothing in the press, social media or polling data to even remotely suggest the Democrats will unite around their eventual nominee. This isn’t 2008. Each campaign’s supporters are using the tactics that the GOP developed and each is following that playbook to the letter. To Sanders supporters, Clinton is untrustworthy, endless scandals make her too much of a liability and offers nothing except what amounts to an Obama third term. Besides, she’s in bed with corporations and Wall Street. Clinton’s supporters say Sanders is an avowed socialist who Americans simply will not support in a general election with a plan for massive social programs that will never get past Congress. Besides, does he give any indication he’s the guy you want when that phone rings at the White House at 3AM? Karl Rove would be proud to call himself a Democrat today.
I hate to be a whinging pom, but it seems to me that Sanders supporters will not have any qualms about staying home on Election Day because they can find nothing positive about a Clinton presidency. In turn, Clinton supporters will all too gladly stay at home on Election Day because they can find nothing positive about a Sanders presidency. But I guarantee you the Republicans will not stay at home. They may not like their eventual nominee, but their blinding hatred of the Democrats is far, far stronger than the Democrats inevitable milquetoast support of their eventual nominee. Beware the power of the angry, white, male voter. He is a conservative who never liked Hillary Clinton and sees Bernie Sanders as a Communist and has far more fight left in him than the mainstream media is prepared to acknowledge. His fury, and those who feel as he does, will surely rocket the GOP all the way to the White House in 2016 as Democrats bludgeon their own to the point where it will be only a weak, battered and exposed shell of a candidate who actually makes it to Philadelphia this summer. The social media and beltway press infighting among progressives is exactly what the conservatives have been dreaming of.
“I,Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. So help me God.”
Don’t like it? Get used to it. It’s probably going to happen.Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States unless the Democratic Party begins to find something good, genuine, decent, intelligent, positive and exciting about one of their candidates and begin to coalesce around that person. Not later in the primaries.
Consider the following mass shooting scenarios: 1.) The Overland Park Jewish Community Center in Kansas, 2.) The Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado, 3.) The Emmanuel AME Church in South Carolina, 4.) The Inland Community Center in California and 5.)The Umpqua Community College in Oregon. In each of the 5 cases, multiple shots were fired with multiple fatalities. The identity of each shooter was not immediately known but authorities quickly made a determination and in some cases the perpetrator was captured and their backgrounds well established shortly afterward. The motive was not immediately clear in any of the cases but seemed obvious to most observers, especially to those who opine on television for a living.
Now let’s look a little closer. We will refer to the shooters as a singular “gunman” for argument’s sake and each shooting to be an “incident” or “engagement”.
A gunman at any Jewish center, regardless of ethnic background or religion, is going to be assumed to have anti-Semitic views. If the gunman is white, those views will be presumed to be neo-Nazi. The same is true with the incident at a Planned Parenthood. Any gunman will be presumed to have strong anti-abortion rights views and probably an evangelical or other Pentecostal Christian; possibly Roman Catholic. A white gunman opened fire at a predominately black church in the South. The logical conclusion is the motive is neo-Confederate, white-supremacist in nature. The incident at the Inland Community Center is presumed to be international terrorism because the gunman is Middle-Eastern in heritage and had made a trip to Saudi Arabia. The gunman in Oregon is reported to have had anti-religious or anti-government views in general but was also reported to have had long-term mental health issues. This makes it the only case where the justice system actually seemed to have a mass shooter with no discernible political, religious or ethnic axe to grind. Perhaps this was the only one of the 5 incidents listed above whom observers on the right quickly classify the perpetrator as “mentally ill”.
Setting aside incidents that are obviously criminal, such as a bank robbery or a narcotics related firefight, most Americans feel the inclination to see any mass shooting as “terrorism”. The FBI defines “mass shooting” as one where 4 or more people have been shot in one incident. Terrorism by definition is the use of violence to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, and as such, try and effect changes in government policy. This presents us with an unsettling dilemma. Which, if any, of the incidents noted above, are “terrorism”, “hate crimes” or just “crime”? The answer is obvious. Who do you perceive the gunman to be? Your own ideology and worldview will shape how you view such incidents. You will be certain you know what really happened long before any hard facts arrive, long before the press conferences stop and the cable news talking heads fall silent.
Again, consider your perceptions if the following occurred:
What if the Overland Park Center incident was committed by an anti-religious gunman?
What if a Middle-Eastern man had engaged the Planned Parenthood in Colorado?
What if the gunman at the Emmanuel AME Church was black?
What if the Inland Community Center had been engaged by one gunman? Or multiple gunmen but all white?
What if the Community College in Oregon gunman had been devoutly and fervently religious but Jewish?
Suddenly, the line between what we define as “crime” and “terrorism” becomes blurred. Who is a completely sane yet dedicated fanatic and who is just “mentally ill” changes, does it not? What we want to see in huge red print on our online news feed or used as material for our particular political candidate is generally shaped not by facts, but by perceptions, which may turn out to be false and often do. We as Americans often like to say that someone is innocent until proven otherwise in a court of law. But we all know that is never the case in mass shootings. Definitions of who the gunman (or gunmen) are will always advance our pre-determined agenda. Events will be perceived in a way that suits our purposes for television and social media and will tend to prop up what we already know is going on.
Even if we actually have no idea.
It’s very rare to witness a murder first hand. It’s even rarer to have a murder recorded for posterity. So it was on November 22, 1963 that Abraham Zapruder made what is arguably the most famous and important 27 seconds in film history when he inadvertently filmed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The film shocked and horrified the nation when it was first publicly broadcast on TV in 1975. In 40 years since then, how times have changed. Then again, it’s both remarkable and unfortunate how little we ourselves have changed. Two reporters were brutally shot and killed in Virginia on live television today. I’m not going to address the issue of guns, since it would probably be good for America to not pretend anymore that anything will ever happen to mitigate their unchecked proliferation in our society. Rather, what strikes me harder is the insatiable fascination we seem to have for watching this loop over and over and over and over again. Even the camera still, which shows a young reporter conducting an interview with maybe a second or so to live, is eerily hypnotic to a culture which thrives on death and death imagery.
Think about it. Where would the anti-abortion movement be without carefully edited footage of dead fetal tissue? Where would the crusade to curb smoking in America be without a rogue’s gallery of people slowly and horribly dying of cancer? I know what you’re thinking. But you’re wrong. You are a ghoul and you should be ashamed of yourself. They say people who watch porn are deviants. Bull. You want deviant and sickening behavior? How about the millions of us who watched two lives being snuffed out in an instant on our handy YouTube mobile app; perhaps during a quick break along with your friends during lunch? Thanks also to the online news outlets to make sure we all got our collective fix. Some will simply say “Death is a part of life” to excuse themselves of the guilty pleasure of watching a murder as often as they like with the perpetuity that the internet grants us. A poor excuse for watching a cold-blooded killing on repeat. Death is a natural thing. But this is as far from natural as you can get. This is not “part of life”. This is Murder Live with Kelly and Michael and it’s entertainment. If your aim is to see public death, try 1793.
Face it. You love this. But sadly, no gray matter for you to see here and I know you were SO hoping for some. Mr. Zapruder was good, but not that good. In a moment of time captured purely by accident, he helped to create an America which will never get enough bloodlust on film. A media player like Lee Harvey Oswald (remember ”I’m a patsy!” in front of the cameras?) could never have imagined the kind of instantaneous, viral exposure his moment of abject violence would have brought him today in his most fevered dreams. A live killing as it happens is what we all wanted. It’s OK, though. I’m a deviant, too…and I’m ashamed.