The politicization of tragedies
The first major shooting that really impacted me was the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Feb. 14, 2018. As a jaded senior excited about graduation and going to college at Carnegie Mellon, the shooting shocked me out of my final semester reverie.
When news of the shooting first came out, the details were horrifying. As reported by CNN, Nikolas Cruz, the lone gunman responsible for this heinous crime, walked into Stoneman Douglas with an AR-15 rifle and opened fire, killing 17 people during his rampage through the building. This made for the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook, nearly six years prior.
It was a sobering reminder that evil existed outside the confines of history and wars and international terrorism; it was very much alive and far closer than any of us ever suspected. All my friends and I talked about for the next three weeks was the shooting, and even after countless discussions, the sadness, anger, and fear never really dissipated. I hoped that that would be the nearest I ever came to such a tragedy, both geographically and emotionally.
And then this past Saturday happened, less than a mile away from campus.
A different gunman, a different group of people, a different location, but it was the same sickening narrative, an act of evil and spite that caused lasting physical and emotional damage, and one that tore at the very fabric of a loving community.
After every crime and incident, two things follow: the facts and the opinions. The facts are straightforward, and despite what those who decry the mainstream media as “fake news” might think, are undisputable: on Oct. 27, Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill and opened fire on a congregation engaged in worship, killing 11 innocent people. He was apprehended by the police after sustaining gunshot wounds himself and is now being held in custody.
The opinions, on the other hand, are not as clear-cut. Every time something bad happens, there’s a human tendency to want to blame an individual or a group and to hold some entity accountable. Following the shooting, Facebook comments and online forums held true to this pattern, where alongside the thoughts and prayers, many pointed fingers at Trump and the Republicans, citing Trump’s rhetoric for inflaming and normalizing anti-Semitic ideals and emboldening hate groups while blaming Republicans for their refusal to enact stricter gun control laws. Unsurprisingly, supporters of the present administration retaliated with equal parts vigor and vitriol.
It’s not hard to see why people might think this way: Trump belched some pretty awful things during his campaign and has only continued to get worse and worse as we venture further into his quagmire of a presidency, while the Republicans have always been opposed to any perceived infringements of the Second Amendment.
Even though the current government has been a nexus of frustration for Americans, it’s important to realize that as soon as you take a situation in a political direction, you’ve crossed the Rubicon. People will argue their politics ad infinitum, and with how polarized everything is, debates are far more destructive than constructive, focusing on who won rather than what was achieved.
When you capitalize on a tragedy politically, you are wantonly sparking a heated battle, where both the anonymity and disconnection of the internet enables people to say things they otherwise would not say in real life. This leads to an endless conflict which obscures the real issues, refocusing all the attention on the political rather than social arena. When people begin hurling insults at the opposing side, they do so not in the name or in the service of the victims, but to defend their own values.
I’m not saying that we should not have political discussions about these tragedies; a lot of the problems that we face are rooted in the political system, and those must be addressed. However, we should approach them in an appropriate and measured manner when both sides are ready for civil discourse instead of calling each other out in the comments section of a Facebook post. By doing this, we lose sight of our common humanity, contributing to a divide that conceals just how similar we are to one another.
I’m not going to pretend that we live in an ideal world, where everyone can agree on everything. By nature, we each have very different views, and the political machinery of our nation helps to codify those views into opposing sides, pitting one group against another in the process. Coming wholly together is not likely to happen, nor should it: diversity, if employed properly, can be a major asset.
However, unlike what pundits such as Ben Shapiro believe, I don’t think the answer is to leave each other alone either. America was founded upon the ideals of liberty and fraternity, and if our history has taught us anything, it’s that people from wildly different backgrounds can come together and work for the greater good of the nation, even if they clash on fundamental issues.
As citizens of the U.S., that is what we are tasked with in these dark times. We may not be able to agree on petty politics, but the majority of us (fascists and white supremacists excluded) can agree on more noble values, such as the sanctity of life and the freedom of worship. If we choose to focus on the fact that those unalienable rights — to which every American regardless of gender, color, or creed is entitled to — were violated this past Saturday rather than shifting blame, then we have already taken a bold step forward in conquering the divisiveness that’s sown by those who would rather see us at each other’s throats than having each other’s backs.
The 11 lives that were wrongfully taken will join the hundreds who have already fallen to the scourge of domestic terrorism, and it’s unlikely that they will be the last. People are fond of saying that if we don’t learn from our past, we are doomed to repeat it. Instead of submitting to this vicious cycle, we must have the courage to break it, to swallow our tribalism and to reach out to each other as humans beyond all pretense. After all, I think everyone can agree that the deaths of innocent people should not be a daily occurrence.