The question that “Virgil” of Breitbart examines is whether we can expect factors generating violence in the US to lead us to another civil war, and if so, how that can be avoided. In so doing, he looks at three points.
1. Ideas Have Consequences
Back in February, Virgil wrote about the “climate of violence” swirling around President Trump:
Is there a media-driven “climate of violence”? You bet there is, and it’s being whipped up by the left and the Main Stream Media, here and across the world.
At the time, Virgil was focusing mostly on a cover story in Village, an Irish magazine that gained its 15 minutes of fame by superimposing a crosshairs over a photo of Trump.
In the four months since then, this climate of violence has gotten worse: various performers, including Snoop Dogg and Kathy Griffin, have portrayed themselves injuring or killing the President. And in Manhattan’s Central Park, a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar featuring a Trump-like Caesar—that is, a tyrant deserving to be killed—is drawing admiring crowds every night. Indeed, Breitbart News’ Daniel Nussbaum and Jerome Hudson have tallied up no less than 15 significant incidents in which celebrities have threatened or depicted violence against Trump and the GOP.
So now, on Wednesday, we saw that low life imitates this sort of low art. The shooter at the Congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, VA, one James T. Hodgkinson, was a social-media addict possessed by murderous anti-Republican fervor.
More than just ideas having consequences, they are the birthplace of those actions that lead to sometimes terrifying consequences.
Just last year, Hodgkinson not only supported, but actively campaigned for, Bernie Sanders. For his part, the Vermont senator labeled the shooting a “despicable act,” adding, “violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”
Yet Sanders’ message doesn’t seem to have penetrated to all of his supporters. As Breitbart News noted,
A Facebook group called “Terminate the Republican Party” seemingly celebrates Wednesday’s assault. The Belleville News-Democrat reported that Hodgkinson belonged to this group.
Interestingly, this “Terminate” group is still on Facebook, boasting more than 13,000 followers.
So while we may never know exactly what triggered Hodgkinson’s crazed action—he was killed at the crime scene by better-aiming cops—it’s reasonable to surmise that the climate of violence he was drenched in had at least something to do with his actions.
His point is well taken. Immerse an individual such as Hodgkinson in a cesspit of hate such as the examples just given, and tragedy can be the result.
2. What To Do—Near Term
In the pithy words of the 20th-century sci-fi author Robert A. Heinlein, “An armed society is a polite society.” Not everyone will agree with that formulation, of course, but it’s worth recalling Heinlein’s further elaboration, which made a solid, if somewhat grim, conservative point: “Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life. For me, politeness is a sine qua non of civilization.” In other words, if we want good behavior—the linchpin of a wholesome society— then there must be consequences for bad behavior.
So it’s with this Heinleinian backdrop that we can recollect the famous phrase of the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre, uttered at a December 21, 2012 press conference just a few days after the Sandy Hook mass killing in Connecticut: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.”
These are the sort of comments that drive the left to fits bordering on incoherence. But that didn't help the liberals' cause. Enough Americans got LaPierre's message.
Yet evidently, a critical mass of Americans agreed with LaPierre. As we recall, even though President Obama had just been re-eIected by a wide margin, nothing came of the Democrats’ renewed gun-control push. Indeed, in the next national election, in November 2014, anti-gun control Republicans won a sweeping victory.
Continuing with the story of what happened at Wednesday's ball practice:
So today we might think on LaPierre’s words—about the power of a good guy (or good gal) with a gun—as we consider the testimony of a survivor of the Alexandria shooting, Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX):
We’re blessed, but I want to tell you…these Capitol Police saved every one of our lives. We would not be here today if it was not for the thin blue line that the Capitol Police did. We owe it all to them.
Yes, let us praise The Thin Blue Line.
Virgil then goes on to consider advanced, high-tech tools that might someday become effective vehicles for deterring crime. We don't have them yet, however.
Next he looks at potential solutions on a more long-term basis, correctly asserting that the ultimate deterrent to violence comes from a transition within the person, not from external forces, however essential they may be. While he ventures into the realm of the idealistic, his positions have merit.
3. What To Do, Long Term—the Lincoln Lesson
In addition to immediate security measures, we’re going to have to think, too, about what sort of society we wish to live in. After all, extrinsic technology will never be more important than intrinsic virtue. So if we can agree that people shouldn’t talk about harming or killing each other, then we should say so—and mean it.
Thus it was comforting to hear nice words, about healing and unity, from figures as diverse as President Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. And it was comforting, as well, to see this headline in the Washington Examiner: “Democrats turned a dugout into a sanctuary to pray for Republicans.”
And yet we can’t kid ourselves: Nice words, candlelight vigils, and hashtag campaigns, by themselves, won’t do anything to soften the hearts of stone killers.
In the meantime, as we have seen, the left is getting plenty pumped up on militant rejectionism that has a way of veering into violence.
This is correct. There will be a moment of obligatory bi-partisan remorse over what has happened, but the political issues and what are at stake will cause the length of any peace treaty to be measured in days if not in hours. Expect the vitriol we have experienced to return with a vengeance.
Virgil decries this situation and argues for a restrained approach. Whether he gets what he hopes for seem doubtful.
Still, maybe this would be an apt time to revive those conserving arguments about the value of cultural stability and good order.
After all, the danger today seems acute. As talk radio host Michael Savage put it in the wake of the Congressional shooting, “We are at a boiling point. There’s going to be a civil war.”
Maybe Savage is correct, although let’s hope not.
What does Virgil recommend?
Thus we come to the realm of basic civics; that is, how shall we behave in our country? And here, proper virtue is often more a matter of custom than of statute. As the great 18th-century conservative Edmund Burke put it,
Manners are of more importance than laws. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.
Of course, in our own time, with technology that Burke never dreamed of, we’ve seen a new concern: the ideological spiking of online stories, or the burying of them in search-engine rankings. Once again we can say: Here’s looking at you, again, Silicon Valley!
As just mentioned, there is a strain of idealism that runs through Virgil's piece that, while noble, seems a bit like wishful thinking. Perhaps we really are cynics. If so, we've had a lot of reasons to become such.