Democracy’s Middleman

Too often are tragedies used to further political agendas

Jonathan Ross

I wrote the first draft of this article last night, November 7th, 2018, with the hopes that change might be made before further killings. This morning, November 8th, I read the headline: “12 Dead in California Bar Shooting”.

Earlier this year, another seventeen people died at Stoneman Douglas High School. As I’m sure many people will remember, our school held a walkout to honor the victims and demand change. We made speeches, printed tee shirts, and seemingly accomplished nothing. Almost ten months and many mass shootings later, no legislation has been passed to prevent the senseless killing in our nation. There has been no change. The Democrats have been unsuccessful in securing meaningful restrictions on guns, as some Republicans have pointed to shootings like those in California as support for their counterargument that gun control simply isn’t effective. On the flipside, though, an armed citizenry hasn’t deterred subsequent mass shootings, as Republicans have suggested.

So did we not do enough? Does the blame for shootings, in schools or our community, lie with the victims: students in their classrooms, elderly Jews at a Brita, and people relaxing at a bar? Clearly not. This blame lies not on those who fail to protect themselves or on those who fail to see violence coming; it lies on those who seek to use others’ tragedies as a means to further their own political beliefs.

Within hours after the shooting in Squirrel Hill first hit news, media outlets had already begun to shift focus away from the tragic events. They began to complain and they began to blame, alleging  that the “other side” was at fault. CNN wrote that Trump’s rhetoric regarding the immigrant caravan and illegal aliens had acted as a trigger for the deranged shooter, and Trump tweeted that the shooter could have been avoided had the synagogue employed armed guards. Quickly, people seemed to lose sight of the tragedy, with inaccurate portrayals of Squirrel Hill as a squalid community; and the tragedy acting as fuel for the fires that had been lit inside the political parties. It’s these fires that seek to burn the bridges between us, polarizing the nation, and eliminating an opportunity for change and the potential for unity.

In some circumstances unity is incited by foreign actions. 9/11 brought the country together in a time of need, collectively grieving over the deaths of almost 3000 people. George W. Bush, the sitting president at the time, spoke to the first responders from atop the rubble at Ground Zero. This was later aptly named the “Bullhorn Speech” and increased his approval rating almost 40%. For almost four months after the tragedy, public support for Bush continued, not necessarily because of personality or practice, but because his message gave Americans something to rally behind. At one point during his speech, Bush claimed that “the people who knocked down these buildings will soon hear you.” And just like that, America was united against a common enemy: terrorism.

It is my belief that the same general principle can be—and, in fact, needs to beapplied to the situation following the massacre in Squirrel Hill and the shooting in Thousand Oaks.  The enemies now are not terrorists in the Middle East — they are terrorists in our community, who may continue to threaten our safety because there are those who care more about the furthering of their political agenda than the lives of other people. To a certain extent, we are all guilty of this, leveraging a tragedy as a way to prove a point- but whether we mean well or not, it’s wrong. It’s polarizing and detrimental to progress being made in our nation. People who die in shootings aren’t statistics to be used in propaganda, they’re family, neighbors, and friends. The only way to honor them as people, not numbers, is to recognize that change needs to be made and that change will only come through working together, as a united people.

We mourn today for not only the Jewish community, but also for those in California. Remember the deaths of our neighbors and remember that a house divided against itself cannot stand.