Like flies to feces, the extremists who have so debased the American political system in recent years are feasting mightily on the latest watershed event out Arizona -- the place where the American Dream went to die. The irony, of course, is that this debasement continues apace because the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to free speech, no matter how vile, while Congress and Obama administration, cowed by the NRA, all but assure the kind of violence that leaves a congresswoman with brain damage and a nine-year-old and five others murdered.
These extremists include the usual suspects: Fred Phelps and his sicko Westboro Baptist Church congregation that will protest at the funerals of Christina Green and the other Tuscon Massacre victims, the knuckle draggers who excoriate Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik for linking Jared Lee Loughner's rampage with anti-government rhetoric, and Rush Limbaugh and the other de facto heads of the Republican Party who rail against Dupnik and others, myself proudly included, who point out another link to the massacre -- the unashamed dog-whistle rhetoric that is their stock in trade and has so cheapened political and societal discourse and lubricated the fatwas of nut jobs like Loughner.
Okay, so we're belaboring the obvious here. Far less obvious is what happens next, and try as I might to find a silver lining, I believe that things will only get worse.
This is because for everyone like myself who lights a candle and says a prayer for Christina, whose grandparents were my neighbors for many years, there will be others upgrading their Glocks with the 33-round magazine that made Loughner's 9 millimeter automatic a weapon of mass destruction, one that was easily purchased in Arizona and could have been on two dozen other states, despite his growing psychopathy. Or so-called leaders who believe that only more guns can stop gun violence and propose an obscene piece of legislation called the Giffords-Zimmerman Act, named for the congresswoman and her now dead staff aide, that would require Arizona to train members of Congress to pack heat.
Loughner is not the stereotypical lone nut like the would-be Ronald Reagan assassin who was infatuated with a movie star or the would-be assassin of George Wallace, who longed to be famous. Loughner is yet another walk-on in contemporary American political theater where torches and pitchforks are de rigueur.
He is another Richard Poplawski, who dispatched three Pittsburgh police officers in 2009. Or the Republican challenger to a Democratic congresswoman in Florida who, like many a right-wing peer, hosted gun-themed fundraisers during the 2010 primary season, in this case at a rifle range where he shot at a human-shaped target with the congresswoman's initials written next to it. Or advocates of violence against government officials, including the hundreds of people who sent threatening messages to the federal judge who died in the massacre because of his reasoned opposition to Arizona's draconian immigration law.
Arizona was indeed the logical site for the most recent shoot-em-up because, as my blogging friend Will Bunch notes, it is symbolic of so many failed expectations.
The state was long the promised land, whether for retirees seeking sunny skies, parents like Christina's who were attracted by a booming economy and low taxes, or immigrants attracted by a bottomless job pool. And then President Obama was elected and the state's anti-immigrant right wing fell into the arms of the religious right and together they picked up the Tea Party banner.
Arizona is indeed where the American Dream went to die.Photograph from Getty Images