If you’re actually paying attention to what’s going on in American politics these days you have to be exhausted. And there’s a good chance you have whiplash.
The swirl shifted suddenly from the fatiguing matter of Donald Trump, the Russians, and various former directors of the FBI, to the horror of a man attempting murder as a means to a political end. He had sought out and opened fire on members of the congressional Republican baseball team. That only the shooter ended up dead was the fortunate result of his off-the-mark aim and more so, the fast, brave actions of first responders and members of the baseball team.
As the most seriously wounded congressman, Majority Whip Steve Scalise, lay in his hospital bed, the talk started turning on several fronts – from Democrats and Republicans alike – of the need to tone down the political rhetoric. On the Fox News Channel, Charles Krauthammer dared to be more specific.
He said the problem is that the two parties, the two ideologies, “speak about politics in apocalyptic terms.”
“If the other guy wins, it’s the end of the republic. If the other guy wins, it’s the end of the world,” Krauthammer said.
“If (leaders) were less apocalyptic in speaking about the other side ... we would have the beginning of a de-escalation.”
He’s right, of course. Right in the diagnosis, this Pulitzer Prize winning conservative columnist and psychiatrist, and right that his diagnosis applies to both patients.
Political leaders play to their bases, to keep them fired up.
The base media wings follow their political leaders. Liberals and Democrats tend to dominate traditional newspapers and magazines while conservatives and Republicans own Talk Radio. The two sides fairly-well split online news sites and prime-time cable TV.
The media follow the leaders because they want the leaders’ followers – as readers, listeners, and viewers. To win them, and as each attempts to stand above the others, they crank it up louder. The media is the stack of amplifiers in the arena of apocalyptic political rock and roll.
Finally, the fury and the sound reach the fringe, where lunatics prone to be radicalized have always been found.
I retweeted Krauthammer’s comment, posted proudly by the Fox News Channel itself, adding a note about both sides being equally guilty. The reply came rapidly.
“Both sides guilty, absolutely. Equally? Much tougher argument.”
We always think the other guy’s tunes are too loud.
The fact is, as soon as we undertake to argue who is louder, who is guiltier, we’re right back where we started. If each side simply ended its own contribution, turned down its own volume, we’d be done. There was a guy who knew this truth a long time ago. On a hillside near the sea he said one fine day: Worry about the volume of your own stereo. I paraphrase.
The night after Krauthammer made his thoughtful plea for an end to the apocalyptic rhetoric, there appeared on the same Fox News Channel Sean Hannity’s Question of the Day: “Is the Left trying to Destroy America?”
Apocalyptic political rock and roll will never die.
Observer contributor Keith Larson can be heard on “The Larson Page” which airs weekdays at Noon on ESPN Radio Charlotte (730 AM) and TheLarsonPage.com.