Tolerating the Intolerable
The longer we tolerate uncivilized behavior, the more we’ll see of it.
In the past week, alongside the tranquility of an extended Thanksgiving holiday, there was enough bad news to make our heads spin. Sadly, that’s becoming the norm — bad news seems to come in blizzards, not in flurries.
There was the Kyle Rittenhouse trial outcome, chilling on multiple levels: the polarized public reaction to the jury’s verdict, the now-obvious media bias in their year-long coverage of that case, and the shooting deaths that set it all in motion. Why was a 17-year-old boy at that place? Why was he carrying a powerful weapon? Why did feel compelled to use it?
There were the multiple “smash and grab” robberies, the new trend of brazen bulk theft of expensive merchandise from high-end stores by organized gangs in broad daylight — attacks on property, on the property owners, and on public order.
And there was the horrifying Waukesha rampage, in which a man named Darrell Brooks drove his vehicle through a Christmas parade — evidently by intent — killing six and injuring scores.
What’s happening in America? Are these events connected? And what can we do about them?
First, note the obvious common denominator: violence. All three are episodes of violent, uncivilized behavior. They are part and parcel of the steeply rising violent crime rates in American cities across the country.
Politicians talk a lot about finding the root cause of our problems. That’s a useful step — drilling down to the heart of an issue always sheds light on it. But our objective is not just to understand the problem, it’s to fix it — and that requires not only insight into the causes but also the resolve to act on that insight in practical, effective ways.
A high visibility example: VP Kamala Harris advises that a root cause of illegal immigration at our southern border is staggering poverty in Central America. That may be so, but it is not within our capability to materially improve financial circumstances in other countries, and understanding it does not stop the flood of illegal entry into this country. We need to plug the leaks.
The same is true in breaking the cycle of internal violence. Underlying factors aside, the primary reason that violence is escalating in America is that we tolerate it. We can’t find the resolve to stop it, so we get more of it. It’s that simple.
We (that is, the collective “we” — our elected federal, state, and local political leadership) constantly signal our tolerance of violence by our words and our actions. We seriously consider defunding police. We reduce or eliminate bail. We declare that theft of less than $950 is just a misdemeanor, and then we ignore it.
More importantly, we signal our tolerance of violence by our inaction. The summer of 2020 was a season of nightly riots in cities across the country. We essentially treated that violence as an understandable, and therefore tolerable, response to the George Floyd killing. We looked the other way. The term “mostly peaceful protest” became a cliché. It was wryly comical to watch the CNN on-scene broadcaster using that term, evidently not noticing the blazing building behind him.
We assign blame selectively. We blame wrongful individual police behavior on systemic racism, with little concrete basis. We automatically attribute all shooting deaths to the easy availability of guns, despite the obvious reality that Kyle Rittenhouse’s AR-15 was no more at fault for tragic death than was Darrell Brooks’ automobile.
We punish selectively. We hunt down and prosecute anyone who entered the Capitol Building on January 6, whether that person’s behavior was violent or not, but we’ll post bail for the presumably well-intentioned violent racial justice rioters to allow them to get back on the street in time for the next night’s riot.
We’ve become inured to the violence. The statistics creep up — the horrendous numbers of shootings in Chicago on any given weekend get little attention, because those numbers are just a bit higher than the previous week’s and will probably be repeated next week.
We let politics dictate our opinions and our actions. There is no logical reason why any violent riot, whether in the streets of Portland or in the halls of the U.S. Capitol, should be considered acceptable by either Democrats or Republicans. Moreover, they should be dealt with firmly, fairly, and equivalently by federal and local law enforcement. Justice shouldn’t depend on who is president or what narrative either political party is spinning.
The violence we’re seeing every day is wholly incompatible with civilized life. If we continue to tolerate it, we’ll see more and more. Anarchy is right around the corner. It’s time to say no.
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