It’s been a roller-coaster week of emotions in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting that horrified the nation last Saturday. On Wednesday, Sarah Palin confused and appalled Jewish groups by claiming that she was the victim of a “blood libel,” — a particularly curious choice of words, given that Giffords is Jewish. The same day, President Obama used the power of his oratory to attempt to bring hope and unity to an angry, bewildered nation. Obama urged us to join together and avoid recriminations, and he was right in sounding that note. But without directly pointing fingers I think we do have to interrogate our national character and ask why so many of us were shattered, but not surprised, about Saturday’s events?
When I first found out about the shooting, it was through a breaking news alert on my phone. Not near a computer, I had no idea if the shooting was a random rampage, a targeted attack, a product of a lone psycho or an ideologue. As the daughter of baby boomers traumatized by the wave of political assassinations of the ‘60s, and as a political writer who fretted about all the violent potential in the last two years — semiautomatic guns at political rallies, leaders spewing hatred tinged with menace, budget cuts and job loss cutting off help to the desperate and mentally disturbed — I saw a pot primed to boil over.
And I wasn’t surprised that the victim was a strong, female member of Congress who had been stalked and obsessively, if not coherently, hated by her would-be-killer. As Jessica Valenti wrote in the Guardian, when images of violence are associated with “real manhood,” violence takes on the sheen of a real form of recourse for the disenfranchised — and women, or womanliness, is an obvious target. Any woman who’s written about politics on the Internet knows how easily the anonymous responses can move beyond garden-variety trolling to nastiness and worse.
This crime combined dozens of troubling threads in the American fabric: inadequate mental health services, anti-government paranoia, easy access to guns, violent language and imagery increasing in the public sphere — and yes, misogyny.