The Rush-ians Are Coming!
following appeared (compensated) in the January 1995 issue of the Santa Fe Sun (p.
16). This was well before the Oklahoma City Bombing, the slaughter of
Women's Clinic receptionists in Boston, and certainly before the
assassination of Prime Minister Rabin of Israel. I stand by my
predictions. Some have already come to pass. Still, I would hope that
I am NOT right, and that this is a mere jeremiad.
Williams © 1995
is not the product of thought; it is the habit or ritual of showing
respect for certain formulations to which, for various reasons
having to do with emotional safety, we have very strong ties of
whose meaning and consequences in actuality we have no clear
-- Lionel Trilling
— that is, those codes of public conduct (and private hypocrisy, for
that matter) which we share with our forebears, England, Rome,
Athenian Greece, etc. -- is under a merciless and unrelenting attack.
and those attacking are armed with FAX machines, satellite uplinks,
cable television, simultaneous radio syndication on "robot"
AM and FM stations, 800 numbers, cellular phones, computerized mailing
lists, and even the Internet and the WorldWideWeb.
The barbarians are
at the gate; the heretics' court is about to be called into session.
To listen to talk radio is to listen to America, and what is out there
isn't very nice.
What has happened to
public debate? What has happened to "debate" proper? In the
words of one cartoonist, the wife at her computer tells her raging
husband, "When I want your opinion, I'll listen to Rush
We live in a world
of ugly editorializing, often as the news is being read (G. Gordon
Liddy, for example). But listen to Don Imus: "Well, he's just a
wussy! Pansy, wimpy little wussy!" This in response to the debate
on GATT! Or this from Limbaugh's show, in response to a granny lady's
"megadittoes" and her revelation that she likes to do
crossword puzzles. She mentioned that Rush was now an answer in
puzzles. She said that she'd not been able to get a clue once. I had
done that puzzle: NY TIMES, Sunday, puns on dances and people's names,
i.e. "Waltz Disney." She breathlessly told Rush that she'd
cracked the clue: Rush Limbo! From Mr. Limbaugh? "Well,
all those people who write crossword puzzles are liberals!"
With a sneer and a slur, and not a clue at all.
What? I defy the
reader to identify the fallacies involved. The former, of course, is ad
hominem, "against the man." But the latter?
We have an ideology
of sniping; a government by slander. It is a debate of low guffaws and
Another example: I
was online the other night. We were in a chat room, discussing Jeffrey
Dahmer. It had evolved into a discussion of the morality of capital
punishment. And then this: "THIS IS BORING THE F**K OUT OF ME.
YOUR LIBERELS ARENT YOU??" (sic) (This from a fellow with a
handle something like BGDICK4U!!?)
broke up as seven or eight of us flamed the Neanderthal subliterate.
But the damage was done. Whatever actual conversation might have
happened was lost to the "Beavis & Butthead" sniggering
of some cybersex junkie named BGDICK. (Someone speculated
"U" and not "I" as probable.)
But this is the
problem in miniature. I was proud of the civilized netheads online,
but I realized that BGDICK didn't care for any wit but his own, half
measure of it. And this is what one hears on talk radio: griping and
sniggering. Talk radio is only the tip of the iceberg: Geraldo,
t-shirts and a plethora of others come to mind.
But there is a
terrible effect. We know, historically, that when you sow the wind,
you reap the whirlwind. Sow anger and reap bloodshed. The case of Paul
Hill is not a farfetched one.
Paul Hill shot and
killed a doctor and a retired gentleman who'd agreed to accompany the
doctor to protect him. The doctor was performing abortions. Paul Hill,
one does not doubt, was never involved with the painful circumstance
of an abortion, either personally or peripherally, but he killed them
just the same, in the
name of his 'God.'
John Brown engaged
in the same tactics in "Bloody Kansas" in the late 1850s.
The first battle of the Civil War took place at a little bit of
forested campground on a prairie 15 miles south of Lawrence, Kansas,
called Black Jack. Within ten years of that first bloodbath, initiated
by John Brown and his boys, 26,000 died in a single afternoon of
carnage at Antietam. Europeans could not believe the numbers (many
more died of their wounds, added silently to the abattoir).
was wrong, but was there not a better way of ending it? Prior to that,
by 1859, a Southern congressman so brutally beat an Abolitionist
congressman that the fellow was nearly dead and permanently maimed, on
the floor of Congress!
The parallel is not
an extreme one. The dogs of war do not return meekly to their kennels.
When discourse and reason cease, violence cannot be far behind. That
is history's lesson.
Today, when Paul
Hill is discussed on "talk radio," the victim is invariably
referred to as an "abortionist" by the literate, and
"an abortion doctor" by the less so. The other victim is
rarely mentioned at all. His death is not interesting ideologically.
Do you see how
important it is that we frame our speech precisely? If we say it one
way, there is no excuse. But, stated the way it now stands, it almost
seems (if your views run that way) that Paul Hill might have a
case for shooting two unarmed men in the backs with a shotgun. (How
We of America hated
the Russians for fifty years. Then, the Russians were gone: no more
Communists left to hate. We have no one left to hate now, none to vent
our self-righteousness, our "freedom" and "American
Dream" on but ourselves.
But hatred is a very
difficult habit to break, and hating (for over fifty years) becomes a
kind of need. And, lately, one hears 'liberal' spoken in the same
tones, with the same hateful inflections once reserved for pinkos,
commies and subversives (whoever they finally turned out to be).
A radical form of
moderation is needed. Extremism in defense of moderation might seem
contradictory, but it may also be an absolute necessity.
I will not be
surprised if some "Right Thinking" lunatic attempts
assassination in 1995. [NB: proved exactly correct] There are
precedents enough. It is a natural outcome of such speaking. Once, a
fellow in the Balkans (Serbia/Croatia) started World War I in that
But in the meantime
(and I do mean mean time), we have to stand up for some degree
of civility. Perhaps, like Grandma used to say: "I respect your
opinions, but if you continue to speak like that, I'm going to have to
ask you to leave." Barbarism masquerading as civilized behavior
is still barbarism, after all.
And, as Grandpa
might growl, if the savage failed to get the point: "You can walk
out or fly out -- your choice."
The barbarians are
not waiting politely for us to answer the doorbell. And it is not
their homes that will burn.
Hart Williams holds out his
pinkie when drinking tea.