In the latest bout of political madness in America, someone sent letters laced with the deadly poison ricin to President Obama, Mayor Bloomberg and the gun control organization Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Even more disturbingly, violence or the threat of violence as a means of expression has been growing steadily in our nation.
I will leave it to the sociologists to figure out whether race has anything to do with this, but one thing is for certain: there has been a definite spike in political militancy since President Obama took office in 2009, and a lot of it has come from the right. From Sarah Palin's bullseyes over Democrats on Facebook, the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, and a bizarre joke cracked by a Tea Partier about assassinating a Senator, to poisoned letters to advocates of gun control, we are witnessing an unhealthy shift in our society -- from civilized discourse to caveman behavior.
Part of this is due to a deliberate misreading of our history. The far right, and especially the Tea Party, would like us to believe that they embody the spirit of the American Revolution, but they conveniently ignore the fact that the Revolution was fought for the right to free ourselves from a foreign power and establish our own nation, not to achieve anarchy. By contrast, the goal of so-called revolutionaries today is not self-determination but no determination -- and that is more sedition than revolution.
Moreover, if we look at the political climate after the American Revolution, even the staunchest supporters of Republican principles, such as Thomas Jefferson, were very far removed in tone and substance from the right-wing leaders of today. Sure, there was militant rhetoric back then too, but it was more satirical than serious and more an affectation of the times than dangerous. Had it not been that way, in fact, our nation would never have cohered and survived as a Union into the 19th century.
But then such nuances do not fit into the far right narrative or preferred modus operandi, which is to bully opponents into submission, and so have been excised from the platform. This is yet another reason for the rise of violence in American politics: people who cannot defend their beliefs through sensible debate are being urged to respond with threats and intimidation instead. We saw this during the battle over Obamacare, we saw it during the midterm elections, and we are witnessing it again over gun control.
This must stop, and the leaders on the right should take responsibility for roiling up the pot. I am not accusing them of pulling the trigger themselves, but when they create an environment of anger and hate, inflame passions beyond reason, and encourage their followers to take on the government in the name of 'revolution', they are encouraging the people who do commit violence. That is not patriotism and it's certainly not revolution.
That is just poisoned politics.
SANJAY SANGHOEE is a political and business commentator. He has worked at leading investment banks and a hedge fund and is the author of "Killing Wall Street" (Perseus Books). For more information, please visit www.killingwallstreet.com