Politicizing Tragedy

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., holds an AR-15 assault-style rifle with a collapsible stock during a Capitol Hill news conference Friday, March 22, 1996 after the House voted to repeal the two-year-old assault-style firearms ban. Feinstein, a key Senate sponsor of the ban, told reporters she was outraged by the House vote and promised: "This will be dead on arrival in the Senate." (AP Photo/John Duricka)
Written by Mike Gagliardi

Beware the beasts that bemoan the politicization of tragedies. After every mass-shooting, America’s breed of terror likes to stick its priggish neck out and parody the ethicist, preaching against political reactions to political crimes. Their sermons are always some derivative of “Leave politics out of this and let the families mourn,” or “Don’t use death to push political agendas!” To our nation in need of action, they offer incantation instead. One can almost hear their simple voices sending bootless prayers to deaf heaven. The platitude “pray for so-and-so” has replaced legislative efforts to redress gun-violence. So long as politicians Tweet some such nonsense after every assault-rifle slaughter, nothing need be done. But mass-shootings are not products of divine providence, and god seems disinclined to stop them. Rather, it’s up to us to address this systemic injustice.

This must be done through political activism. If we fail to take action, people will die; and they do, every day. Therefore, it’s not just that we should politicize preventable deaths, we have to. Substituting “thoughts and prayers” for political action privileges the feelings of the dead above the safety of the living. This is appalling and fundamentally anti-democratic. It makes me wonder whether these moralists have the slightest grasp of politics or its purpose beyond being a plaything for the privileged. A lot of hesitance to embrace politics stems from the unfair, ugly connotation it has gained. While there are no doubt disgusting charlatans who abuse political power to perpetuate injustices, politics itself remains a grand instrument to construct a better, more just society. All denizens have a moral duty to fight injustice through political participation. Those who advocate nothingness in response to tragedies actively acquiesce to the misery of others, retard progress, and abandon their civilian duties.

Indeed, what if abolitionists opposed the politicization of slave deaths? I wonder whether today’s brave ethicists would dare confront Harriet Beecher Stowe for doing just that. I’d like to think they would not, though this is America, so who really know, since she spread awareness for slave suffering which precipitated emancipation; whereas preachers of patience prolonged the shackles of slavery. The same goes for any revolution ever. Isn’t the whole concept of a martyr simply the politicization of a death? The victims of injustices die in vain if society fails to fix things in their honor, which guarantees more death to come until conditions change. Silence and inaction are nasty sins for which society pays too high a price.

It is also worth noting that the very people who denounce political reactions to tragedies tend to have some skin in the game. Following mass-shootings, it’s primarily conservatives who disparage “hasty” action to suspend politics in times of intense anti-gun sentiment. They thus make themselves a prisoner of their own preaching by seeking to further their own political agendas while condemning those doing the same. This reveals the latent Machiavellian influence beneath their hypocritical moralizing. And even worse, by urging inaction they help ensure future mass-shootings, whereas their counterparts politicize mass-shootings to compel regulations to stop them.

It is curious why nobody bothers to challenge the alleged empathy at the heart of these calls for inaction. I believe those who preach this rubbish mean well, but it doesn’t matter. They would rather grant greasy rabbles the right to wield assault-rifles than prevent combat in elementary schools. This reveals where their true priorities lie.

The best time to talk about new policy is always after tragedies, just as the best time to keep kids from candy is after they vomit. That there are creatures who profess love for victims of tragedy yet do nothing about them is as disturbing as it is true. It takes only a small heart to lament tragedies in languor. It requires much more care and, ironically, much more patriotism, to engage politically and avenge the innocent dead. Their blood stains the hands of those who wait.

About the author

Mike Gagliardi