Out of Arizona...
A berserk act with state, national and global implications.
The violent shooting eruption that occurred on Saturday, January 8, 2011, when US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was critically wounded, six people died and over a dozen others injured by one gunman, has reverberated around Arizona, the United States and both Hemispheres. To state that most Arizonans initial reaction was shock and fear, would be an understatement. Everyone has their own mechanisms for dealing with such news but it is fair to say that many Arizonans will go through various stages of a grieving process. We have only just begun to absorb the impact of what happened that day.
It is fair to say that many of us decades long (three or more) residents and second and third generation Arizonans are asking "What has happened to our state?" The question is in the larger context and not solely related to the brutal shooting fracas in Tucson. Arizona has been considered a conservative state since the Sixties in the era of Goldwater, when conservative here meant a more libertarian "live and let live" attitude. In the Eighties we tilted more to the right as social conservatives began to become a stronger force in state and local politics as the evangelical fundamentalist movement grew nationally as well as here. It was then a lack of tolerance began creeping into our culture. It was clear by 2000 that intolerance had become a more prominent feature of our social landscape and that "live and let live" had finally died after lingering attempts at survival. Many of us began to feel uncomfortable with the prevailing social attitudes among the voting population and felt they had swept in like unwanted tumbleweeds during a wicked dust storm.
The irony is that most of us ourselves are of a conservative bent, fiscally conservative and social libertarians but not social conservatives, raised by parents in the tradition of Barry Goldwater and Sandra Day O'Connors Arizona. An Arizona that was wide open spaces with plenty of room for other people's opinions. We had become outsiders in our own state.
This is attributed by many of us to the decision of the "movers and shakers" to build an economy on unlimited growth, engineered primarily by real estate developers and mortgage companies, on the foundation of construction. The price of which we are paying for now in two ways. The first is the obvious housing bust we have experienced that lags only slightly behind California and Nevada and is among the top in the nation. It was unsustainable from the beginning. The second is a less obvious byproduct and almost never openly discussed and that is immigration from within the US...not illegal immigration from Mexico. Illegal immigration in large part is a result of the legal migration of people from other states in the US who wanted the cheap labor of the illegal migrants from south of the border.
We had an influx of Americans who did not come here to invest in the State of Arizona's way of life and to contribute and become involved in it socially, culturally, economically or politically but rather to escape to a "lifestyle" of fun and sun beyond their financial means. A perpetual California of the Mind. We had inexpensive housing with a low cost of living and the basis for that is another unspoken reason, we also have low wages. That also meant we attracted people who commonly, certainly not all of them but a large segment, didn't have higher education and with lower skill and economic denominators. People involved mainly in construction or the byproducts of the industry, joined by plenty of retirees on fixed incomes, with almost no spread of other types of employment and income. In general these were people not very interested in investing time and money into developing a high-level economy, strong cultural institutions, solid educational systems and long term sustenance. This negatively impacted our strong points and drove out our solid manufacturing, computing, defense and aerospace industries.
This phenomenon became clear to a lot of us after the 1993 recession when population, housing and other construction began growing nonsensically gangbusters; in a state with limited water and energy resources. Those of us who pointed this out were rewarded with being called elitist spoil sports who just didn't understand The American Way...never mind it was an ephemeral desert mirage of the real American Way.
Can you hear us now?
The bottom line result is we have a population largely ignorant of their own local area much less the history, culture and politics of the state. When and if they do get involved, it is at the level with the least knowledge, resulting in local and state officials elected without the electorate really knowing what they really stand or rather, don't stand for. The trend got worse in the 2004 election and progressed from there and we now have a State Legislature who operates at the basest of political animal instincts. Propositions, Referendums and Initiatives were passed by voters with short sighted concern for the damage to the long term interests of the state's economy.
We don't stand apart, only at the forefront.
My belief though is we are but a microcosm of the country, that things tend to come to the forefront here earlier than most states, due to our population being more forthright. At the very least we are honest, for better or worse, about our antipathy and mindset. Dung flinging didn't originate here but was developed as a fine art, by both of the two major political sides, outside of this state. We simply have a population that absorbs and mirrors it, our best hope is that we learn from last Saturday's events but I'm not counting on it.
What happened here could have happened anywhere in the country. Already the Limbaughs, Olbermanns, Becks, Maddows, et al have sharpened their arrows and tightened their bows and are projecting more venom into the atmosphere. This in spite of it being long past the time we lower the rhetoric, vitriol and character assassination from both sides of the spectrum to focus on legitimate differences in opinion in a more civilized manner. Although the gunman might be mentally unsound, it has to be considered that the toxic political atmosphere that has escalated these past 15 years or so, infiltrated his thinking and influenced him into action.
It occurs to me that as all of America absorbs what happened, it's possible that many of us who have become tired of the extreme bombastic rants from the television, radio and internet, will speak out against it while still supporting free speech. A key element people should remember is that the people blasting us with these negative invectives, are making huge amounts of money from it, go home at night to a comfortable home and do not suffer the consequences of what they have said. This includes not just the Mainstream Media but the Political Class whose arrogant, petty bickering and backbiting is effrontery to civility, the US Constitution and the people of America. We do ourselves a disservice if we listen, tolerate or repeat it and we should be asking not only "What has happened to our country?" but also "What can I do to stop the caustic atmosphere and help improve the climate of our discussions and debate in this country? While still preserving people's right to speak their minds, no matter how much we disagree?"