The outrage dance is a prominent feature of American society these days, played out daily on social media.
First, comes the ugly statement or action. Sometimes, the statement can be truly horrific, worthy of condemnation and even a loss of career or reputation. Other times, the offense comes after a poor choice of words or a lapse of judgment.
This week’s New Mexico outrage — and yes, this one truly is offensive — came courtesy of a Republican county commissioner out of Otero County.
Couy Griffin is caught on video saying, “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.” Loud applause follows. That’s the short version. A longer video from the same rally makes clear Griffin is speaking about political death, not actual lives lost.
The good county commissioner — founder of Cowboys for Trump — does not truly want to see all Democrats die. But he has demonstrated a willingness to make outrageous statements to fire up the crowd, knowing that what he said will be shared broadly.
And when that happens, he also should know that unhinged people could be listening. Those folks, with easy access to guns, have been known to threaten and, yes, take their weapons up against political foes. As they do so, these violent individuals often repeat loaded language from political leaders who sanctimoniously say they never, ever meant anyone to take their words for gospel.
For bonus points, Griffin and others who seek to outrage can use the uproar to criticize the media — it’s always the media’s fault — for getting the story wrong. The video was edited! His words were taken out of context! That’s not what he meant! More outrage, with the original statement buried, as intended.
The state Republican Party, busy with lawsuits against public health orders that have saved thousands of lives, finally issued a lukewarm statement Wednesday, without naming Griffin. It said simply that “for the record any statements, whether in jest or serious about harming another individual are just plain wrong.” Hardly sufficient.
Contrast that to this strong statement from Young Republicans Chairwoman Rebekah Stevens: “We value the personal and political worth of all New Mexicans, and to make such an outrageous statement is contrary to the pro-life Republican Party platform. Couy’s statements set a dangerous precedent for political discourse in New Mexico.”
Yes, they do.
Republicans, Democrats, independents, the nonpolitical: All who have opinions about everything from who is the best president in the history of the United States to how to restore the American economy must do better.
These are trying times, hard on body and soul. A pandemic that destroys both lives and people’s livelihoods is fraught with potential for disagreement. We have seen the sorry spectacle of open-up-the-country protesters marching with loaded guns and carrying signs that compare stay-at-home orders to slavery. The divide in our nation grows deeper and uglier.
First, we must confront ugliness when we see it, calling it out loudly. Use that outrage to make such language unacceptable, worthy of public shunning. Make it unthinkable for a protester to be armed, brandishing loaded guns outside of state capitols or on the streets of our cities. Seek to disarm our discourse, both in words and deeds, or there will be no opportunity to solve problems. It’s as Abraham Lincoln once said: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”