Underbelly of America’s ‘exceptionalism’

LEE A. DANIELS | 12/14/2015, 10:08 a.m.
The horrific killing sprees at the Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and at a health department holiday party ...
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His most recent book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America. He collaborated with Rachel Robinson on her 1998 book, Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait. NNPA

(George Curry Media) – The horrific killing sprees at the Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and at a health department holiday party in San Bernardino, California, underscore the fact that there’s a poisonous spirit gouging deep trenches in the surface of American society now. It has many causes and shows itself in numerous ways. But its most shocking manifestation – these mass shootings – has a double edge to it.

The first is how “routine” the incidence of mass shootings has become. Experts debate whether the number of mass shootings per year – defined by congressional researchers and other experts as incidents in which at least four people were shot – have increased in recent years. But we do know that since January, there have been at least 354 such incidents, or, as the first sentence of a New York Times article exploring the statistics starkly put it: “More than one a day.”

The second “edge” of these killings is even more poisonous. That is how politicized the reaction to them has become – as exemplified by the response of Democratic and Republican politicians to the two latest shocking incidents.

Immediately after both attacks, Democratic politicians, led by President Barack Obama, along with expressing sadness and sympathy for the victims and their families, called on Congress to enact gun-control legislation that balances the rights of individuals to own guns with the need to reduce the near-complete indiscriminate access to such weapons that now exists.

“We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world and there’s some steps we could take, not to eliminate every one of these mass shootings, but to improve the odds that they don’t happen as frequently, common-sense gun safety laws, stronger background checks,” Obama said.

The Republican response, however, was starkly different. When Robert L. Dear Jr., a White Christian conservative, attacked the Planned Parenthood office on Nov. 27, killing three people, including a police officer, and wounding nine others, Republicans in general and the GOP presidential candidates in particular limited their remarks to muted, generalized expressions of sympathy for the victims.

They said nothing about Dear’s religious background or the phrase police officials said he muttered when captured – “no more baby parts” – which unmistakably indicated hostility to Planned Parenthood’s support of women’s right to abortion. And they declared the violent language they use to describe those who help women seeking abortions isn’t responsible for the murderous attacks on Planned Parenthood offices, abortion clinics and doctors who provide abortions.

Nor did Republicans comment on the fact that in carrying out his rampage, Dear killed a police officer acting in the line of duty.

In sharp contrast, the Dec. 2 San Bernardino mass shooting provoked the GOP presidential candidates to full-throated war cries against the president and homegrown “radical Islamic terrorism,” in Donald Trump’s words. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz thundered that the San Bernardino attack proved the U.S. needs “a war-time president.” Not worrying about a “rush to judgment” of the incident, Carly Fiorina immediately declared its perpetrators’ Arabic backgrounds proved it was “a homegrown terrorist attack.”