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INSTRUCTION FROM A SECULAR SAINT! Dr. King encountered a climate of hate. We recall the way he reacted: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JANUARY 17, 2011

Instruction from a secular saint: Last week, we mentioned a blindingly obvious fact: In a time of tribal hatred, members of Our Own Infallible Tribe will eventually engage in grave conduct, just like The Other Tribe does.

On Saturday, an unfortunate event helped show what we meant. Nicole Santa Cruz reported the event in the Los Angeles Times:

SANTA CRUZ (1/16/11): A man who was wounded in last week's shooting rampage in Tucson was apprehended by authorities Saturday after he allegedly threatened a "tea party" activist at a town hall meeting of victims and eyewitnesses of the attack.

James Eric Fuller, a 63-year-old Democratic activist, was arrested after shouting "You're dead!" at Tucson Tea Party spokesman Trent Humphries, said Pima County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jason Ogan. Fuller was shot in the knee and back Jan. 8 when a gunman killed six and injured 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

Fuller, a disabled veteran and former campaign volunteer for Giffords, was charged with threats, intimidation and disorderly conduct and was involuntarily committed for a psychiatric evaluation, Ogan said.

In an interview with Democracy Now on Thursday, Fuller linked the shooting to conservatives associated with the tea party, including Sarah Palin, Fox News commentator Glenn Beck and Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle. "It looks like Palin, Beck, Sharron Angle and the rest got their first target," Fuller said.

Is it true? Did Palin, Beck and Angle really “get their first target" when Jared Loughner shot Gabrielle Giffords? Fuller, a Giffords supporter, was still repeating this charge on Thursday. Two days later, he was arrested for seeming to make a public threat.

When the news hit the Washington Post, some conservatives began to make snarky comments—and some progressives began to reply. The tribalism was quite general. In just the first dozen comments, people offered these reactions to the conservative snark:

COMMENT TO THE WASHINGTON POST (1/15/11): Gosh, you can kinda cut the guy a break, considering he was a victim of the hate-motivated shooting spree last weekend. He was a victim of a gun attack. Get it?

COMMENT TO THE WASHINGTON POST: Right wing tea partiers attacking the victims of an assassination attempt.......how disgusting.

COMMENT TO THE WASHINGTON POST: I also blame ABC for inviting crazy tea baggers to speak with the victims of an assassination attempt.

COMMENT TO THE WASHINGTON POST: Hey Teabaggers: Did he put a crosshair across their face? Was it a deliberate, cynical political ploy? No, it was an emotional outburst instigated by some tasteless teabagger egging him on.

“I live in Tucson,” another early commenter said. “People who don't live here don't understand the very tense political climate…The guy was just shot, and witnessed carnage. Maybe it's all been too much for him. Actually, it's all been too much for a lot of us—and with no end in sight.”

Concerning Fuller, those last comments are perfectly decent and fair—but they also constitute a warning. To borrow the language of those other comments: Liberal “disgust” with those “crazy tea baggers” could inspire the next angry person to shoot, not to issue mere threats. It’s foolish to think that only The Other (crazy) Tribe will ever engage in real violence.

How has the country responded to Jared Loughner’s mass shooting? Over the weekend, we were stunned by some of the foolishness in the mainstream press—and by some of the ugliness on the liberal web. (For the most part, we’ll leave it to others to track the pseudo-conservative nonsense and ugliness—though we also reviewed Bill O’Reilly’s deeply unfortunate conduct from last Monday’s O’Reilly Factor.) We’ll look at some of these efforts this week; for today, we’ll only mention the massive dumbness of this massive spread on page one of the Washington Post “Outlook” section. What does it mean when one of the country’s major newspapers offers such a foolish—and disingenuous—piece as this, its featured rumination about last week’s events?

Do mainstream news orgs—do leading liberals—know how to respond to the current climate? Over the weekend, we though we saw a lot of nonsense and a lot of bad judgment. But on this day, we will suggest you remember the person who showed the world how to respond to a climate of hate—and showed the world how to win.

This is Dr. King’s annual day. This may explain why the New York Times features an op-ed column today about the political murder of Patrice Lumumba! (“An Assassination’s Long Shadow,” the headline says. But then, when we read the New York Times, we’re often semi-flummoxed.)

(Please note: There’s nothing “wrong” with this piece—and it carries an obvious hook.)

This is Dr. King’s annual day. In the past week, we’ve been thinking about the best book we read last year—Dr. King’s Stride Toward Freedom (1958), his account of the Montgomery bus boycott. In Montgomery, Dr. King encountered a genuine “climate of hate;” in the end, this climate would take his life. But again, we encourage you to consider the way Dr. King reacted when his own house was bombed, for the first time, by unknown people, in Montgomery, in January 1956.

In this account, Dr. King described the way he decided, later that night, that he must reject “corroding anger.” Incredibly, Dr. King had just turned 27 when these events occurred:

KING (page 138): I could not go to sleep. While I lay in that quiet front bedroom, with a distant street lamp throwing a reassuring glow through the curtained window, I began to think of the viciousness of people who would bomb my home. I could feel the anger rising when I realized that my wife and baby could have been killed. I thought about the city commissioners and all the statements that they had made about me and the Negro generally. I was once more on the verge of corroding anger. And once more I caught myself and said: “You must not allow yourself to become bitter.”

I tried to put myself in the place of the police commissioners. I said to myself these are not bad men. They are misguided. They have fine reputations in the community. In their dealings with white people they are respectful and gentlemanly. They probably think they are right in their methods of dealing with Negroes. They say the things they say about us and treat us as they do because they have been taught these things. From the cradle to the grave, it is instilled in them that the Negro is inferior. Their parents probably taught them that; the schools they attended taught them that; the books they read, even their churches and ministers, often taught them that; and above all the very concept of segregation teaches them that. The whole cultural traditional under which they have grown—a tradition blighted with more than 250 years of slavery and more than 90 years of segregation—teaches them that Negroes do not deserve certain things. So these men are merely the children of their culture. When they seek to preserve segregation they are seeking to preserve only what their local folkways have taught them was right.

“I tried to put myself in the place of the police commissioners,” Dr. King wrote, in the most remarkable written passage we can think of—except perhaps for Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, whose moral reasoning Dr. King tracks in this remarkable passage. “Even their churches and ministers” had led these city leaders astray, Dr. King said. They had been so instructed from their earliest days—“from the cradle.”

Dr. King always refused to hate, even in the face of this first bombing. Except for the deeply fallen, it’s quite hard to hate a person like that. This helps explain why Dr. King was the last century’s greatest achiever.

In our tribe, we claim to admire Dr. King, but we don’t often seem to behave or reason as he did. We were struck by many reactions this weekend—in the mainstream press, on our own liberal web. Last summer, though, we got very lucky when we reread this staggering book.