I always feared this day because I always feared being proven right. A couple of times since the election of Barack Obama and the consequent collective freak-out of the American Right -- a freak-out so mind-boggling and profound that the extent and potency of its shockwaves continue to surprise, despite how used to it we should be by now -- I've openly wondered how our nation might react if we were hit with another terrorist attack.
We all remember 9/11 and the way the United States as a country pulled together in a time of what we understood perfectly was mutual heartbreak and outrage. I never wanted to admit that through the election of a president who infuriated a certain segment of the population to the point of insuppressible apoplexy, and through a democratized media culture that regularly fractured our whole into a million screaming pieces, it could very well be impossible anymore for us to put aside our differences and rise up in one voice as Americans. I never wanted to admit it -- until I finally did -- until I finally tabled my optimistic notions of a fully united and unbreakable people and said out loud that I feared the next attack on us, whether from without or within, would be met with the same infighting, bitterness, and partisan finger-pointing that's been the hallmark of our "new normal" for some time now. The same, and nothing more.
Granted, in the wake of the horrific and chilling bombings at the Boston Marathon yesterday, there have absolutely been those among us who've cried out and even demanded that we dispense with the poisonous discourse we've become so accustomed to, in the name of remembering the victims of this act of terror and cowardice. Most of us are good people and at times like these really do find the better angels of our nature, no matter how much we may relish the bloodsport of modern politics. But think back to 9/11, when in those first hours, days and weeks, our nation completely set aside political leanings and cultural grudges. We're not seeing anything like that now. True, it could be that we're simply more cynical now than we were then, more gruesomely desensitized to tragedy and therefore less susceptible to its impact -- or it could be that we're simply inured enough to where it takes more than a bombing that kills three and wounds dozens at a cherished sporting event to knock us out of our routine. Maybe Boston just wasn't tragic enough, given all we've been through over the past twelve years.
I'm not sure it's that simple, though. I think we've changed at a fundamental level, that our politics have become so toxic and divisive and that they've been allowed to infect all facets of our culture down to our DNA -- with essentially every fight becoming "political" in one way or another and every idiotic assertion or insane conspiracy theory given a booming voice -- that we no longer have the ability to truly come together as one. This time, in the wake of this terrorist attack, it took mere minutes for the usual suspects -- the ragers, the hucksters, the conspiracists, the unshakable partisans -- to plant their flag into the middle of the cemetery where others had gathered to mourn the dead.
And so there was the immediate outcry from indefensible jokes like Alex Jones, who shot his special brand of lunacy directly into the American bloodstream and riled up his legion of mentally unbalanced followers as broken bodies were still being carried away from the blast zone. At a time when a guy who should regularly be marginalized should've been bound and gagged in a padded room somewhere, Jones's Rosetta Stone of paranoid nonsense, Info Wars, was instead seeing its microphone inexplicably included among legitimate news outlets at a press conference held by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. So rather than Jones's acolytes merely ranting blindly on Twitter, there was one of his "reporters" being given the same consideration real journalistic organizations were getting and using that opportunity to turn an important news conference into a circus by shrieking about "false flag" terrorism and "taking our civil liberties." Why that asshole wasn't beaten senseless and dragged out into the street with his Info Wars mic sticking out of his ass is beyond me.
But it didn't stop there. Jones certainly seemed to be preemptively deflecting, paving the way for what could easily be cries of foul if authorities eventually conclude that the Boston Marathon bombing was in fact the work of right-wing extremists. But a quick check of conservative media showed that its purveyors had already concluded who was to blame for the attack: Muslims. The New York Post reported that an injured Saudi national had been talked to in the wake of the bombing -- he's being called a witness, not a suspect -- but that wasn't even necessary to open the flood gates. The report coincided with Fox News Contributor Erik Rush tweeting that the attack was the work of Muslims and that they should all be killed; Pamela Gellar blaming an "American Jihadi"; and Bryan Fisher, who noted that NBC was reporting that someone in the states on a student visa might be involved and that this obviously meant illegal "Muslim immigration." And of course these accusations led conservative commenting trolls right to the doorstep of the President of the United States: Barack Obama.
Which leads back to my original fear: that it simply isn't possible for the voices of furious fringe dissent and intransigent partisanship to either be silent or, God forbid, to actually join with their fellow Americans in a show of unity. We may be too far gone, hopelessly divided by a cacophonous culture of media oversaturation manned by thick heads with big bullhorns. Newtown automatically spawned its truthers and hoax-advocates and maniacal Nugent fans terrified their 2nd Amendment rights were under attack. That was 20 children killed and it still didn't give us a few days of a one-nation America. Now this: a terrorist bombing at a beloved national institution that left our citizens blown apart like they were soldiers in Iraq. And still, the provocateurs rise and the conspiracy theories form and the voices of insanity boom.
This is the way we are now. And I'm afraid there's no going back.