In New Zealand, the Islamic community is burying its dead after the murderous rampage of a 28-year-old white supremacist who faces murder charges in the killing of 50 worshippers.
That incidence of evil is not the only one, sadly, as people in America from South Carolina to Texas to Pennsylvania have seen in fatal shootings at churches and synagogues.
The violence in Christchurch will live on in the sadness of families, although it will all too often fade in the public mind with the changing headlines. Can we, in America, learn something from this moment?
Few of us will suffer so directly the rampages that involved the shooting of police officers, as in Baton Rouge in 2016, or theatregoers in Lafayette the year before. But we hope that Americans will reflect on the nature of the atomized society in which we live, and in which all too often a sense of community and mutual support feels gone with the wind.
In our national life in politics, we’re seeing more hostility and negativity all the time. It is worrying and occupying much attention in the lead-up to the 2020 election for president, which is looking to be a bitterly hard-fought contest already.
An LSU professor is contributing significantly to this national discussion. A paper by Nathan Kalmoe of LSU and Lilliana Mason of the University of Maryland drew shocking responses from questions about mass partisanship.
Just over 42 percent of the people in each party surveyed viewed the opposition as “downright evil,” but the political scientists’ provocative questions did not stop there: “Do you ever think: ‘we’d be better off as a country if large numbers of the opposing party in the public today just died’?”
Some 20 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Republicans do think on occasion that the country would be better off if large numbers of the opposition died. Another question found that similar percentages of the national parties’ partisans said violence would be justified if the opposing party wins the 2020 presidential election.
Those questions — again, provocatively phrased — have drawn attention in The New York Times.
We don’t think that millions of Americans will take up baseball bats against their neighbors the next time an election goes the wrong way. Nor are fanatics like the New Zealand shooter common, although every such fatal shooting is a tragic reminder of the costs of zealotry.
Nevertheless, what does it say about a society in which the opposition becomes the enemy? That is hardly a good sign for a democracy.