Politics often features heated rhetoric. Hyperbolic language is often deliberately used by politicians in order to achieve more modest goals like electoral gains but, like a controlled burn in a forest that suddenly breaks its boundaries and wreaks havoc, it can take on a life of its own that its originators can no longer control.
I am used to such hyperbole and discount it. But I have noticed a trend over the last five years that worries me. It seems like the combination of Barack Obama winning the presidency twice and the extreme Tea Party wing dominating the Republican party has resulted in a dangerous and volatile rhetorical cocktail that could explode in nasty ways.
The attempts to delegitimize Obama’s presidency, with claims that he is not an American and is a Muslim socialist who is intent on handing over sovereignty of the US to the UN just as soon as he takes away people’s guns, is rightly seen as risible by any normal person. But there is no doubt that a significant number of people actually believe this nonsense and, fuelled by incendiary rhetoric from Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Fox News and the like, have not only developed a visceral animosity to government in all its forms but also harbor an intense dislike and suspicion of anyone not like them, and hate Obama in particular. There is no doubt a river of racism that runs beneath all of this.
We have to appreciate that these people are driven by fear and rage and many of them are heavily armed. What worries me is that perhaps one day a handful of these people are going to think of themselves as noble martyrs to the cause of freeing the country from tyranny, and go on a rampage or try to assassinate a major government figure in the hope of starting a popular uprising or a guerilla movement. This would be totally irrational and futile and they will be crushed by the massive power of the US military but they could cause serious damage in the interim.
I was never prey to such dark imaginings before but perhaps because of the spate of recent shootings, I have started becoming increasingly concerned in the last few years of this kind of scenario being played out. I sincerely hope I am wrong.