Americans reel from a gut punch of inhumanity, with two separate deranged gunmen carrying out mass shootings over the course of less than 24 hours, one in El Paso, the other in Dayton. At least 31 people died.
And as the senseless loss of life has accelerated in these recurring spasms of evil, the political rhetoric escalates along with the carnage. May that not devolve into further acrimony and instead represent a potentially productive step toward satisfying the human impulse to build a way forward out of the rubble of calamity and distress.
Raging partisanship and boiling passions rarely constitute a recipe for rational public policy. But we’re fast approaching a breaking point. A nation that becomes numb to this metastasizing malignancy has far deeper problems than the fissures marring the political terrain. Congress must come together to act.
In the wake of news that the Texas shooter left behind writings indicating his anger at illegal immigrants, President Donald Trump said, “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hatred has no place in America.”
The words are overdue. But no “side” has a monopoly on violence or extremism. Those across the political spectrum need to rediscover the culture of decorum and respect that social media has devastated.
There’s no escaping, however, that a significant number of these mass murderers have been young, isolated, white males often attracted to destructive ideologies grounded in self-pity, division and resentment. Relatively easy access to firearms has certainly made it easier for them to execute their malevolent deeds on a wider scale. In addition, “untreated mental illness is playing a significant role,” wrote Dr. E. Fuller Torrey in The Wall Street Journal on Monday, “in the rising incidence of mass killings.”
This combination of factors defies easy solutions. Psychopaths predate the Internet Age. But as more and more institutions of community and family crumble — and even the entire notion of human interaction becomes unsettled — we seem to be producing an increasing number of alienated young men brooding in cynicism, hopelessness and despair, unmoored from human decency, virtue and morality.
Members of Congress and the Trump administration must set aside their differences and make it a priority to produce a sort of domestic Marshall Plan to combat the scourge of mass shootings. The result could include a concerted effort by law enforcement to identify potential killers along with tougher, constitutionally sound statutes designed to keep guns out of the hands of those struggling with mental illness. Programs designed to reach troubled students and to promote personal responsibility should also play a role.
Throwing up our hands is simply not an option anymore.