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The Great American Tragedy

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The devastating events two weeks ago in Tucson brought a tear to the eye of most Americans who watched the in horror as an attack on a public official and her fellow constituents who came out to support here reminded everyone about the dangers of living in a free and democratic society. Only hours after this “American tragedy” struck, a storm of blame entered the twenty-four hour news cycle and the blogosphere. Some on the left blamed the “vitriolic” political rhetoric during the last election cycle. Others blamed lax gun laws in the state of Arizona and a poor mental health system for this unspeakable horror. 

 After the storm calmed, to some degree anyway, the facts made the rapacious finger pointing look silly. The shooter, Jared Lee Loughner did not subscribe to any particular political ideology, beyond the odd ideas from the delusional world in which he lived. Neither the right nor the left’s heated rhetoric gave the shooter the ammunition, no pun intended, to carry out this vile act. Furthermore, the debate over gun permits and finding ways to help the mentally ill among us without infringing on civil rights always happens whenever a tragedy of this magnitude occurs. Yet, very little is ever done, even in the face of another looming tragedy we all know could occur at any moment.

 Tragedies have an interesting effect on the American public and the public discourse. First, outside of our everyday politics and partisan bickering, the American people have an astoundingly resilient constitution to handle terrible events. Rallying together for a common cause, most politicians know they must be the model for public to look up to in times of national pain. Historical events galvanize this American tradition very extensively. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln did not stop the reconstruction efforts in the South to continue to bring the union together after the worst war on American soil. President John F. Kennedy’s untimely death did not stop President Lyndon Johnson from carrying out the missions of the Kennedy presidency. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 might of have left a scar on the American consciousness, but it did not waiver the country from moving forward. 

 Second, and most importantly, tragedies bring problems into focus, even if the American people have disagreements about how to solve these problems. Once again, 9/11 opened the eyes of Americans to the broader world of radical Islam and solutions were crafted, even if some tenets of those plans had their dissenters, to help stop another attack from occurring. The school shootings of Columbine and Virginia Tech brought the nation’s attention to gun violence and the need to better understand student behavior and the problem of bullying. Once again, even if we did not agree on how to solve the problems these particular situations raised, politicians recognized these problems. More importantly, these problems became real in the eyes of the American public and not just abstract topics of political discourse.

  Gun control, violent political discourse, and even congressional security have now been addressed by this tragedy. Whether or not they caused it, our united front to make our nation better can take each of these topics in stride and try to solve them. The great irony of American tragedies is that out of terrible event, new problems can be resolved and new traditions can be formed to make this country even more exceptional.