Tuesday, September 4, 2012

No Hope

I don't usually cover political topics on this blog. When I get the urge to write about politics, I either post on my friend's political blog or I write a book, such as The Candy Store Generation. However, a thought has been running through my mind lately, and I want to write about it. This blog seems to me to be the correct venue. And maybe the topic is more sociological than it is political.

I'm thinking about the rash of shootings of late in the United States. This past week it was the workplace shooting in (maybe) New Jersey. Before that it was the shooting near the Empire State Building in New York City. Before that it was six killed at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Before that it was the theatre shooting in Colorado. The news has been full of people being killed and maimed by gunfire.

But hasn't it always been that way? How many people are shot and killed every day in our country, murders we hear nothing about? I'm sure there are many. Yet these happen in the non-usual places to victims who seem, if not random, at least undeserving of the fate they received. A gang shooting in NYC? Ho hum, nothing unusual, we won't cover it. Another murder in Chicago? Not newsworthy, unless it's a bunch of them clustered on a weekend.

Are these recent high-profile shootings indicative of anything? I have a theory about it. To set up the theory, I first need to go back to 1994. I wrote about this somewhere before, probably on The Senescent Man blog, but I'll do it here. I'm doing this from memory, not research or statistics, but my memory of this is clear. As 1994 unfolded, the murder rate throughout the nation was up. NYC and Chicago were heading towards record years. Little Rock was, by the time November 1 rolled around, within just a couple of the record and were clearly going to break it. In major city after major city, the story was the same.

Then suddenly, the murders stopped. I don't know the exact situation in all cities, but in Little Rock there were almost no murders for the rest of the year. I'm pretty sure they didn't break the record. In most cities in the USA the story was the same. A very high rate from January through October, then a sudden and significant drop in November and December. What had happened to cause this?

Remember the mid-term elections of 1994? The Republicans took control of the House of Representatives (for the first time since 1952) and of the Senate (for the first election since 1986). This was the first time since the 1920s that they were the majority party in both houses of Congress. The president was the Democrat Bill Clinton.

As the murder rate dropped to near zero during this lame duck period, when the Democrats were licking their wounds and the Republicans were gearing up to lead Congress, I heard the news reports about the drop in the murder rate and wondered why. And I heard no commentary about it on the news, which was mostly network news at the time. Could the two event—the drop in the murder rate and the new party taking control of Congress—be related?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that someone who planned on killing his ex-girlfriend's new lover came to his senses and said, "Oh, the Republicans took control of Congress. I guess I won't waste the dude after all." No, that's not what I'm saying. But it seems to me that the two may be related. If so, what could it be?

I decided that perhaps the election of new majorities in Congress gave people reason to hope that things would get better. A change is as good as a holiday. Maybe a change brings hope. No one could be sure what the new Congress would do. They would be on the opposite side of the fence from the president. Gridlock might result. But maybe gridlock would actually be a good thing. I don't know what people were thinking. But the Republicans were elected, the Congress would be made up as it hadn't been for about 70 years, and the murder rate dropped. I think they were somehow related, and the cause was renewed hope. While perhaps no one verbalized this, or even internalized this, I believe people felt a new sense of hope for a better future. When you have hope for the future, you are less likely to put a gun to someones head and pull the trigger.

Today, it seems that hope is waning in America. It might be the economy, which is now in the fourth or fifth year of a downturn/recession/depression/panic/anemic recovery/however you wish to categorize it. The news is filled with the acrimony between parties, the invectives Alexander Hamilton wrote about so long ago. I see lots of room for hope to tank, to be replaced by despair and loathing.

I don't know, maybe this is all foolish speculation on my part, but that's how I see it. America has lost hope. Any comments?

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