Assassins and Raw Power

January 10, 2011

Culture, Politics, Values

By Charles Redfern

Amid our quick-fire analysis, let’s remember: No one asked Gabrielle Giffords’ assailant to shoot her and no one told him to kill all those people.  He pulled the trigger.  He is responsible.  Perhaps experts will establish his “insanity” (a legal, not psychological, term) and, therefore, diminished culpability – and maybe this tragedy will catalyze a new American civility – but I’m suspicious of sudden blame games smelling of incivility themselves.  Please.  A real woman lies in critical condition; real parents lost a real nine-year-old daughter and are shedding real tears; other real people are in mourning.  Honor them.  Care for them.  Pray for them.  Don’t use them for talk-show fodder.

Instead, I’ll ponder the nature of assassination itself and the destructiveness of raw power – because that is assassination’s essence: a deranged, narcissistic minority of one wields power over the vast majority.  It is the ultimate totalitarian act, usually void of recognizable reason.  Entire populations are robbed of the leaders they elected.  Those leaders shook hands until their palms were sore, smiled, fended off scurrilous attacks, kissed thousands of babies, smiled, memorized facts and figures from boring government reports, smiled, deprived themselves of sleep while listening to yelling constituents, and smiled.  They sweated through election night, eked out narrow victories, and then spoke kind words about worthy opponents who had hauled their names through the mud a day before …

Bang!  Raw power obliterates an entire process and ruins lives.

What’s more, these 15-minute Napoleons almost always snatch the best, the brightest, and the most reasonable – the very people we need.  Gabrielle Giffords, for example, has been described as a moderate, blue-dog Democrat – and (this is key) “bubbly.”  We need bubbly people in Congress – especially bubbly people like her, who, because of her bubbliness, had friends on both sides of the aisle. She had exercised her right when she voted for the recent health care legislation and subsequently won a hard-fought campaign.  She remained bubbly even though her office was vandalized.  She deserved her Congressional seat – she won it, fair and square.  It was now time for her to use her constructive bubbliness …

Bang!  A deranged minority of one wields raw power.  Bubbly Gabrielle Giffords lies on a hospital bed in a medically-induced coma.

I can’t help but think of 1968, that year of assassinations, when raw power vied with reason on the razor’s edge.   Robert Kennedy had actually reasoned with a nation in what has been called “the last campaign.”  Those who knew him had seen a metamorphosis from the arrogant attorney general of his brother’s administration.  He had visited slums and shanty towns.  He was moved at his core.  Few knew of his numbing fear of that dictator in the crowd.  But he shook those hands until his palms were sore and smiled and kissed those babies and debated with Eugene McCarthy and visited slums and shack-dwellers and smiled and fended off scurrilous attacks and smiled.  A swelling movement grew that may have carried him into the White House and …

Bang!  Sirhan Sirhan, a deranged minority of one, wielded raw power because he violently disagreed with Kennedy’s support of Israel during the 1967 Six Day War — and he killed an entire reasoning process.  We got raw cynicism when Richard Nixon won the 1968 election.

Raw power comes in more subtle forms than assassination, of course.  Unchecked alphas view every issue through the lens of power and grind up people to get ahead.  They’re veritable artists at backstabbing and undercutting.  They form alliances and networks and develop contacts and connections.  They know nothing of genuine friendship.  They view different opinions as threats and do their best to destroy perceived enemies.  They’re bullet-less assassins.  Their victims still walk. 

But, more telling, the assassin lurks in my own shadows.  There are those dark thoughts, those vague envies.  My fiendish side covets the unchecked alpha’s talent.  In my ugliness, I want to be that lone minority dictating his will on the vast majority.  I want raw power.  The Bible calls this aspect of ourselves “the flesh” or, in modern translations, the “sinful nature.”  I cannot deny it.  It’s there, craving power, sometimes sneaking out in my own cynical back-stabbing. 

How do I stop him from inflicting his damage?  I know there are various disciplines, but I must begin by owning my own responsibility.  I can connive no false insanity defense.  My internal assassin inflicts real pain and hurts real people.  I owe it to them to confess my darkness and seek God’s cure.

I wonder: Can each of us see the tragedy in Tucson and, instead of wagging fingers, look within our individual and communal soul? How often do we yield to the assassin’s voice?  Are we willing to confess our responsibility and abandon our growing quest for raw power?  Or are we so naïve that we merely hide behind our own contrived insanity defense?

We can ask ourselves as individuals: What kind of person do I want to be?  We can ask ourselves as a population:  What kind of people do we want to be?  Those kinds of questions will honor the victims of this hideous crime.

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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern


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2 Comments on “Assassins and Raw Power”

  1. Carlene Says:

    Maybe your best post. Here’s to one of the most important resolutions of the new year. Look within. See the sin. Ask God for the cure.


  2. Sue Halbrader Says:

    Most 22-year olds are even interested in politics. It would make sense, of course, that any person of visibility in a community is a social lightening rod, so, it is possible he acted alone, but I wonder? Persons with mental illness are much more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpatrators. Terrorists in the extreme Muslim world have been known to use people with mental illnesses to act as martyrs, blowing themselves up along with the crowd. What constitutes an accomplice? If a message of fear and hatred stirs the need to take steps to “do something” in a person who probably would never do such a thing on his own….is that being an accomplice? Does that make anyone else culpable? There is no surprise this happened. AM right-wing radio and Fox News have filled the air with lies and poisoned the civil discourse. They are nothing more than partisan propagandists, and this act was just a matter of time. We must speak out to establish civil discourse and bring the words “liberal” and “conservative” back to their real meanings. After all, wasn’t it this style of rhetoric that gave rise to the Third Reich?


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