Editorial: The politics of making tragedy political
On its best day, politics is a balancing act.
The politician is like a waitress with a giant, carefully coordinated tray of plates and bowls and glasses. Move this constituent’s sandwich and it affects that agency’s soup which could slosh all over the opposition’s dessert and make the whole table one big mess.
To accomplish anything, you can’t just focus on one customer. They all have to be served in their turn.
But then a tragedy happens.
That ought to put a stop to politics, right? Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there should be no party affiliations at a mass casualty event. A bullet doesn’t care about how you voted. A bomb cares even less.
Except there is no way for a bullet or a bomb, a murderer or a madman to kill politics. It is the Twinkie-munching cockroach that will outlast us all.
In the wake of the El Paso and Dayton shootings, certain expected things happened.
There were heated, politically charged snaps at President Trump over his rhetoric, which was blamed for inflaming a racially-motivated attacker. There were just as heated, just as politically charged retorts that the president’s opponents were using a tragedy for political purposes.
The president traveled to Dayton and El Paso. There were statements that this was inappropriate politicking. Trump responded on Twitter accusing others of inappropriate politicking.
The responses became the story, as did the responses to the responses, and soon the number of dead people was secondary to the cable news equivalent of a middle school group text: “OMG, did you hear what she said about you?”
A tragedy takes that waitress balancing a tray and drops the cockroach and his Twinkie right in the middle, creating chaos. The constituent’s sandwich is ruined. The soup is spilled. The dessert is on the floor. No one got anything they ordered and everyone is covered in muck.
Politics has a place. Done properly, it’s an important part of how we achieve consensus and make things fair. It’s just always supposed to be the side dish. In a tragedy, it is easy for it to become an all-you-can-eat buffet.
We have to demand better of our leaders and ourselves. Tragic events make it all the more important to focus and prioritize, and politics should never be the main course.