The Las Vegas Strip is bloody and we are back to where we are always back to in America, sending thoughts and prayers, assuring each other that we are not trying to politicize the tragedy, assuring each other that everyone else is.
“We must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA,” Hillary Clinton wrote on Twitter.
“Don’t politicize this, you heartless hack,” responded Fox Business host Kennedy.
Don't politicize this. What does it mean? Let us be careful with our language, at least, in this time when there is nothing else we can control. Does it mean, don't call for an assault weapons ban? Don't bother to figure out who the shooter was or what demented worldview he subscribed to? Don't try to talk about why there are dead people, while those people's bodies are still waiting to be claimed by relatives who thought their loved ones were attending a music festival but instead ended up in a massacre?
When else are we supposed to talk about it? By the time these funerals are done, there may well be more funerals resulting from more mass shootings. By the time those mass shootings happen, we might not even hear about them. It used to be news when eight, nine, a dozen Americans were shot as they were shopping in a grocery store, going to school, going to work, seeing a Batman movie in a theater in Aurora, Colo.
The mass shooting body count is so high now, so breathtakingly high, with exponential increases from Aurora to Newtown to Orlando to Vegas. A dozen, 13, 15 dead barely registers as news now. It’s part of the American experience: We deal with mosquitoes in August, airport delays around Thanksgiving, expensive health care and the potential of being shot, at any time, by a semiautomatic weapon as we try to go about the most boring, precious, asinine aspects of our daily lives.
What "Don't politicize this" often means is, Don't politicize this if the shooter belongs to me.
As personal details about the gunman begin to come out — old voting records, Facebook rants — “Don’t politicize this” is the placeholder statement we use while figuring out exactly which political knives need to be sharpened.
If the shooter had a Confederate-flag bumper sticker on the back of his car, and I do, too, then I will argue that this isn’t the time to make his act of carnage political. I will say it is time to pray and reflect.
If the shooter was a left-wing universal-health-care fan, and I am too, then I will maintain that this is the time to leave politics out of his gory spree. Instead let us focus on extending concern for the victims.
If the shooter subscribes to the same political ideology I do, then I pivot to using words such as “lone wolf.” I talk about how he was disturbed; I cite endless depressing statistics about mental health care in America.
If the shooter belongs to the other side, then suddenly it is finally time to talk about the systemic issues that caused the shooting. It’s a “them” problem. It’s an other-side problem. Suddenly it’s time to politicize.
This summer, when the shooter who wounded a Republican congressman at a Virginia baseball practice turned out to be a Bernie Sanders supporter, Donald Trump Jr. promptly retweeted a snide comment about “NY elites” being to blame for the tragedy.
Monday, when a group of Internet trolls landed on the wrong identity for the Las Vegas shooter, right-wing website Gateway Pundit posted the headline “Las Vegas Shooter Reportedly a Democrat Who Liked Rachel Maddow, MoveOn.org and Associated with Anti-Trump Army.”
This wasn’t true. The trolls didn’t even have the right name. But man, were they happy when it looked like Rachel Maddow might be to blame.
Details about the real shooter, Stephen Paddock, came out slowly throughout Monday morning. He was a retiree who liked gambling and country music and going to concerts. He might have lived in two towns named Mesquite, one in Texas and one in Nevada.
We waited, because knowing who he was would cue Americans how to respond.
Was it possible the shooter was an Islamic State member? If he was Islamic State-inspired, then Republicans and Democrats could debate whether a travel ban would have solved the problem.
If the shooter was just a regular American shooter, then we’re back to “senseless violence” (Vice President Pence) and “warmest condolences” (President Trump).
The shooter, Paddock, had a hunting license in Alaska. He had previously worked as an accountant. He had no children.
One of mine or one of yours?
The shooter’s brother went on television and said his brother had no debts that he was aware of. Neighbors said he had a little back yard and mostly kept his blinds closed and sometimes worked out in the gym of his retirement community.
Don’t politicize it. Not just yet.
“We have absolutely no idea how in the world Steve did this,” one relative told newspapers.
“We have no idea what his belief system was,” said Joseph Lombardo, sheriff of the Las Vegas police.
The performer onstage when the shooting began was Jason Aldean, singing a song called “When She Says Baby,” an unremarkable song that sounds like the filler destined for a Chevy commercial. Shots rang out and kept ringing out. Eventually police tracked the shooter to a hotel room a quarter-mile away, where he committed suicide before he could say anything about why he’d done the evil thing he’d done.
America was left behind, to pick up the pieces it has gotten very good at picking up, preparing to throw them at the other side.