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“When you descend into barbarism, you need a way to defend yourself”

Ambient violence is familiar enough that people take it lightly. Witness the reaction to two incidents this week on Capitol Hill: the threatened fight between Oklahoma Sen. Markwayne Mullin and Teamsters President Sean O’Brien, and the GOP Rep.’s allegation. Tim Burchett that he had been intentionally struck in the kidney by the former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy.

Completely understandable, people laughed at comical displays of machismo from grown men who should know better. We spent less time emphasizing how shocking this should be.

The emotions of a demographic long targeted and reeling from a massacre are surely different than those of media figures confronting online vitriol, much less those of spectators in a Capitol hearing room watching a senator and a union leader behaving like barroom morons. But they all feed off each other, reinforcing a sense of impending chaos — chaos that, if it were to arise, would be exactly the kind of atmosphere in which people take up arms and target an out-group.

And in all these disparate cases, it is also worth asking: what is the 21st century climate doing to us as a community?

More people in Washington now feel a sense of physical danger from the politics or geopolitics that run the city’s elite. People who, twenty years ago, enjoyed a privileged sense of security are today likely to have a small part of themselves that worries about their own security in the face of international terrorism, to domestic extremism, to Internet-fueled conspirators, to legislative rivals ready to literally nudge you. kidney.

You could say that’s poetic justice – that it’s time for Washington officials to feel the vulnerability familiar to people who aren’t part of an elite or superpower. But that’s a silly argument if your goal is to have a better, more decent capital. Does physical fear make us wiser, more generous, more inclined to seek understanding? The feeling that the rules have changed is bound to alter the way many of us move through the world. For better and sometimes for worse, Washington was once a place where anyone could become a civilian after hours.

The gradual loss of this quality represents a cultural shift that we will face for years to come.

In some ways, we all have to do mentally what the director of the Bender Jewish Community Center in nearby Rockville told me he was trying to do institutionally. “We recognize that our community is a welcoming place,” said Josh Bender, CEO of the organization. “We need a sense of safety and security, but also warmth and welcome, and those two things don’t always fit together perfectly. »

Troy, for his part, won’t specify whether he’ll end up with a weapon — he said he prefers “strategic ambiguity” about his status. But in his mind, arming yourself is a shield against barbarism and everything that goes with it. “When you descend into barbarism, you need a way to defend yourself and your family,” he said. As for neighbors showing new interest in guns, “I don’t know anyone who’s interested in deer.”


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