A Resilient Society

By Thomas, Evan | Newsweek, January 24, 2011 | Go to article overview

A Resilient Society


Thomas, Evan, Newsweek


Byline: Evan Thomas

When horror strikes, it's tempting to think that everything will be different. Why it won't--and why that's a blessing.

"This changes everything," I recall thinking as I rode in a Washington Metro car full of scared and silent people on the morning of September 11, 2001. And it did, for a while. We stayed scared (I certainly did) through anthrax attacks and all manner of false alarms that fall. But, looking back, the public reaction--certainly the media reaction--seems overblown. Remember those pundits who, in the grieving wake of 9/11, predicted the end of irony? They're probably watching Jon Stewart now.

For all its excesses, America is an extraordinarily stable country. The overlooked consolation of terrible, seemingly earth-shattering events like the slaughter in Tucson is that the country is not forever changed by lunatics with guns or even zealots flying airplanes into buildings. The shock wears off; life goes on, altered somewhat, perhaps, but not fundamentally.

President Obama gave a hopeful speech last week calling for a "new era of civility." And it's possible that politicians and pundits will tone down their rhetoric, for a time. But as columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote last week, military metaphors are part of politics--indeed, a healthy part. They represent the sublimation of war by politics.

Writing in The New York Times, Yale historian Joanne Freeman pointed out that in the 1840s and '50s, before the Civil War, congressmen often brought their weapons onto the House floor and sometimes brandished them. Maybe that is why we feel so queasy about the Arizona shooting. All the talk of "Second Amendment solutions" and "don't retreat: reload!" has a vaguely pre--revolutionary, pre-Civil War air. Could there be real violence in the streets, large-scale clashes between political thugs or between police and protesters? …

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