Steinberg: Guilty punish the innocent for the crime of existing

SHARE Steinberg: Guilty punish the innocent for the crime of existing

Orlando police officers outside of Pulse nightclub after a fatal shooting and hostage situation on June 12, 2016. | Getty Images

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Soon you’ll be able to put a filter on your newsfeed to screen out these mass shootings. Then you won’t be forced to feel the queasy chill of reading horrific news — such as 50 partiers slaughtered at a gay nightclub in Florida. The worst mass shooting in U.S. history. Your attention won’t be wrenched away on a beautiful Sunday, the hot weather breaking into a delightful cool. You won’t be left tapping your finger on your watch, waiting for officials to figure out exactly what — overwhelming hatred, religious insanity or just regular old psychosis? — motivated someone to throw away 50 innocent lives and his own poisoned existence.

As if the reason mattered.

Such a filter would certainly save me the discomfort of having to set aside a promising topic — how Donald Trump’s pathological lying and Tourette’s syndrome insults are not separate character flaws, as typically presented, but two sides of a coin, the latter an essential raspberry to blow off anyone who dares point out the former. I woke up eager to get at it.

Not today. Today we stare at the carnage in Orlando.

Or should I say, we stare at more carnage in Orlando. One day and four miles away from where a mope gunned down 22-year-old “The Voice” singer Christina Grimmie — no official reason for that yet, but I’ll put my chips on what Hamlet calls “the pangs of disprized love” — a better-armed shooter walked into Pulse, a “high-energy gay dance club” and shot about 100 people, killing more than 50, as if in rebuke for our focusing on just one death.

Crying over one young person? Here’s 50 more. Cry about that.

Hmmm, let’s see . . . futility of even talking about sane gun control? Done it. Inhumanity of using other people’s horrific tragedy for political ends? Been there. The day fast arriving when such atrocities become such a quotidian part of American life that we don’t even consider them unusual events worthy of comment? Check.


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The shooter has been identified as Omar Mateen, making him eligible for inclusion in the pageant that Ted Cruz calls, lovingly, “radical Islamic terror.” Though why his faith should trump his hatred of gays merits consideration. Christians who murder gays are lone wolfs, their religion clucking its official disapproval. But Mateen is immediately designated as the poster boy for Islam, because doing so feeds the biases we already have. The nature of the victims puts American fundamentalists in a bind; will they suddenly elevate the the dead to full personhood status? Make them honorary fellow citizens? Doubtful. I haven’t flipped over the rock of Twitter yet, but no doubt White Pride is already there, ululating its repellent joy in the electronic market square.

Given that jaw-dropping inhumanity, we can dispense with the polite silence that human decency usually requires before we can wonder just how much this boosts Donald Trump, by seeming to validate his message of exclusion and hate? I assume by Monday he’ll be saying, “See, I told you we should bar these people . . . .”

My guess: It’ll help him a lot.

Whoops, we’re straying into politics, tracing messages in the blood of the dead. Sorry about that. The day after Sunday’s terror attack, we should remain vague.

What is the bedrock of hatred? The fiction of harm at a distance. Gay people you’ve never met getting married in a city you’ve never visited somehow undermine your own marriage in your own mind. Non-believers somehow corrupt your Muslim faith. The world that would be pure and perfect if only populated by people exactly like you. But instead it is degraded and corrupted by these wrong people. Better to get rid of them. If the Orlando killing outrages you because it feeds your conviction that Muslims have a monopoly on this twisted notion, then you’re allying with the shooter, and need to hurry to a mirror. There’s a lot of it going around. That you don’t kill the objects of your scorn is a pretty low moral bar to set for yourself. The guilty punish the innocent for the crime of existing.

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