Monday, August 14, 2017

A Story

The stories I tell myself change over time.  My Christian conversion story (the word "journey" has become a cliche) has been a bit different depending on what year I told it.  It's not wildly different, but my understanding of myself and what has happened to me over the years has changed.  So too with my narrative of how I left liberalism. In this year, in fact, I read some old material of my own and saw that I had not gradually dropped liberalism from 1967-1991, but had become apolitical for much of that time, making most of those changes fairly rapidly in a few years when I signed on again.

I have regarded this story as one of the pivotal ones, and I still think that today. But I no longer describe what was going through my mind over those years, because the effect may have more sudden, due to an accumulation of incidents, rather than a gradual awakening.

I have worked at the state involuntary psychiatric hospital since the Carter administration.  Every such hospital in the country must have its collection of people who have threatened to kill a political figure, especially the president.  NH may get a greater concentration of these because of the presidential primary.  We do get people coming from other places about this.

I don't recall having any patient who had threatened to kill Jimmy Carter, but I did have one early on who had been fired from the Bobby Kennedy campaign and vowed to kill Ted Kennedy. There were a lot of worried tones nationally about all the nutcases who wanted to make a name for themselves by killing the last Kennedy brother, but because of this patient I heard it a lot from our staff. They took him very seriously, and he was under our care for years. When John Hinkley almost killed Reagan I heard psychiatrists laugh cynically that it would have been a good idea, and both psychologists and administrators say it very seriously and angrily. I heard that repeated for years, actually, that we would have been better off if Hinckley had succeeded. Why do they think he is crazy just because he wants to kill Reagan?

Well, you know.  Dark humor.  Cynicism. Plus, as a liberal myself (non-practicing) I just thought of it as a hyperbolic response to the very real possibility that Reagan might be really, really bad for the country and get us into many wars (while persecuting gays and blacks, too). Over-the-top, and a little worrisome, but not to be credited, because these were not violent people speaking.  They didn't own guns, they didn't get drunk and get into fights, their threats were all subtle and non-physical. So, just popping off,  And again, dark humor.  Psych hospital staff are known for that. So I'm not even sure I was getting more uncomfortable as patients came and went who wanted to kill Reagan and no one seemed to much mind.  Including some high-up administrative staff.

The guy who wanted to kill Tsongas was politcially unclassifiable, as were both the man and the woman who had threatened to kill Bush 41. Though one of the latter was big into fuming about the Trilateral Commission, so probably conservative/libertarian something.  We had some special meetings about the Tsongas guy.  If people were worried about those threatening Bush they hid it pretty well.  But I confess I might be misjudging that one, as I had little to do with either of them.

I had two patients and heard of two others who had threatened to kill Clinton. It was all dark looks and hushed tones for that.  I was more politically alert again, so I was actively keeping track of whether there was any of our famous psych-hospital black humor going to happen.

None that I saw.  It's not really funny when someone wants to kill the president, you know.

It changed dramatically when Bush 43 came in.  I was really paying attention at this point, so the examples stick out strongly. One woman wanted to skin him alive.  The medical director laughed that he'd thought of doing that himself. I have to disguise the next one, but something like accidentally doing something that put Bush in danger.  I counted six professionals over the next two weeks who laughed and wished my patient had been serious, and succeeded. I knew of a few others, though not well. One had a whole list of political figures he wanted to kill, mainly focused on local ones.  Bush was probably just a throw-in.  I don't know whether anyone laughed or spouted angrily that they wished the others had pulled it off. I cannot say whether we had become more divided as a people by 2001 so violent rhetoric was increasing, or I was just more alert.

Again, these are people who put up their hands in horror at the thought of hunting. They aren't likely to go and commit violence themselves. Yet by now I was tying these comments in to other statements, excusing violence on the left - environmental vandalism (plus Ted Kaczynski), union violence, black protest violence, anti-globalist violence.  Well yeah, that's bad and people shouldn't do that, but they're legitimately upset and they don't believe the process is working for them.

We must have had people who threatened to kill Obama, just by law of averages, but I don't recall any.  Maybe just luck of the draw than none of them came to my caseload.  I did hear a couple of people assure me that there were lots of people out there who wanted to kill him.  That could be true.  The Secret Service and FBI would likely know the real numbers on that.

I know of two already who threatened to kill Trump, even though I'm only working part-time now. One no one is taking seriously.  Another, interesting, is taken quite seriously, perhaps because he is from a foreign country.

Oh. But. I have heard people laugh about both of them - that they understand that.

Small sample size, I know.


james said...

I wish I could say my observations contradict yours, but they don't. Jokes about actually killing somebody are rare, but flippancy about destruction for their political enemies is not. One colleague, who is my age and old enough to know better, was rejoicing that California is a one-party state. Most of this (unsurprisingly in Madison), is leftist.

For the honor of truth, Rantburg, which I recommend for supplementing the usual news, very often has comments that parallel the "death and destruction to our enemies" polite conversation of leftists. True, comments are less personal and tend to be more extreme than conversation. The tendency is plain, though. Similarly the comments on more traditional news sites, or on yahoo...

One relative told me the only thing he had against the Kennedys was that there were still some left. He was old enough to have seen and understood their rise, and I don't recall any similar comments about other Democrats, so it may have been restricted to that clan.

Christopher B said...

I'm glad you reached back to Reagan. I've been doing mental eye rolls for over a year now at the people who think there's something new about the Democrat-media complex opposition to Trump. It's not. They've even recycled many of the same memes they used against Reagan, GHWB, Dole, W, McCain, and Romney. Remember the short time that Hillary made Trump having his finger on the big red button the center of her argument against him? Russian collusion isn't much more than the updated version of GHWB conspiring with the Iranians to keep holding the Embassy hostages. I've been having 1980s flashbacks. This is nothing new.

I think what's getting it dialed up to 11 is the divergence of reality from the myths the Democrats have been telling themselves for the last four decades about being the 'emerging majority'. There might have been some truth to their majority status in the post-WWII era but it certainly didn't last much beyond that. I remember when Reagan trounced both Carter and Mondale that the claim started to be the GOP might be able to win Presidential elections but Congress was safely Democratic. That lasted about a decade until Newt took over the House. Electing Bill Clinton and especially Barak Obama gave the theory new life even though according to an analysis I read at RCP the increasing concentration of Democrat voters that helped Trump win the EC was evident as far back as Clinton's first election. Obama's phone and pen, and a couple of SC decisions, were able to mask the rapid decline in Democrat office holders over the last ten years. I know the Right mutters on the internet about being held back by the media, schools, and popular culture but Democrat thinkers have been proclaiming this publicly for some time. The failure of Hillary to fulfill the fantasy, especially against a candidate as weak as Trump, has been more than they could take.

RichardJohnson said...

The year after Reagan was shot, I heard from the sister of a childhood friend that it wasn't such a bad thing that Reagan was shot. Her 9 year old nephew piped in about ketchup being declared a vegetable. While I didn't express it, I was rather shocked. Demographics: well-educated, middle-class black. The sister went on to write a number of fiction books. While the sister may have been a fire-eater with regard to Reagan, more than once she has written fondly of her childhood experiences in our small NE hometown.