As someone whose professional life is news, I’m not accustomed to coming to shocking or horrific events well after they’re underway or even over. Because of a very unusual set of circumstances last night which I’ll describe at another time, I was awake while this was all transpiring but didn’t see or hear anything about it until I woke up about 8 o’clock this morning. As I’m sure it has with you, it took me a moment — really more than a few moments — to make sense or get my head around what I was reading. It’s not simply the loss of life, not just the numbers, but the premeditated nature apparently with multiple assailants (ed.note: the number of shooters now seems less clear). More than both of these, this feels like a bomb being set off at one of the key stress points, architectural holds, that fastens our whole society together.
Sometime yesterday I saw a friend say on Facebook that it felt like the country was starting to come apart, in a way that felt reminiscent of 1968. This is someone my age, with no living memory of that time. As Adam Smith famously said, there’s a lot of ruin in a nation. I shy away from these kind of remarks and that kind of thinking. But this year is shaping up to be at least something like that, the erratic and unbounded presidential campaign, the normalization of words and actions that all normally agree are beyond the limits of acceptance. Mass murder in Orlando, our own cultural creation, the rage-fueled mass shooting melding with the jihadist mass killing of Eurasia, watching innocent black men die on hand held videos (products of our limitless tech culture) after being shot by police, now this mass murder — which as I’ve been writing has now been ascribed to a man who said he wanted to “kill white people, especially white police officers.”
As the quote has it, there’s a lot of ruin in a nation. But the pace of transgression can grow quick enough to build on itself and overmatch the force of communal and inter-communal bonds and social integument. I don’t think we’re there. I don’t think we’ll get there. But we’re closer than we have any real business being.