The recent shootings at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood remind me of an era that began over 20 years ago. Between 1993 and 1998 a series of assassinations were leveled at abortion providers and office staff in Pensacola, Florida, Brookline, Massachusetts, Birmingham, Alabama and Buffalo, New York. I suspect that the violence of that era is about to make a resurgence.
The issue is larger than one of abortion—it is a societal issue in which we have become less and less tolerant of one another.
The intolerance covers the entire political spectrum from far right wing conservatives to left wing progressives. Whether the issue is abortion, gun control, LGBT rights, taxes, immigration, climate change or the management of Syrian refugees… we have become a country of individuals consumed with the know-it-all-sounds of our own voices. Simply put we are far more concerned with “our” own freedom of speech and expression than “yours.”
Consider some of these events within the past few weeks – not in the streets of Chicago or Fergusson but on well-respected college campuses that cater to some of the most privileged students on earth.
Jerelyn Luther, a senior at Yale, cursed and berated one of her professors for not making Yale a “safe space” despite shrieking “Who the f**k hired you?” Last week some Princeton University students demanded the removal of President Woodrow Wilson’s name from its School of Public and International Affairs because of his past racial intolerance. On November 13, 2015 a group of Amherst College students issued a list of eleven “demands” to their college administrators seeking a “just and inclusive environment within our campus.” The self-appointed college revolutionaries gave the administration 24 to 48 hours to comply with their “demands” or “we will organize and respond in a radical manner, through civil disobedience.” They go on to say that “If there is a continued failure to meet our demands, it will result in an escalation of our response.” Similar demands were even made here at the University of Rochester by students who chanted “If we don’t get it, shut it down” – referring to actions they would take if their “demands” were not met.
When students attending some of our finest universities display such open intolerance for authority while threatening to respond “in a radical manner” to college deans and presidents, why should we be surprised at what just happened in Colorado Springs? If students at elite college are allowed to replace dialogue and understanding with verbal temper tantrums in their pursuit of “civility”, why would we be surprised that those less affluent and privileged would resort to the use physical force as their means of expression? After all, violent words are never far from violent behavior – isn’t that why we don’t allow cyber bullying?
Before dismissing Robert Lewis Dear, the suspect in Friday’s shootings at the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs, as a “whack job” or “terrorist” consider that he likely represents the tip of a very large iceberg filled with hate and intolerance. While pro-life groups will doubtlessly distance themselves from this “isolated extremist” the accumulated and inflammatory rhetoric of many conservative right wing groups over the last 4 decades doubtlessly fashioned the fertile field that cultivated Mr. Dear’s rage. And though all groups claim their right to “free-speech” – they also wish to be “free of responsibility” for the consequences of their rhetoric.
And don’t for a moment believe that left wing progressives “screaming for civility” on college campuses are any less guilty of this toxic discourse. After the abusive use of lethal force by police departments in Fergusson, New York City, Baltimore, Cleveland and Chicago there was justifiable outrage. But where was the outrage at the destruction of private property belonging to innocent civilians in those communities? Where was the outrage at the execution-style killing of innocent police officers that followed? And where is the outrage over presumably grown-up college students demanding the resignation of deans and presidents for not being “sensitive enough”?
The shootings at Planned Parenthood are the logical extension of an escalating war of words and lawsuits targeting abortion clinics and providers in this country. What happened was both tragic and predictable. What is also predictable is that the political right and political left will continue to demonize one another. The fact remains that there is much to be learned from listening to our opponents. The common ground for both liberals and conservatives is to have abortion become less necessary in generations to come.
But what I predict is the following: Twenty years from now there will be fewer abortions and fewer unplanned pregnancies—the continuation of a trend beginning in the early 1990s. But the civil war in this country of right-vs-left will continue. The political extremists that reside on both sides of this issue will continue to avoid reasonable common ground. The shouting and incivility will continue to be augmented by social media. There will be other tragedies like the ones we’ve just witnessed. Neither side will claim any responsibility for the predictable outcome of hateful rhetoric and closed minds – because we are interested in “my” rights and not “yours.”