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Quite the World, Isn't It?

On death, and the politics of executions

I sat alone last evening in the living room watching the televised debate among eight contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. Yet this morning I find myself thinking not about the candidates, but about the people in the debate room at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library. The impromptu cheers for the number of executions in the state of Texas - 234 men and women - while Rick Perry has been governor, and what that says about the pervasive meanness coursing through the heart of America.

It did not leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling toward my fellow Americans.

I oppose the death penalty on a number of grounds, which I won't get into here, since the details don't matter to those who support it. It's a kind of blood lust, as became apparent last night, and reason poses little little threat to that kind of juggernaut. Kill the bastards, is the propelling feeling. And it is feeling, all emotion, not careful analysis. Eye for an eye and all that, not whether executions serve as a deterrent. Not the serious underlying question of whether the execution of a killer actually serves as justice. Revenge, yes, but justice? Never mind the question of whether the executed man or woman was, in truth, guilty.

And they cheered. A few whistled. Gov. Rick Perry went on to defend the system as "very thoughtful" and said the cheering meant "Americans understand justice." No, they don't.

Why does a roomful of people who otherwise believe that government can do nothing right, have such blind faith that it can get the death penalty right? We've seen example after example of cops and prosecutors gaming the system to get convictions - the state of Illinois shut down its death row after such abuses were revealed. So why does a roomful of conservatives, who also otherwise profess to value the sanctity of human life (see abortion stances), cheer executions as though someone just scored at a football game?

It was a nauseating moment. And, I fear, it revealed the darkness at the heart of the American character. There's a tendency to view the world through the us-versus-them prism in everything from who gets executed to who gets a pension. It's a corrosive world view, as we're seeing, and full of the politics of delusion.

What kind of society have we become? And no, that's not a rhetorical question. I'd like answers. What kind of society have we become when we support politicians who put corporations ahead of communities, we cheer the executions of our fellow citizens, and we let ourselves be hoodwinked by implausible theories to the extent that we are blind to our best interests, from environmental regulations to demanding fellow citizens pay their fair share for the nation's upkeep?

What kind of society have we become?

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