The grotesque spectacle of the two-hour torture yesterday of an Arizona murderer was made considerably more revolting by the bloodthirsty commentary provided by the victim’s family, and eagerly echoed by Arizona officials.
You see, no matter how barbaric the execution was, the crime was worse, so who cares? Really? Something now popularly called “closure” for the victims’ loved ones, i.e. a retributive display of frontier justice, is now required by the public (and the media), supposedly to avenge the crime.
At the risk of belaboring the obvious, one gruesome death does not, in fact, wash away the others, it merely perpetuates a cycle of violence that makes a cruel mockery of our founding ideals.
Moreover, it’s the predictable result of a political movement, that of “Victim’s Rights,” that has plainly gotten out of hand.
As the bastard child of Nixon’s Law’n Order hippie punching and the media’s obsession with violent crime, “Victim’s Rights” became the evergreen cause of ambitious politicians and overzealous prosecutors as the last century ended.
The destructive impulse of turning the criminal justice system from a means to protect society at large into a carnival of revenge for the victim’s imagined benefit officially became bipartisan way back in 1992, when then-candidate Bill Clinton showily presided over an Arkansas execution in the middle of his campaign.
Not for him, Michael Dukakis’ principled but un-telegenic rejection of state-sponsored murder, even if the victim were his own wife. No, like all Democrats since, Clinton took to the violent impulses of the right like a duck to water, because, after all, who wants to advocate for murderers, and potentially lose the trailer park vote?
Of course, the steady diet of lynch-mob incitement Americans had been fed for decades was seen around the world for the counterproductive barbarism it was, but it took September 11 for it to blossom into the global cataclysm we see today.
We all became victims, and easily graduated from demanding executions to cheering preemptive war, torture, and extrajudicial killings. Worse, we set an example for repressive governments around the world, even as more civilized nations moved in the opposite direction.
Thus, to enable a few cynical politicians to further their careers, and a shoddy, monopolistic news media to avoid topics of actual consequence, we’ve now joined the world’s worst governments in their medieval practices, to the point where we can’t even buy the drugs required to keep our death factories running on the world market.
Yes, naming new, repressive laws after slaughtered innocents was an easy way to get votes, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the price has turned out to be a bit high.