The art of politicising a tragedy
Caveat: Since this is a blog, and not an article, I play loose with language by treating the left and right as two homogeneous groups. That's not accurate, but is hopefully not so inaccurate as to defeat my purposes.
America seems to be characterised increasingly by acts of gun violence. The response depends on features of the gunman. Typically, those on the left will use the opportunity to call for gun control. If the gunman is white, those on the right will offer thoughts and prayers, and perhaps say something about mental health. If he isn't, they'll say something about immigration, perhaps endorsing Trump's Muslim ban.
What follows, in any case, is that each side accuses the other of 'politicising a tragedy'. There have been screenshots on Twitter of people on both the right and the left reacting very differently to an episode of gun violence, depending on whether it supports their narrative. If it doesn't, opponents are reminded not to politicise a tragedy. If it does, a particular policy proposal is made.
Is this simply hypocrisy on both sides? If the suggestion (as it sometimes seems) is that any policy proposal in response to tragedy is 'politicising', then it certainly is. There is nothing wrong with using a tragedy as impetus to take political action.
We need to do one of two things with the concept of politicising:
1. Keep 'politicising' as a general term, but recognise that many instances of it are not wrong; or,
2. Make 'politicising' a term of art, and recognise that not all policy suggestions are forms of politicisation.
I want to suggest that option 2 is the way forward. One politicises a tragedy not just when one suggests a political response or solution, but when one does so insincerely. That might take several forms. It might be that one is primarily suggesting problems with opponents' proposals as a form of political points scoring. It might be that one supports a proposal for other means and simply be using the tragedy as a pretext (see, for instance, accusations from the right that gun control measures are a pretext for tyranny).
As someone who broadly supports the left's typical response (gun control) and strongly opposes the extreme right's response (a Muslim ban), where does this leave accusations of politicisation? It might be tempting to conclude simply that the left are correct in their suggestions, and that the right are incorrect. After all, I think that gun control is a good response to gun violence, and that banning Muslims from entering America is a bad response.
This would be too quick, though. For while I think that calls for immigration bans are deeply flawed, it does not follow that they are flawed in a way that means that those who make such calls are 'politicising'. At least some such people may be sincere in their suggestion; they may really believe that immigration bans are the way forward.
My suggestion to those on the left is therefore that we need to be a little more careful in our condemnation. A knee-jerk response to proposals that we abhor of calling them 'politicising' leaves us open to the same accusation. If we show no willingness to think that people we disagree with are sincere in their policy proposals, we should not expect them to think any differently of us.
Of course, there may be exceptions. Perhaps some people have repeatedly shown themselves to be insincere, and so can be more reasonably accused of 'politicising'. But in general, we should condemn calls for an immigration ban for what it is: racist, Islamophobic, and idiotic. Assuming, as a baseline, that others are sincere doesn't preclude other forms of criticism.