America's new drug of choice: revenge
Capital punishment is vengeance masquerading as justice. No matter how heinous the crime, we lose our moral highground when we allow killing as a punishment for murder.
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But American politics, too, is riddled with a quest for vengeance. The recent midterm elections were rife with a strong element of revenge. The tea party was out to punish President Obama because he hasn’t mended everything they think is wrong with America. In recent years, Republicans wanted vengeance because they felt a sense of entitlement to the White House.Skip to next paragraph
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Speaking to the Heritage Foundation shortly after the election, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell articulated the Republicans’ chief goal: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
Justice or revenge?
We are assailed on every front by subtle attempts to legitimize vengeance. Watching an NFL football game on TV, I saw a commercial for “Faster,” a new movie featuring a big dude – Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) – with a huge gun. He announces that he is going to avenge the killing of his brother. A voice says “They’re going after everyone on his list.” Johnson then intones, “God can’t save you from me.”
I rather thought that in democratic societies justice is meted out in the courts. Does no one remember that law is the glue that holds societies together? Individual score-settling is a criminal act.
Only a Hollywood film? No, it’s art imitating life. The Associated Press recently reported that administrative judges who hear Social Security disability cases have faced more than 80 threats in the past year from disgruntled claimants “angry over being denied benefits or frustrated at lengthy delays in processing claims.” The same Social Security vigilantes also target the judges’ families.
People may have strong feelings about the need for Connecticut to execute Hayes for murder, but let’s be honest: Capital punishment is itself about killing. It is a conjoined twin of vengeance, which is blatantly immoral. Do we really find any moral high ground in executing someone for murder, especially when we do not need to kill to punish them?
A juror who voted for the death penalty in the Connecticut trial wrestled with that question, clearly grasping the larger dilemma in matters of societal vengeance and the death penalty. Quoted in The New York Times, juror Ian Cassell said, “No one is happy. Nothing is better. Nothing is solved.”