The Most Awful Reactions to Disaster in Oklahoma

It was a bad day. And when it seemingly couldn’t get any worse, the nauseating politicization of the disaster began.

Yesterday, a massive tornado struck the suburbs of Oklahoma City. Early reports indicate at least 51 people are dead, including some 20 children, and the death toll is expected to rise. The devastation is near complete in some areas, as the massive tornado leveled whole neighborhoods and, heartbreakingly, hit an elementary school. At one hospital, 85 people, including 65 children, are being treated for minor to critical injuries. This is a time for rescue, recovery, and mourning.

But welcome to the world of social media, where vile idiots treat every human tragedy as a cash cow for their pet issue, to be ruthlessly exploited and ridden to the top of the news cycle. I didn’t think even Rahm Emanuel could be quite so cynical. These eruptions of egregious stupidity seem to be happening with depressing regularity, and yesterday was no exception.

Before even the fundamentalist wackjobs had a chance to shout “it’s gays fault!”, pundits and political wannabes were all over it. While the disaster was still in progress, people were jumping on it, in a sickening game of 6 degrees of separation, except instead of “six steps to Kevin Bacon” it’s “one step from what everyone else is talking about, to what you never stop talking about.” Let’s see how it’s played.

On the left, Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead:

Ha. Get it? Because the IRS singled out conservative groups. But see, tornadoes don’t really target political groups, it’s just a coincidence the tornado is in a red state, like the IRS agents in Cincinnati during the Tea Party. So it’s just like that, you see. Basically, this tornado is a metaphor for how the Obama administration didn’t do anything wrong. Ha. Ha. See? Get it? I’m so funny and politically relevant.

I think I might ritually disembowel myself out of shame, if I had said something like that while people were dying alone and in terror, but Winstead unmercifully carried on, also using the Oklahomans’ death to mock conservatives’ reaction to Benghazi.

On the right, there was a chorus of equally unbearable reactions. The Tumblr Public Shaming has collected a ton of people (I saw a few on Facebook myself) jumping on the disaster to whine about gun control (the gun control that didn’t pass, remember). Gun control? How could you possibly make a connection from an ongoing natural disaster to… oh, good lord.

Ha. Ha. Tornado control. Get it? Because Obama. Or something.

This done in the full knowledge of the devastation and unfathomable loss happening as they spoke, just to cynically score some points on an unrelated political issue. How pathetic. At least they aren’t twisting it into being about some tawdry Washington scandal, like Winstead did… oh wait, here comes radio host and editor of RedState.com Erick Erickson.

And finally, in a spasm of hypocrisy, the irony of which seems totally lost on him, the blogger of Public Shaming himself decided to pounce on a slice of leftist red meat, bashing Oklahoma Republican Sens. Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe for voting against the relief bill for Hurricane Sandy, candidly admitting, “I’m definitely not one to say ‘this is not time to politicize.’ Everything is political.”

Never mind that the Sandy bill was stuffed full of riders that had nothing to do with disaster relief, and were just jammed in by special interests trying (what else?) to exploit a natural disaster for personal gain. Never mind that this is exactly the one time not politicize tragedy: on the day it is happening. Politics is a fruitless and hateful waste of time on the best of days, but please, if ever, spare us your “gems” of political wisdom this week.

To be clear, I’m not opposed to all transgressive humor or offensive jokes. It’s not the failed attempt at “comedy” that outrages me here. But what I find to be utterly disgusting is that these aren’t jokes. Nobody is trying to make anyone laugh instead of cry, or smile through their tears, or cheer them up after seeing inescapable horror. Humor can be a great thing, a saving thing, a way of armoring ourselves against fear and healing in the wake of it. But that’s not what this is. It’s politics, and politics is ever and always the worst in us. So here it is, in all its glory, at its most awful, cynical, and degrading.

Image via Associated Press

As after Boston and Hurricane Sandy and so many other tragedies, we also see the best of us on display: there is real heroism, real humanity, as well as real grief (and relief) happening in Oklahoma. Let it pass without inane commentary. Nothing can minimize the pain the families of the victims are going through right now, but just maybe, we can avoid denigrating their loss for a day. Maybe, for a moment, we can rise above and see the better angels of our nature.

Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier is the founder and editor-at-large of The Skeptical Libertarian. He writes on issues relating to science, skepticism, and economic freedom, focusing on the role of evolution in social and economic development.