“And it’s not surprising–then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them….” (Barack Obama, 2007)
It almost cost him the election, that comment. The rest of the damage issued from the Black Theology of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who goddamned America for, among other things, its love of guns and violence against people who are different.
Four years later, they–we–are still clinging. Not that I cling to either. But I think that all of us who live in a country that is famous for such lunacy deserve a share of the blame.
I am only a little interested in the Why? question. Maybe it is because the Why question is always answered with the sub-analytical question-begging that television journalists call analysis (“Do you think America is on the wrong track or the right track?”): America’s Love-affair with guns. The political power of the NRA, who have half the Senate and two-thirds of congressmen in their blood-stained camouflage pockets. Or the Second Amendment–you know, the one that the SCOTUS says gives every man and woman the right to carry a semi-automatic weapon for squirrel hunting. Come to think of it, if corporations are people, my friend, why don’t they have a Bushmaster?
The simple fact is, Obama had it just right. He spoke the truth that dare not be spoken. A lot of Americans see America disappearing into a gray cloud of moral relativism and negotiable truths. It leaves them stranded and sightless. Homosexuality used to be weird and funny, and if you called someone a queer they cried. Now they smile, flash their wedding ring at you and drive off with their partner in a Bugatti. Abortion was something God-fearing Christians did not do, not even if fourteen year-old Tiffany’s pregnancy was eighteen year-old Bubba’s fault. Now their pastors and (even a few priests) say that the position of their Church is evolving, or has totally changed. A sin has become a right. A Christian will know that people who talk this way aren’t Christian because God can’t change his mind. He wrote a book. He hasn’t written another one. And we wrote a Constitution. Now some people are trying to change that too, and we can’t let them.
America is not a theocracy, but it often behaves like one, and plenty of Americans would have no trouble saying that the law of God (as they construe it) is higher than the law of the land. America for them is only “good” when its representatives and judges and president make decisions that support their biblical view of reality. In that view, men and women are more separate than equal. God established difference as a basis for doing certain jobs, playing certain roles. Things have only been screwed up since we began ignoring those “natural” differences and letting women do what (real) men are naturally meant to do, like being breadwinners, wife-tamers, and heads of the household. Even many plaid-jacketed divorced AK-45-toting women survivalists believe this doctrine. It is an act of faith that America is in rebellion against the law of God.
One of the proofs of this is Barack Obama’s recent election. Who elected him? That’s right, No one. Black people, scroungers, welfare mothers. University-educated people. So-called “scientists” who have never done an honest days work, communists and atheists and anybody else who hates America. All your spicks in California or Florida or wherever. Christ, probably even your Indians and god-knows-what-else.
For people who think this way, the election of a well-educated black lawyer who thinks the world is about fourteen billion years old is the apocalypse. No act of violence is too violent when you think that the enemy is in the White House, lighting cigars with the Constitution, palling around with terrorists and Chinese tycoons who want to buy Fort Knox, and celebrating the rites of his native religion in a secret mosque behind the Oval Office. It is a perfect storm brewed from irrational fear and an insanely available stage on which to vent your frustration and rage for what’s being taken away. And if the guys in beaver fur are the touts in this scenario, they are being stage managed by guys who use deoderant, men like Donald Trump, Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh. They are the real muses behind the weakminded men who caused Sandy Hook to happen
Listen to the rhetoric: “What’s being taken away.” The Endangered Man–Homo periclitatur–who thinks and acts against society never thinks in terms of rights as something that have been given, or developed, or created, but almost always as something that are being taken away. The unique reference in the Declaration (not the Constitution) to being “endowed” with unalienable rights by a Creator assures them that rights come from above and beyond the courts; courts have no business messing around with what God has given. We call that “liberty,” and liberty means that every individual man is free to do as he chooses as long as no one gets hurt.
The Second Amendment has become an idol in this debate as the symbol of what is left when all these God-given rights are left in the dust. Take away our guns and you take away our ability to defend our liberty. Christ knows, the government can’t defend us anymore. We have to do it ourselves. Just like in 1776.
The low-point in this “discussion” was reached in the election of 2008 when Sarah “Grizzly” Palin donned her red dress and promised the slavering hunters who had almost given up hope for a messiah that she would sleep with them if they would just vote for her and her “rogue” companion. Her rogue companion, a useless non-hero from the VietNam war, was only a little less ardent in his defense of guns. And he sits in a body where the legislators of the most powerful country on earth are given report cards by a weapons-advocacy lobby.
In the dogmatic illiteracy of 2012 America, the nation was founded not by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin–who may have owned guns but probably didn’t use them much–but by Davy Crockett and Wyatt Earp. They were all good Christians. They didn’t get divorced or kill babies. Maybe they fooled around a little because God can forgive that, and besides, men are weak in that department. It says so in scripture. These “heroes” didn’t know much science because they knew what really mattered was getting on, getting by, keeping government small, and staying out of trouble with the law. If you did get in trouble with the law, well that’s okay too. Remember what I said about being weak: God needs his sinners, as long as they are committing the right sins.
A gun, after all, is an axiom. A bullet can decide right or wrong when a court can’t, and it takes a good bullet to kill someone who uses one for evil. What went wrong at Sandy Hook? The principal wasn’t gun-smart.
It astonishes the world outside America that this childish and insipid view of history and human nature carries so much weight. It can win elections, though it didn’t win this one, and that in itself is a provocation to further violence.
But it should astonish everyone inside America that our schools don’t teach real stuff, that state educational commissions cower before the propect of teaching that religions come in different shapes, sizes and valences, and have been a source of moral harm as well as of good; that they fail to teach that evolution is not a mere theory but the best explanation we have of how we became the creatures we are. The home-schooling “revolution” that began a generation ago has been all about protecting students from the truth of science and the beauty of literature, abetted by school boards–an entrenched nineteenth century abomination–who think parents know best, and that the most important thing you can learn in school are family values.
The source of our trouble is not that Americans are stupid, though many are, but that we have permitted stupidity and fear to become the dominant force in the national psyche. We are a Janus of country, one face a road-weary, government hating, truck-driving cowboy, the other a Nobel Laureate from MIT. For every one of us who tittered at Tina Fey’s send up of Sarah Palin in 2008, there was a hunter in Arkansas, cleaning his gun, ready to shoot the TV screen in disgust that a woman who spoke God’s truth was being ridiculed for not reading books and newspapers.
And there might have been a mother in Newtown, Connecticut who said to her twelve year-old son, Adam, “You see these guns: That’s all we’ve got when they come for us.”