Gun control has long been one of the things I feel least intensely about in terms of issues. The reason is both that I don’t see the point of pushing it in a country where there is sufficient electoral math against it and because I understand why at least some of the gun-affectionate react so strongly when the rest of us demand sensible restrictions. It’s not that the restrictions (licensing, registration, mandatory training, constraint to hunting weapons) are unreasonable outright, but that guns signify culture, and those of us who want guns restrained tend to surround our demands with surplus amounts of performative contempt for the cultural worlds of the people who own guns.
But enough. Enough.
Who are the “special snowflakes” of early 21st Century America, the people whose underwear is too tight, who are too sensitive about everything, who can’t take even the least criticism? No, it’s not some exquisitely tuned 20-year old leftist at a selective private college. It’s the cultural right, the people who curl up into a Rush Limbaugh-endorsed fetal position every time anyone says even the slightest thing that perturbs the preciousness of their world. I get that everyone in all the wide world feels entitled to the integrity of the lifeworld in which they have grown and thrived as human beings. But that entitlement has its limits, and they are at a minimum the classic limits of liberalism: swing your fist if you must, but stop at my nose. In fact, stop well short of it. Right now we have a minority of people in the United States who insist that they can still flail wildly long after they have pummeled everyone else bloody.
If America is not great, it is not for a lack of attention to our sensitive right-wing snowflakes. They said: hands off our guns. Well, we stand now at the moment of the most intense judicial restraint on any attempt to restrict gun ownership and use in the history of this republic. They said: lower our taxes! We are the least taxed liberal democracy on the planet, we are 37 years into a national regime of ceaseless tax reduction. They said: cut the welfare state, get rid of the safety net! The safety net has been cut, the great revolution of the late 19th and early 20th Century in favor of public goods is nearly totally undone. They said: stop teaching our children what we don’t want them to know. Creationism is back in schools, the government is actively hostile to science, it’s ok for the top leaders of this country to endorse historical falsehoods and insist they be taught to the nation’s children. They said: we’re too free to see pornography and get divorced and live together outside of marriage and take drugs. And where is it that pornography is most popular and adultery flourishes and opoids and meth take hold? In Trumplandia, where people apparently need the Nanny State to stop them from doing what they blame on others who do it far less. They said: stop crime at all costs! And thirty years later, they’re still afraid in a country that locks up more of its own people than any other comparable nation, that allows cops to kill black men with impunity.
Basta! Enough! If America needs to be great again, it first needs to stop letting the people who love that slogan have their own way. They’ve been almost entirely in charge during a thirty-year project of degradation and loss. They’ve had their own way most of the time. I remain sensitive to how it feels to think that the world is changing and you didn’t decide to change it. I remain aware that liberals, broadly speaking, might be said to have spoken a language of unseemly triumphalism in the late 1970s and 1980s–often on behalf of and alongside people who had been victimized profoundly by this nation for the previous three centuries, mind you–but seriously, this is small beer.
What is not small is the catastrophe of this historical moment. That a nation with so much possibility, so much hope, so much to give to the future, should be now gripped so tightly by cruelty, fear and triumphal malice is one of the great tragedies of human history to this point. The President exemplifies it, but he is not where it all comes to rest. It comes to rest with the people who at every turn and at every moment bare their lightly bruised flesh and insist, against all common sense, that they bleed from stigmata. Who look to every pointless massacre that they wish to excuse and call for prayer, but turn to every other pointless massacre that they wish to curse and call for suffering.
Peace! Let us turn to all the killing and say enough! Let us turn to all the corruption and say let us demand more of all our leaders, and of ourselves! Let us say of all our riches, surely we can share some larger portion of them and re-knit our safety nets, remake our publics! Let us say to all our trespasses that we forgive them–but in expectation of forgiveness, urgently expected. For the time is very nearly here when all hearts will be hardened, because no forbearance is forever.