The US continues to honor its most stable ritual: trying, after the fact, to account for and suggest remedies to mass gun killings. Democrats are predictably calling for more stringent gun control while the Republican president insists that it’s all about mental illness. If you’re a politician in the US, especially on the prolonged eve of 2020’s presidential election, you must now deliver your recipe for suppressing hate and ending mass shootings.
Kadia Tubman at Yahoo News tracks the reforms envisaged by Democrats: “Gun control proposals from [Cory] Booker and other Democratic presidential candidates include universal background checks on all firearm purchases, requiring a license for all gun owners and an outright ban on assault weapons.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
A suggestion provided with enough detail to make it appear the speaker has been thinking seriously about a subject even when merely repeating stale, ineffective or duplicitous political talking points
In his manifesto, the gunman from the El Paso shooting on August 3 announced: “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas. They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.” Patrick Crusius traveled from his home near Dallas to President Donald Trump’s beloved border to materialize his “response.” Hispanics, border, invasion? Could there be a link to the rhetoric of the US president? Nonsense, replied the White House. “If you look at both of these cases, this is mental illness,” Trump declared.
In fact, the shooter was closer to the mark and deeper in his analysis than either Trump or the Democrats when he talked about “cultural and ethnic replacement.” Trump trotted out the traditional Republican and National Rifle Association (NRA) line. The truth is that it isn’t a mental illness but rather a cultural illness that has now, thanks in large part to Trump, also become an ethnic illness.
The US has long been suffering from a cultural illness that may be entering its terminal stage. It’s the deep-rooted belief that when a threat becomes too much to bear, the best answer is to “take arms against a sea of troubles,” to quote Hamlet, who obviously took a different path, allowing Shakespeare to prolong his drama for two and half more acts. Americans have been taught to “man up” whenever confronted with “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” meaning the behavior or sometimes the mere presence of people different from themselves.
Trump’s response to the killings was: “Hate has no place in our country and we’re going to take care of it.” With his supreme understanding of the kind of political rhetoric that produces the best electoral results, Trump would have sounded more sincere if he had added one other detail, affirming that “hate outside political campaigns has no place in our country.” Hatred of one’s opponent has long been the key to winning elections. More recently, hatred of those who vote for one’s opponent has become the best way to electrify one’s base.
Whatever he privately thinks about hate, when Trump promises to “take care of it,” he expresses not so much the solution to the problem as its symptom. In Mafia parlance, “take care of” something or someone is a synonym for “rub them out.” John Bash, the US attorney for the Western District of Texas, glanced at that meaning when he expressed his intent with regard to the shooter: “We’re going to do what we do to terrorists in this country, which is to deliver swift and certain justice.” In other words, exterminate.
Former Governor of Ohio John Kasich’s rhetoric was more nuanced than Trump’s. Kasich is the rare Republican who agrees to open up the debate about white supremacy. He said: “And people say, well, it’s all white nationalism. OK, yes, that we should condemn it, of course. And frankly, that’s a cause for people to look at whether somebody is stable or not. But at the same time, we need reasonable gun control legislation.” In other words, white nationalist terrorism is a problem, so the best way to avoid talking about it is by focusing on gun control legislation.
Fox News quotes Julian Castro, a rare Democrat who wants to blame the shooters themselves. “These shooters are ultimately to blame for their actions. They are attempting to terrorize us but I believe that the vast majority of Americans reject this hatred.” Democrats have always been good at announcing truisms. Does he simply mean most Americans don’t want to be shot in a public venue? He’s undoubtedly right, but what if those who don’t reject the hatred turn out to be a significant minority? Shouldn’t that worry us? Is this Castro’s rhetorically tame way of saying that we have nothing to fear but fear itself… and an occasional random bullet when out and about?
Samuel Huntington is best known as the author of the thesis “Clash of Civilizations” in 1993. It later appeared as a book focusing Americans’ attention on the challenge the Arab and Muslim world posed to the marvelous post-Cold War opportunity for the US to impose its neoliberal utopia on the entire globe. Undoubtedly persuaded by Huntington’s analysis, a decade later, George W. Bush took over the management of the clash across the Middle East. Inspired by Huntington, he set the scene for Condoleezza Rice to philosophize about the terrifying and ongoing consequences of war in the region as “the birth pangs” of a new Middle East.
With his forecast clash of civilizations now fully materialized in the US engagement across the region, in 2005, Huntington published “Who We Are” to warn Americans about the threat from within their borders, which through its rapid summary of US history boiled down to a message identical to that of the Dallas shooter: we must counter “the Hispanic invasion” of the US.
As the Democrats began accusing Trump of creating the atmosphere that led to this weekend’s shootings in El Paso and Dayton, the administration immediately countered that it couldn’t be the president’s fault, because the problem of mass shootings already existed. That is of course true. If anyone is to blame it would be Samuel Huntington, who paved the way for Bush’s violence abroad and Trump’s domestic violence at the border.
So, is it about guns, hate speech, mental illness or something else, something “cultural,” as Patrick Crusius hinted? Gun reform wouldn’t have prevented the Dayton, Ohio shooting on August 4. Associated Press informs us that “police said there was nothing in the background of 24-year-old Connor Betts [the Dayton gunman] that would have prevented him from purchasing the .223-caliber rifle with extended ammunition magazines.” Hate speech appears to be protected by the First Amendment and is vital for electoral success, so it would be unrealistic to see a legal reform permitting its eradication.
As for mental illness, many have made the case that the current president of the US is mentally unbalanced, to say the least. At the same time, he has a high probability of being re-elected in 2020. So, shouldn’t we ask whether mental illness or at least tolerance of it has become embedded in the culture? In some sense, it is the consequence of the US concept of freedom. Because of the focus in the US on the individual rather than the relationship each person has with society, we can never tell when freedom of expression ends and mental derangement begins. If my identity includes mental illness, I should be free to pursue the happiness proper to my mental state.
This means I may end up breaking laws. I simply have to understand and accept that after exercising my freedom, I will be punished for my illegal acts. Crusius expected to be killed by the police but instead was apprehended. Whether he was pushed by a paranoid obsession or felt he was justifiably and forcefully applying Donald Trump’s border policies, we will no doubt be able to discover through the unfolding of his arraignment and trial.
But if it’s the nation — and its culture — that’s mentally ill, we will remain in the dark because there will be no arraignment or trial.
Breaking News: It isn’t another mass killing — more like routine — but 40 people were shot in Chicago over the weekend. There is no indication concerning how many shooters were mentally ill.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
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