Monday, June 13, 2016

What ails us?



When the police come to the wrong house, they are met by an old man with a shotgun aimed at them. A teenager coming home late is shot by his father who mistakes him for an intruder. A two year old reaches in his mother's purse and fires the gun that kills his mother. This is the stuff of the daily news. The guns that flood our society do not make us safer. They are not there for self protection.

Mass shootings reinforce that observation. Of the 300 people jammed into the Orlando nightclub apparently no one carried a weapon for self-defense. No one was able to protect himself as the gun advocates promise us again and again.

A population armed is not a safe population. The shotgun behind the front door more often kills loved ones than late night burglars. The population armed, again and again falls victim to mass shootings without being able to defend itself.

Why this fascination with personal armaments if they do great damage and do not make us more secure?

There are no doubt many answers to that question and none of them are very pretty. White Americans conquered this continent by making war on Native Americans. White Americans enslaved African-Americans and oppressed them with the whip and the gun. America has become "the most powerful nation on earth" by virtue of astronomical sums spent on sophisticated weaponry. We find violence wherever we turn in our own history.

Today that violence turns citizens against citizens. The latest mass shooting in Florida took place in a gay nightclub. On the same day police arrested a man, heavily armed, who was planning to disrupt a gay pride parade in California by shooting marchers. Violence against homosexuals has been encouraged in our country for a long time.

A significant number of voters are supporting Donald Trump whose message is largely a message of anger,  of the desire to hurt others, to injure them, to exclude them. Imagine what the country would be like if we were to deport 11 million of us, if 11 million were to be herded on buses, trains and airplanes. Imagine the families disrupted, the children and parents lost and in despair. Nevertheless many Americans resonate to the spirit of that plan. They too are very angry, they too want to hurt someone.
But they are very unclear about the sources of their anger and thus are willing to unload it on people they don't know--Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims.

Our nation is sick. Those of us who do not support Trump have nothing to offer the people who do, to ease their rage, to offer comfort or hope. Obama got elected eight years ago with the slogan of "Hope." He was unable to deliver on that if only because one person cannot give hope to an entire nation and only the nation as a whole can heal its own despair. And that despair takes many forms. One can support a very angry candidate for president. One can arm oneself and shoot people one loves. One can also buy guns and shoot a former girlfriend or wife, or kill one's children.

After the shooting in Orlando, some public officials exhorted citizens to love each other. But that is extremely difficult for those who feel  denigrated, exploited and, worst of all, ignored.

Making America great again would be to foster mutual trust that would not dream of arming oneself against one's neighbors. It would mean making us eager to work with each other to solve our problems rather than spending so much energy in obstructing each other. It would mean rekindling hope for a better future.

How can Americans learn to love each other again? That is the question to which we have no answer.