Think of this as Volume 17, Number 19 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
Fear. Loathing. Anger. In my case, rage and ridicule come quickly to mind.
But the most important, most effective emotion is not being deployed. It's the emotion that led Gandhi and Dr. King and even Jesus Christ to change humanity. It's almost never deployed against the greatest threat to life in our time.
Today's gun nuts are victims, and have been their entire lives. Ever since Pearl Harbor, it has been the political mission of the United States to keep us afraid of the “other,” and keep us fighting it. Nazis. Japs. Vietcong. Blacks. Russkies. Arabs. Mexicans. The names and faces change. Fear is the constant.
Along with this has come an increasing isolation of Americans, one from another. The suburbs became the exurbs, and the countryside filled with people who found the exurbs too scary. What they brought with them was fear, and a desire to be left alone. Guns became their drug of choice.
The census shows that victims of fear are, increasingly, a minority within this country. Since the last recession cities have been growing in prosperity and growing more dense, while it's distant suburbs that are suffering the price of their own isolation.
The present political war was driven by a deliberate campaign of fear and hatred aimed at these very victims, by a political class which needed their crazy in order to drive us toward a war of choice, to drive people to fight in it, vote for it, stand behind it. Just as the War in Vietnam was a Cold War Activity, the Iraq War was a War on Terror activity. It was only one act in a larger fabric.
Buf how do you fight against a verb? Terror is a state of mind. Terror isn't a person, it isn't a country, it isn't really an organization or ethnicity. Terror is a feeling. Terror is a sense of being surrounded, of being under threat, of being in danger. You can't fight a verb. You can't win a war against a verb.
Thus these victims – and there are millions of them – can easily be manipulated to hate, despise, and (most of all) fear just about anyone. They can be made to fear lawful authority. They can be made to fear the President. They can be made to fear me, and made to fear you.
This President has done all he could to lessen the existential threat. He has gotten out of Iraq and we haven't been attacked. He is getting us out of Afghanistan. He killed Bin Laden, and brought most of the rest of his henchmen to justice. He has engaged, constantly, in a rhetorical stance of calm and reason, both with the world and his political enemies here at home.
He has, gradually, drawn the country toward him. The midterm election of 2010, like that of 1994, showed America the alternative and we rejected it in 2012. Every survey shows that a large, and growing majority of Americans agree with this President, and that the political divide among those who deal in reality is between those who excuse him and those who are pushing him further to the left.
When the knees are made to jerk, now, they will jerk left. This is the great achievement of the Obama Presidency. But that does nothing for the fear – it actually increases the fear.
Do not go gently into this good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. This is the stance of conservativism today. Their fear of the future is palpable, because they see the tide going out and, no long restrained by a desire to gain majorities, they push instead only for the raw exercise of power, against the rising tide they hate and fear.
This kind of energy is hard to fight. It was hard for Nixon to engage his “silent majority” against the New Left of the 1970s, which is why William Safire and Pat Buchanan were engaged to “stick it” to liberals and so stir up Nixon's supporters. But it got easier from then on. It was easy for Lee Atwater, with Willie Horton, and it was still easier for George W. Bush. The disease may infect a smaller percentage of us, but it's increasingly virulent in those it does infect.
A different emotion is called for. Love is that emotion. Love and pity.
Let's face it, these are sad, scared, and small people. More-and-more guns are being bought by fewer-and-fewer people. And with fewer-and-fewer sound reasons. Self-protection? You're killing each other. A revolt against the government? That's crazy talk. If the government wants to come into your home and take your arsenal, they're going to take it, and the best you can hope for is that some in your family survive the carnage.
What's going on in the gun world is simple hoarding behavior. They're no longer collecting, and they're no longer rational. They're hoarding, spinning tighter-and-tighter within themselves. They can never use what they're buying. They're like music downloaders who could never live long enough to hear all the files they've stolen. They're like crazy cat ladies who you eventually find dead in their beds, surrounded by urine and feces.
E.L. Doctorow, as he often does, described it best. In his book “Homer & Langley,” he tells the story of two brothers who start life with great wealth but end it in a boarded-up mansion, surrounded by things that don't matter. Disengagement from life, from other people, is what kills them. It's Homer, the blind one, who narrates and offers what scraps of sanity the two men possess. Langley, damaged by World War I, slowly descends into madness. The tragedy is that the wealth they inherit insulates them from the consequences of their actions. They go on, crazy eccentrics, until Langley falls and dies, leaving Homer to starve and wonder where his brother has gone. There is nothing left at the end, of either man or the world they imagined.
That's what today's NRA members are heading towards. That's where modern conservatism is taking these people. They have descended into madness, the whole lot of them, and what else can you feel for such people, save pity?
It's true that pity is the last thing these people want. What they want is for others to feel the same fear they feel, even if that fear is only in reaction to their paranoia. They invite the loathing, they invite the contempt. Their sponsors encourage it because it keeps sales going. The gun makers have become like street drug dealers squeezing their customers out of every dime they possess. Gun owners need an intervention, but it's not something their perceived enemies can deliver to them. It's something only their friends can do for them.
So our job, as liberals, should be to pity the hoarders and encourage their friends to see the consequences of their friends' actions. Our hatred for them only gives them what they want. Our fear of them only gives them what they need.
It's pity that they really need. Pity and love. We need to be willing to walk away from them until their friends can be encouraged to stage the interventions needed to bring American politics back to life, and get rational debate started again.
What might drive those interventions is the same thing that drove away the “New Left” of the 1970s. They have to be isolated, they have to hit bottom. They're addicts.
We need a Gun Owners Anonymous.