A young friend took exception with a short piece I wrote, claiming it showed me as anti-gun. Because, I suppose, if one does not genuflect at the name of the Second Amendment while reading from the gospel according to LaPierre, one must be anti gun, and therefore anti freedom and anti American. Since Trump can be counted on as a high priest of the unlimited right to bear and use arms, my friend will stick with him. All others can be no other than enemies of the truth.
I have a high regard for the Constitution, but low regard for its Second Amendment, which has been the go to excuse for the violence prone gun culture that has captured the soul of America. It doesn’t make me anti gun. Like most others my age who grew up in the Midwest, we had them, everyone did, but they weren’t objects of adoration, nor did we give them much thought as means to defend our freedoms. And we had reason to be concerned about our freedoms. The Red Menace was a hot topic, fall out shelters were in abundance, and we knew about survivalists who had theirs stocked with food and weapons to keep others out. Few took them seriously. The point is, guns per se were never worth enough to get into an argument about them.
It’s hard for me to understand how favoring licensing guns and gun owners in a way similar to how we license cars and drivers makes me anti gun, but apparently it does. Therein lies a problem. For adherents to certain sets of beliefs, failure to agree with them without question is all that’s needed to be labeled an enemy, a believer in whatever is the extreme opposite. It’s also all that’s needed for them to pledge allegiance to political leaders who express public support, not for the Second Amendment, but for their assumptions about presumed enmity of all who hold alternative views.
Here’s another example. Local pro life advocates appear unable to understand that pro choice advocates are not pro abortion. Many of us have serious moral and religious problems with abortion, but strongly believe that the coercive power of the state is not to be forced on a decision that should be between a woman, her physician, and her God. It’s the most serious and tragic decision a woman can make. But that nuance is not acceptable to anti abortion forces who would rather it be restored to criminal back alley operations where it will not offend their sense of righteousness. They will happily support Trump, no matter what else he does or says, as long as he remains publicly committed to their intention to make abortion illegal.
One supports him because he won’t use the power of the state to regulate guns, while the other supports him because he will use the power of the state to prohibit women from getting legally regulated abortions. Each considers all dissenters to be the enemy.
I would like to say it hasn’t always been this way, but it has. It isn’t about guns or abortion. It’s about a certain way of inflexible thinking that creates opportunity for political manipulation dangerous to our treasured form of democracy. Sometimes it looks like libertarianism, but it’s not because adherents of arguments like these favor a strong leader of a forceful government to impose their way of thinking on society as a whole. They want freedom the way the Pilgrims wanted freedom of religion.
In the late 1950s and early ‘60s, when the almost but not quite adult me was just entering the work force, hard core union members attacked any criticism as being anti union and anti working man, and they meant man. They weren’t in competitive negotiation with management, they were at war with the enemy, and anyone else not on their side. Parenthetically, they lost the war, which is too bad because working people need unions.
On another front, even in the liberal Minnesota of my youth, racism was blatant, and seldom challenged. Those who dared were automatically the enemy of real Americans and the sanctity of God’s established social order. Guns and abortion, unionism and racism: they were manifestations of a way of thinking that could accommodate only one position, had difficulty with abstractions, and were unwilling to consider a future beyond the next year or two, often less.
Just to set the record straight, middle class racism in those days was veiled behind politeness and liberal good intentions proclaimed in public but reserved for the benefit of some unspecified future generation. It was certainly not good manners to bring it up in conversation. But I digress. That’s not what this column is about.
Curiously those hard core adherents who would tolerate no questions and brook no deviation back in my Minnesota youth were the heart of the liberal Democratic party. They were not shy about their socialist leanings, and proud of Hubert Humphrey’s rabble rousing liberalism, as long as he unconditionally backed the unions, and didn’t upset the local apple cart of social stability. They didn’t have much choice. Their political power was held in check by the political establishment of wealthier, better educated, more articulate leaders who understood how politics worked, and could be more pragmatically flexible in negotiating across the aisle.
My local gun toting, abortion hating friends of today are not held in check that way. They, and others, have defeated the establishment, and are free, they believe, to wield the political power needed to make their views the law of the land. And Trump is the man to do it.
The establishment detests him. The remnant of Republican leadership cowers before him. Democrats are powerless. He doesn’t need the legislature as long as the court will back him, and frankly, he doesn’t need the court either. By his own words, “I alone can do it.” He’s the leader they’ve longed for, and they’ll stick with him.
It began to change with the Vietnam and Civil Rights era controversies. Without going into everything that happened since then, it wasn’t difficult to prey on people who hold certain highly prejudiced, inflexible attitudes to generate a tea party movement that has morphed into today’s trumpism with its supporting cast of sympathizers ranging from the cautiously hopeful to hardened opportunists. Enticed by Reagan to vote the GOP ticket, freed from oversight by old time patriarchal Democratic leadership, manipulated by the NRA, underwritten by Koch related financing, and promised an unachievable future, they’ve become the core of a haphazard slide toward fascism – our own American brand of it. It’s not the product of some well engineered master plan. There’s no organized conspiracy to ferret out. It’s the product of narrow mindedness, ignorance, and greedy opportunism working together in surprisingly successful ways I doubt any of them intended. It’s an unstable triad and can’t last, but oh the damage it can do in the meantime.
The trumpians are right about one thing. Their success is due partly to the self satisfied arrogance of old time political leaders who assumed they would always be the ones in ultimate control of national politics. They might argue with each other, but when the argument was over, they would still be the ones in charge. Obama’s double election proved that not to be true, and the forces of the far right understood the time was right to make their move. Move they did, and those with long harbored inflexible agendas enthusiastically got on board.
The antidote, it seems to me, is partly to rouse the majority of potential voters out of their political stupor in which they could not be bothered to know the issues or cast their votes because it didn’t matter anyway. How to do that? I don’t have a good answer. Maybe Mueller does.
A closing note: My young gun rights friend would angrily object to be cast in with fascists, and indeed, since I know him well, he is in his heart a true democrat. His contribution to those with fascist intentions is invisible to him. He can’t see it. I think that was probably true for a lot of folks who attended America First events in the late 1930s and early ‘40s.