On a recent cruise, we were the only Americans, the other one hundred ten or so passengers being Brits. Conversations tended to reveal, amid perfect courtesy, that certain American phenomena are puzzling - well, strange - to them. One of them is our endless and money-driven election season. That inevitably led to: "Is Donald Trump really running for the Presidency?" and "Might he win?"
Of course they are baffled by our gun culture, and who in his right mind would not be? Well, Ben Carson, current front-runner among the Republicans, wouldn’t. (I’m assuming that he is competent, although many of his comments give one pause). Shortly after we arrived home, the Umpqua massacre took place. Dr. Carson’s reaction included this: As a Doctor, I spent many a night pulling bullets out of bodies. There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking – but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away." He doesn’t even have the excuse of never seeing a shooting victim; faced with the result of gun possession, his reaction is to swoon over the alleged benefits of the Second Amendment. Leaving aside his politics and the illogic of his position, the man appears to be utterly insensitive. Apparently eager to emphasize that failing, he added the boast that, had he been there, he would have rushed the gunman. In other words, it was the victims’ fault that they died.
A grass-roots reaction to the shooting illustrated how fractured, hate-filled and simply stupid our culture has become: when President Obama traveled to Oregon to console the victims’ families, he was met by hundreds gun-toting protesters carrying signs reading "Obama Go Home," "Obama Not Welcome Here" and "Go Back To Kenya." This underscores not only the fanaticism and rage of gun nuts, but the fracturing of the polity: a twice-elected President is not welcome in part of his country. He received the same reception when he went to West Virginia to talk about drug abuse: at a rally to protest environmental rules that would limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, a man held a sign reading "Obama is not West Virginia’s President!"
Add a few other factors, such as the concentration of wealth at the top and the reimposition of impediments to voting, and it’s difficult to feel optimistic about the state of the Union.