Wednesday, May 10, 2023

May 10, 2023
Steps toward and away from the brink

    In mid-April, I referred to several shooting incidents which seemed to represent the ultimate in our firearm insanity.  Almost immediately it became clear that it could, and did, get worse.     
    There were more mass shootings in public places.  They happen so often that any list of them is almost immediately out of date.  According to The Gun Violence Archive, there have been 208 this year.  This must stop. As an email from Gabby Giffords put it, “Americans should not have to live in fear of a mass shooting when they are going about their Saturdays, shopping, running errands, and living their lives.”
    Other incidents were, in a way, even more indicative of social breakdown because they were impulsive reactions to perceived  intrusions onto the shooter’s property, yet another extreme in firearm madness. Stand-your-ground statutes and similar laws, NRA propaganda, repeated claims that criminals are all about us, and a general tendency to divide into hostile camps all help to plant the notion that one must have a gun; in short: we live in a dangerous society.  That the glut of guns is a large factor in creating the danger doesn’t seem to penetrate, nor does the fact that many who own guns obviously are not competent to have them.
    We cannot continue down this path.
    Small steps from the brink have been taken. In Washington Governor Inslee has signed HB 1240, which generally prohibits “the manufacture, importation, distribution, selling, and offering for sale of assault weapons,” although it will not prohibit possession by those who already have such guns, and House Bill 1143 “requiring a permit to purchase firearms, firearms safety training, and a 10-day waiting period, prohibiting firearms transfers prior to completion of a background check, and updating and creating consistency in firearms transfer and background check procedures.”
    In Michigan, the Governor signed bills that will “create universal background checks for all firearms and mandate safe storage requirements around children.”
    In Colorado, two “new laws will raise the age to buy any firearm from 18 to 21 and install a three-day waiting period between the purchase and receipt of a gun. A third will strengthen the state’s red flag law . . . .”
    This state-by-state movement is important, but we need legislation at the federal level.
Following the most recent mass shooting, in Allen, Texas, President Biden made the case:
    Too many families have empty chairs at their dinner tables. Republican Members of Congress cannot continue to meet this epidemic with a shrug. Tweeted thoughts and prayers are not enough.
    Once again I ask Congress to send me a bill banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Enacting universal background checks. Requiring safe storage. Ending immunity for gun manufacturers. I will sign it immediately. We need nothing less to keep our streets safe.

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Saturday, April 15, 2023

April 15, 2023
The brink of collapse

    There are clear signs that American society is in danger of a fall from which it will not recover.  One indicator is the continuing cost of our love affair with firearms.
    Another school shooting occurred on March 27 in Nashville.  There the attacker fired 152 rounds, killing three 9-year-old students and three adults.  The awfulness of that incident was enhanced by the fact that it is only one in an endless series.  Before we could absorb the horror of that event, another mass shooting occurred on April 10, this time in Louisville, where five people were killed at a bank where the shooter worked.   According the The Gun Violence Archive, there have been 155 mass shootings in the U.S. this year.[13]
      Perhaps the ultimate demonstration of the gun menace occurred in Newport News, Virginia on January 6, where  a six year old child brought a gun from his home to school and shot his teacher.
    In a rational world, such events would cause us to conclude that, since we cannot remain peaceful and safe with so many guns in private hands, we should start limiting that number and restricting their use and availability. However, the Republican response to these shootings has been, for the most part, indifference or active worsening,
    Taking another step toward the edge, Governor DeSantis of Florida signed a bill on April 3 which allows carrying a concealed gun without a permit.[14]  Again, this development is made worse by its not being original.  Florida becomes the twenty-sixth state to allow that.  In Kentucky. a bill to make that state a “Second Amendment sanctuary” has been enacted; it prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies from enforcing “any federal laws or regulations enacted on guns, ammunition and accessories since Jan. 1, 2021.”[15] 
    Right on cue, the NRA convention opened, with potential Republican presidential candidates in attendance.


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Monday, April 3, 2023

April 2, 2023

    The constant use of “woke” by the right as a way of describing the evils of liberalism is an indication of their lack of real ideas and of desperation.  However, it’s also a sad reminder of how debased our political discourse has become.
    Although “woke” is tossed around so casually as to become meaningless, it has been defined.  When I first came across it in 2018,
[10] I found that The Urban Dictionary advised us that “Being Woke means being aware. . . Knowing what[‘]s going on in the community.”  More recently. Merriam Webster offered this definition:  “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” However, its current use has less to do with definition than with political warfare; it is used merely as an all-purpose insult and declaration of virtue.
    A thoughtful recent article by Solomon D. Stevens
[11] noted that “woke” is used to refer to a baffling  range of perceived social or political sins. Because of that muddle, “[t]he word ‘woke’ has no clear meaning, but to those who use it to condemn others, that doesn’t matter because the word is just a way of announcing one’s membership in a kind of club or gang.  It is a culture war badge.”
    Stevens refers to George Orwell’s 1945 essay “Politics and the English Language.” 

    Orwell points out that when we use sloppy, imprecise language, our thinking becomes sloppy and imprecise. In that respect, he says, our words can be both a cause and an effect. Our language “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” And that is the problem with using the word “woke.”
     Orwell noted that much writing in his day was characterized by “staleness of imagery” and “lack of precision.”  One falling into such habits may be “almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not.”[12]  So with the use of “woke.”  As Stevens puts it, “It is “employed to vilify others; ‘they’ are not simply wrong, they are enemies of civilization. Those who are ‘woke’ are portrayed as a threat to everything decent and good.”   It is a variation on the old theme on the right that liberals are not real Americans.


10. See my note of October 6, 2018
12. “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell: Essays, Everyman’s Library (2002), p.956

Thursday, March 23, 2023

March 23, 2023
The January 6th Report
    I’ve just finished reading The January 6th Report, more formally titled Final Report of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.
    Following forewords by Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Thompson and Vice Chairwoman Cheney, there is an Executive Summary.  It lists the findings made by the Committee based on its investigation, then provides a 90-page Overview of the Evidence Developed.  In the next section of the Executive Summary “the Committee makes . . .criminal referrals to the Department of Justice’s Special Counsel.” 
    The last section is a list of witnesses; of those for whom a party affiliation is noted, nearly all were Republicans.  In his foreword, Committee Chairman Thompson pointed out that the plan to overturn the election “faltered at several points because of the courage of officials (nearly all of them Republicans) who refused to go along with it.”  Those two facts are beacons of hope in an otherwise dark night for that Party.
    The material which follows the Summary, described as The Narrative, is a further review of evidence, divided into eight chapters.  Because the chapters are topical rather than chronological, it is difficult to keep track of the sequence of events.  There is a good deal of overlap and repetition and a lack of overall scheme.  However, both the Executive Summary and the Narrative add to the record in numerous ways.
    The Report is massively end noted —there are 762 endnotes to the Executive Summary —  which will provide material for scholars.

Monday, February 6, 2023

February 6, 2023
State of the GOP: origins

Commentary on the fallen state of the Republican Party is unanimous that the decline did not begin with Trump, that he merely amplified tendencies already present.  Accounts vary, though, as to when the slide began, or when a crucial change occurred.  Recent books and columns illustrate this.  David Corn, in American Psychosis,[6] sees a turning point in the hostility to Nelson Rockefeller by Goldwater supporters and John Birchers at the 1964 GOP convention. He refers to “two mobs,” the hecklers at that convention and the rioters on January 6, 2021.  “What happened on Capitol Hill was a continuation of the Republican Party’s decades-long relationship with extremism.”  Dana Milbank, in The Destuctionists,[7]  dates the change to 1994 and the influence of Newt Gingrich, who emphasized attacks on the opposition and moved politics toward tribalism.

In a New York Times column last month,[8] Charles Blow traced it to John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008: “Palin exposed a dangerous reality about the Republican base: that it was starving for disruption and spectacle, that it would cheer for anyone who annoyed liberals, that performance was far more important than competence.”  David Von Drehle, in a Washington Post column in December,[9] pointed to 1992: “Many Republicans remember it as the year Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot flew a suicide mission into George H.W. Bush’s reelection campaign. But the first fatal blow to Bush Sr. was dealt by hard-right pundit Patrick J. Buchanan. His angry populist campaign carried all the way to the convention, where he traded a grudging endorsement of Bush for influence over the opening-night program. Buchanan anchored an evening of hatreds and resentments that presaged the politics of today.”

Another sign of decay was the absence of a Republican Party platform in 2020. There might be several reasons for that.  They might have looked at the 2016 platform and concluded, as I did, that it was an extended statement of why the GOP should not be in charge of government. That’s not likely, but they might, in an unusual burst of understanding, have realized that a majority of voters would so decide.  Again, not likely; self-awareness has not been characteristic of the Party in recent years.   They might have decided that there was no point.  Party platforms often are ignored in practice and, with Trump as President, no statement of principle would have much significance.  They may simply have confessed that the only goal of the election was to hold power, not to govern, so why bother with a statement of principles when you have no intention of recognizing any?  In that sense, the absence of a platform could be regarded as a rare burst of candor.

Some of the specific claims made by Trump were echos.  Republicans had made claims of voting fraud during the 2000 and 2008 elections.  They long have exploited grudges, fears and imagined oppression of ordinary folk while serving business.  Gingrich referred to an America in trouble and to a catalogue of catastrophes; Trump spoke of American carnage.  

Most of the accounts note that elements of the present attitudes on the right have even older roots, including the hunt for communists by Joseph McCarthy and others; a recurring theme is the claim that liberals —you know, socialists (now “globalists”) — are not real Americans.  

It’s been a long slide.

6. American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy (2022).
7. The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party (2022)
8. “The Burn-It-All-Down Republican Caucus,” Jan. 4, 2023
9. “The GOP is stuck in a doom loop begun 30 years ago,” December 2, 2022

Sunday, January 8, 2023

January 7, 2023
Decline, and the way back

It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that we are a culture in decline.  There are elements of decline, such as the corruption of the language (look at the daily crosswords) which have no connection to politics, but important problems relate to policies, biases and behavior on the right.

A president attempts to retain power illegally, relying on lies about fraud, a mob attacks the Capitol and 147 Congressional Republicans vote to reject legitimate electoral results.  Politicians and others on the right play on fears and resentments, making them worse, encouraging tribalism.  The Republicans are so much in thrall to their right wing that it takes fifteen ballots and numerous concessions to elect a Speaker of the House.

The economy has rewarded business, not working people, as shown by charts published by the EPI.[1]   One reveals that, beginning in the early 1980s,  wages have lagged behind productivity.  Another shows that “fatter profit margins have played a historically outsized role in driving price inflation.”  A third reveals that  the federal minimum wage today is worth 27% less than in 2009, 40% less than in 1968.  (Not surprisingly, another is captioned: “Without government programs, millions more would be in poverty.”)   Republicans, serving business and only pretending to aid ordinary folks, will do nothing to change this pattern.

A serious contribution by the right to societal illness is its opposition to gun control.  There were more than six hundred mass shootings last year. A chart published in The New York Times illustrates an especially appalling development: “Gun violence recently surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death for American children.”[2]  A measure of the flood of guns is the number detected by TSA at airports; it reached a new high in 2022.  As of December 16, TSA had intercepted 6,301 firearms — more than 88% were loaded — up from 5,972 the previous year.[3]   Another measure is the number of states, now 25, which allow carrying a gun without a license.[4]  The right’s love of guns turns its tendency toward separatism into a looming menace.  Republicans will not do anything to solve that problem; indeed, they are determined to make it worse  An article in The New York Times last May illustrated their orientation: “ more than 100 television ads from Republican candidates and supportive groups have used guns as talking points or visual motifs this year. . . .as candidates praise the Second Amendment, vow to block gun-control legislation or simply identify themselves as ‘pro-gun.’ ”  

These trends cannot be allowed to continue, and the GOP will not reverse them.  Democrats must regain control of Congress, but to do so, they must find a way to persuade voters that they are on their side, that they are not the privileged elites of right-wing propaganda, that government is not the enemy.


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Thursday, December 29, 2022

December 29, 2022

    Christmas is a time to reflect on many things, including where we are as a society and what Christianity means to us, which are not unrelated.  Whie watching a Christmas Eve church service (streaming on my computer), it occurred to me how tragic it is that Christianity’s message of love and forgiveness is so often lost in the misuse of the faith for political ends, where it has become a force for division, aggression and domination. 

Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day