The heading above is, sadly, quite literal, the Florida condo collapse being only the most recent example of America’s dangerously neglected roads, bridges and buildings. But the heading also refers to President Biden’s attempts to address the problem—by compromising with Republicans on a smaller package, and by pushing projected passage of this legislation out to the fall, the Democratic administration risks accomplishing nothing whatsoever.
As of this writing, it appears that well over 150 people will have perished in the Florida disaster. Residents of neighboring buildings wonder, rightly, if their homes are safe to occupy. Where is the sense of urgency that should be driving attempts to repair our infrastructure? (Where, for that matter, is the urgency that should be driving our efforts to preserve the right to vote?)
Are we going to continue to accept our slide into societal mediocrity? Are we going to allow Republicans, by engaging in “bipartisan” negotiations with them, to reassert minority rule in Congress next year?
The “GOP” has become a party of nihilists, a party that doesn’t care whether America falls apart as long as it retains power. The Democrats, in contrast, seem willfully ineffective. They have so far failed to protect the basic right to vote, and—until and unless this reduced infrastructure bill passes—they have failed to address our crumbling roads and bridges. (Don’t even ask about climate change.) By trying to achieve a bipartisan consensus that is no longer possible, Biden and his delusional colleagues may well have dug another large pothole on our country’s road to ruin.
After getting off to a widely praised (among Democrats) fast start, the Biden administration is slowing down. I’m thinking of the $2.25 trillion infrastructure package in particular, where Democrats have, at the President’s urging, tried to negotiate with Republicans to pass a bipartisan plan. It has become obvious, at the end of May, that the two parties are very far apart—just as they are on virtually everything else.
The Republicans retain a dated view of what constitutes infrastructure, one that excludes electric vehicles, for example. It is another instance of their willful disregard of science, of climate change, and of the need to create new economic and social opportunities to improve the country’s health. EVs represent a wide-ranging near- and mid-term economic boom that will encompass a large population while also helping to meet the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions. How can the Republicans not see this?
The same way they cannot see their responsibility for the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. The same way they insist on investigating Black Lives Matter alongside that insurrection. The same way they retain fealty to Donald Trump, who did everything he could to accelerate America’s downward path.
When the Ford Motor Company, hardly a model for social democratic initiatives, introduces an electric version of their F–150 pickup, America’s best-selling vehicle, it’s obvious that EVs represent the future. Republicans, as usual, do not. Instead, they represent a very real and increasing threat to the future, in myriad ways. And it goes without saying that they are negotiating in bad faith on infrastructure.
President Biden has spent enough time on this last-ditch attempt at bipartisanship—a former political norm which, for all practical purposes, is dead. It’s time to use the reconciliation process to “build back better” and more broadly, in order to address this country’s huge infrastructure needs on the widest possible scale.
This morning’s New York Times carried one of the most telling op-ed pieces I have read in quite some time. It enlightens all the more by its very predictability, coming right on schedule after the latest American mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. The piece is titled “Why Gun Culture Is So Strong in Rural America” and it was written by one Robert Leonard, who is news director for a couple of radio stations in rural Knoxville, Iowa. In it, Leonard attempts to make a case for “understanding” rural conservatives’ “first principles” and “ideals.”
Here’s a sample of Leonard’s argument:
“To my conservative friends, it’s a matter of liberty and personal responsibility. Even after a horrific event like the school shooting in Florida, where 17 people were killed, more gun control would be compromising those first principles. For them, compromising those principles would be even more horrific and detrimental to society than any shooting. What my conservative friends see is not gun control, but rather control, period.” (Emphasis mine.)
And there it is, plain as day: the “freedom” to own a firearm (a “first principle,” based on a distorted but Supreme Court-endorsed interpretation of the Second Amendment) is more important than the freedom to live for the children in Parkland or Newtown. Gun control would harm society more than any number of future mass shootings of children, toddlers, senior citizens and/or assorted men and women. Guns preempt people (at least the people unfortunate enough to be killed by them).
Leonard further explains that “Republicans think the fault lies with the person — the perpetrator of the evil. Bad choices result in bad things being done, in part because the perpetrator lacks the moral guidance the Christian faith provides.”
“The reaction to mass shootings highlights this difference,” he goes on to say. “Liberals blame the guns and want to debate gun control. For conservatives, the blame lies with the shooter, not the gun.”
This is so wrongheaded and simpleminded that it beggars belief. Rational people, liberals included, blame people for these shootings. People are imperfect—this is a universally acknowledged principle, yes? The basic reason that rational people want to impose gun control after these mass shootings is to prevent imperfect people from getting their hands on these weapons. As Britain and Australia have done. As the Scandinavian countries have done. All with demonstrably improved results, i.e., fewer mass shootings (none at all, in Australia’s case).
This is beneficent control. This is society coming together to produce a beneficial outcome for its members at large. It is the very opposite of the cult of the individual that has conservatives under its sway in this country.
There is no such control in America, and thanks to people like Leonard and his friends there likely never will be.
I despise the notion that someone’s “freedom” to own a gun is viewed as more important than someone else’s life.
I despise the fact that Democrats (“liberals”) consistently kowtow to these people, as Connor Lamb just did in Pennsylvania.
I despise the twisted nostalgia that romanticizes gun culture as heritage and a way of life. “It’s been many years since I hunted squirrels and rabbits with my Grandpa Leonard,” the writer says, before fondly recalling that “I retrieved the squirrel, still warm, in the cool Iowa summer morning, and laid it in the pile of four or five he had already shot.” What a tender childhood memory.
I despise our fragmented society for following its predictable path and normalizing the shooting in Parkland, just as it has all the others. You think March For Our Lives will make a difference? Dream on.
I despise the New York Times for running this fallacious argument from the heartland without comment or context.
I despise self-deluded Middle Americans like Robert Leonard and his “conservative” friends. I despise the Republican Party (and the Democrats as well; see above). I despise the National Rifle Association.
I despise rational citizens, including myself, for failing to devise a way to overcome this grotesque American sickness.
But, I do salute Mr. Leonard for his inadvertent public service—his op-ed has made the crux of our cultural divide crystal clear. (I’d like to think this is why the Times published it.) His side (40 to 50% of the country, by most accounts) believes that gun control (merely control, not a ban as many would favor) is more horrific and detrimental to society than any shooting could ever be.
This is what we’re up against. Good God, America—how did we fall so far, so fast?
Of all the many spectacular failings our country has experienced over the past year, the ongoing gun crisis is both the most visible and the most illogical. What other country would tolerate so many mass shooting episodes? What other country—or what other country’s leader—would claim, with a straight face, that arming still more of its citizens is the solution? If you can picture America as a person, then that person is in the back of an ambulance, bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds and speeding to the emergency room with sirens blaring.
The patient may not make it. And if the country does manage to survive, it is not likely to be in its current two-party, 50-state form. The U.S. is too divided, and too sick, to bounce back into its younger state of health.
I and others have written about the country’s new kakistocracy, which is almost entirely Republican. Today’s Republican party is a vicious fungal infection that is pushing America into an ever more perilous condition. On virtually every issue, including the gun issue, the Republicans are not merely wrong—they are unbelievably wrong. Some of this is self-interest and cynicism, of course. But most of it is simply mind-boggling stupidity, especially among the party’s base. President Trump is a glaring, throbbing, dangerous manifestation of this. If he doesn’t manage to plunge a steadily weakening America into some sort of nuclear exchange he still stands to promote the dissolution of the country’s most important institutions, including democracy itself.
Where the gun issue is concerned, the Democratic Party is also to blame—it has displayed unforgivable cowardice. For every Democratic politician like Connecticut’s Senator Chris Murphy (who represented Newtown in Congress at the time of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre) urging Congress to “get off its ass and do something,” many other Democrats stay silent. And advocacy groups for gun control also fall sadly short. Groups such as Americans for Responsible Solutions, founded by Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, do not go nearly far enough in their proposals and remain hamstrung in their deference to the wildly misinterpreted Second Amendment.
The Supreme Court’s disastrous, conservative-led 5-4 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller that “the Second Amendment protects a personal right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes, most notably for self-defense within the home” has somehow morphed into the right for anyone to bear arms anywhere for any purpose, which of course is the NRA’s and now our so-called President’s stance. This is quite insane yet it is the law of the land, a land currently led by “a fucking moron” as our Secretary of State has said.
As we contemplate that ambulance speeding toward a hospital with a dying democracy inside, it’s important to note that guns are only one of America’s deadly symptoms. A dysfunctional federal government, a chaotic health care system, and the rollback of almost every ethical, social and scientific advance made over the past century are others. But if we can’t address the gun issue it’s likely we can’t cure any of our other serious illnesses, either.
Can we address the gun violence emergency in this country? Not with our currently divided political system. As British journalist Dan Hodges wrote about Sandy Hook, “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”
I hope you’ve noticed I haven’t used the words “Sutherland Springs” in this post. What difference would they make? That little Texas town is just the latest in a long procession, the latest recipient of America’s thoughts and prayers. We’ll soon move on to the next locale.
My thought, or rather my hope, is that both of our national parties will fragment into their constituent parts and we will, sooner rather than later, be able to put together a government representing a coalition of the sane. Multiple political parties would break the gerrymandered stranglehold that Republicans hold over so much of America and enable a coalition government, say between a new progressive party and the remaining Democrats, to have a decent shot at power. That coalition would then be able to enact laws resembling those in Britain and Australia, where personal gun ownership is very tightly controlled. How those laws would then be enforced is a subject for another post.