America is having a cause and effect problem – a dawning realization that sometimes you can’t prove legally what you know is actually true. We know the cause and the effect, yet can’t seem to do anything about it. We are as paralyzed socially and politically as we are with climate change.
Hate crimes, white nationalism and mass shootings have been a rampant gathering storm for three years. They were once a whispered ingrown national shame but this time they have a direct time correlation to Trump’s statements and behavior. He cannot be called criminally guilty in the California, El Paso and Dayton shootings, among many. But you don’t have to be a genius to see the connection.
The Mueller Report is stuffed with examples of Trump playing nice with Russia, with his criminal machinations, yet having nothing to do with his tax returns, emoluments and basic fraud as a businessman.
The media is still consumed with his every utterance as they typically have been for decades with any president of the United States, which means that citizens know his nasty nicknames for his rivals without being there in person at his rallies or signed up for his tweets.
They know, endlessly, that he equates all groups that dislike Trump as “hate groups” even those that haven’t killed people. Providing him a megaphone is doing great harm, but that reality seems to escape most cable news outlets, aside from the one happy to be his servile megaphone.
It is past time for the media and the public to exercise restraint and sometimes self-imposed silence, so that only FOX is willing to raid the henhouse.
Everyone watched in disbelief as Trump tried to pontificate against white supremacy (briefly), condemned the Internet but not his own tweets, blamed video games, tried to tie gun control to immigration reform as a crass way to suggest Latinos are responsible for their own mass murders, and read Teleprompter platitudes while Pence stood behind him like a cardboard cutout.
It was a display – mechanical empathy substituting for the real thing -- that inspired revulsion throughout the world and forced the Secret Service to contemplate they may have to shoot regular citizens as Trump insisted on visiting Dayton and El Paso. Typically, Trump turned those visits into campaign stops rather than solace calls.
And yet half the country is not sure all this is grounds for impeachment. Obvious racism may be enough for Texas Rep. Al Green but history let Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan slide by. And today’s public is letting Trump slide because his racism is out there in the open.
As Shakespeare said in “Hamlet” we are hoisted “on our own petard.” In this case the petard (or bomb that blows the user up and lets the target escape) is free speech. It is protecting the most outrageous statements and in Trump’s case the most outrageous contradictions. To act against him requires using his own hateful methods or abandoning our core principles.
The courts, already suffering a right-wing sheen from Trump’s appointments, aren’t equipped to validate our historic sense that the presidency is a moral center of decency. The Constitution may limit his powers but in the heat of the moment the courts succumb to fears of political involvement.
Even if justices mentally know that using military money to build a wall is a waste of resources, the legal issue is whether the president, empowered with protecting the nation, should be contradicted by the courts if he wants to fritter money away. As long as the Senate refuses to go along with the House, just how much do we expect the courts to do?
Even when suffering communities like El Paso urged him not to visit, there were and always will be handfuls fascinated by the aura of a presidential visit and a minority of supporters who demand the same sort of federal protection from harm that other minorities, like blacks attempting to integrate schools in the South in the 1960s, expected from their leaders. There will always be a few Mexican Americans who may hate what Trump says but add, “At least he called attention to our border problems,” as one told NPR.
In America, before Trump, we thought we had a nation built around an ethical theme, around human rights. Many times we failed – our national tragedy -- but until now we tried to return to the moral center.
The times clearly call for some adjustments, some reckonings that go beyond the slow walk the electorate usually uses to correct itself. But these are not the adjustments we are getting.
As a misdirection, Republicans now want “red flag” laws to let the police step in early against those too dangerous to use guns or advocate violence. Such laws may be peripheral to the real problems, and in a Trump era they could be used against his political enemies, forcing the community to arrest its own woke citizens. But many Democrats, including Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, are tempted by the new narrow opening of Republican minds. They know the Republicans are adamant against deeper measures.
It’s not just Republicans, though. In the wake of the gruesome mass shootings, listen in to how debating progressives were fighting among themselves. Some, like Cory Booker, argue for nationwide gun licensing while others also running for president say that doesn’t impact what a survey suggests already exists in the US -- 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles and assault weapons, and 86 million shotguns. Have to do something about that, too. But the cry of “Do Something” becomes “Do My Something First!”
California Governor Gavin Newsom, in open outrage after the Garlic Festival shooter got a legal assault rifle in Nevada, wants every state to ban not just assault weapons but put strict controls on ammunition magazines as his state had done. Republicans claim there is no public appetite for such bans – but they are clearly not talking to the public in the streets. Diane Feinstein wants to revive the assault weapons ban. The organization established after the brain-spattering shooting of Gabrielle Giffords points out that the House has already passed universal background checks and bipartisan control bills that have gone to the Senate to die under Moscow Mitch.
A massive mandatory buy-back proposal is also suggested, yet progressives are arguing among themselves about the details. The clarity of America’s majority reaction to Trump and to gun violence is already splintering apart in ridiculous opposition and equally ridiculous “on the other hand” debates among Democrats. How many more mall shootings will it take? Cause and effect can become cause and neglect.
A representative democracy relies on thoughtful measured action after debate and the sausage-making process of legislation. In the face of a bullish gargoyle elected (in some manner) to the White House, is our democracy flexible enough to react and survive? Can it keep its essential values and rise to the challenge? Or are we about to find out it can’t?
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