Trump and his allies have already trotted out their scare-you-to-death images: Babies screaming during partial birth abortions. Face-tattooed machete-wielding gangs charging in caravans across the border. Mass socialist murderers chopping children to death -- inspired, according to one recent TV ad on Sinclair local news stations, by Alexandria Ocacio Cortez, the pretty Socialist Democrat who has become the GOP’s Wicked Green Witch of Destruction, worthy of being lit on fire before she can cause havoc. Democrats spell death, Trump spells life.
This is already the ugliest campaign in terms of blood-curdling charges.
But this election the Democrats have profound, blunt, natural images of gore, unlike the exaggerated extremes of Trump and his allies.
It is the image of a bullet from a high capacity magazine shredding childhood flesh into bleeding gapes that doctors can’t fix in time. It is the image of children relegated to die by removing them from life-giving US health care. It is children torn from parents and imprisoned in cages at the border.
Beto O’Rourke in the recent presidential debate hit every agonizing true example of assault weapon carnage from a Trump inspired Odessa killer, adding a ferocious and elegant “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47!” to cheers from a Texas audience of college students and many viewers around the nation.
Suddenly the Democrats have real inescapable horror stories to match the exaggerations of the right. The evangelical extremists know in their hearts the real problem with abortion is that it is largely a physically painless procedure and any battle is mental – so they concoct images of suffering dying fetuses to create shame even in women who feel considerable sadness whatever the circumstance.
Similarly, while Trump makes cow eyes at genuine killers like Duterte of the Philippines, Mohammad bin Salman, Kim Jung Un and Vladimir Putin, he and his minions conjure up images of Venezuela and historic death merchants in Cambodia as examples of socialism, though these are examples of dictatorial fascism miles removed from the peace-loving Democratic Socialists whose strains of common sense government have run side by side with American democracy for decades. These Socialists may believe in more government involvement than capitalists but on big social problems that need solutions.
Even as Trump conjures up the forces of darkness, this time, from now on, the Republicans’ imaginary nightmares can be beaten off by reminding the public of the real nightmares invading the waking moments of children and parents – not just border horrors but school shooting drills unlike the automatic fire drills and even A-bomb drills of our youths that everyone knew were a distant unlikely worry. Nothing distance about an assault weapon intruder. These monsters have become a palpable reality for every family in the nation. That could be your teenager running down the school hallway as a bullet smashes her back.
O’Rourke did us all a favor by being blunt. The kids of Parkland, the mothers of the fallen (in groups and alone), the city children downed by a stray bullet as they play in their bathtub -- all are true crime stories that infect us all. So are the people removed from live-saving procedures and the traumatized 3 year olds in ICE cages.
Researchers have long known that conservatives in suburbs fear burglars and murderers in far disproportionate worry than reality – they call the police when a shadow falls on a nearby tree. But today it is real fear that has caught up with our children.
Here’s why this is a change. For decades, out of concern with the NRA and their lobbyists as well as law-abiding gun owners, any talk of universal background checks, limiting the size of ammo magazines, keeping weapons from proven domestic abusers and talk of confiscation – all these gun discussions were doomed pie in the sky dreams.
Now America is openly talking about it all and the right wing can no longer dismiss this as unneeded nonsense. As one NRA member told me about his group in a fervent email, “They better not pull any of this crap about political expediency. My kid is seven and already asking what I’m doing to make him feel safe!”
Maybe Beto made a mistake, politically speaking. He insists that getting rid of the 10 million assault weapons in private hands should be mandated not voluntary. In one sense he is right – extreme measures are necessary to save the US. In another sense this is the spectre the NRA will ride with. It raises the old fear of government confiscating your guns, a fear engendered by a Supreme Court decision that leapt past the first phrase in the Second Amendment and suggests gun ownership as a right.
But look beyond the right wing knee jerk. The NRA can no longer dismiss even the extreme arguments. When society moves to protect itself the motion is hard to stop. There may be worry on all sides of the political equation about the government taking stuff away as its first law-and-order step. But underneath that first step there are a lot of second steps the public wants.
American gun owners want to think of themselves as better than Wayne La Pierre. They want to believe his organization caters to gun owners not just gun manufacturers – and it better start.
A ban on assault rifles is legislatively coming and most agree with it, but we like to think of ourselves as moral people who would then do the right thing and voluntarily turn in weapons that are illegal and certainly have no place outside the battlefield. We may make allowances for gun historians and researchers, but what is that – 1000 out of 10 million?
If Americans turn out to be too selfish to give up such weapons, maybe then you make it mandatory. Given the nuttier on the streets, maybe you’ll have to. But I suspect the progressives will get further by treating everyone as people of conscience first.
Beto will not become president but he has done a service by eloquently taking the rhetorical burden on his shoulders and frankly daring the right to disagree with his passion. Every time Trump trots out his dead babies and zombie socialists, America now has a winning and truthful reality to shame him with. This may be an ugly election, but suddenly the truth has graphic power on its side.