The United States is breaking records for domestic massacres at a rate nearly superseding that of heat records wilting with every passing summer scorching day. The latest mass shooting occurred yesterday in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This was just preceded by a worker in Milwaukee who went “postal” and shot his manager dead, before turning the gun on himself. Wisconsin has just observed the fifth such mass killing in the past 8 years. The state’s employment environment is precarious. Wisconsin lost more jobs than any other state in June, the most recent month for which records are available. Moreover, its job creation record the past 12 months has also been one of the worst in the United States. Yet, a mere forty years ago people in Milwaukee enjoyed full employment and mean wages 30% above the national average, along with the least inequality between white and African-American workers. Today sees the inverse. Now with wages 30% below the national mean and the greatest inequality between white and African-American labor in the United States, Milwaukee and its suburbs are rife with division and tension. Fueling hatreds are shout-radio jocks injecting xenophobic rants as matches into the tinder of people’s economic insecurity.
Once a stalwart of enlightened progressive values, the area has descended into a state of high anxiety and finger pointing as the problems people face mount daily. Milwaukee now personifies the once typical northern industrial region that had high-value added, high-pay factory jobs with benefits, later traded away by the “job creators” of the Bain Capital ilk and replaced by low paying jobs with no benefits of the type heralded by Bain’s two “successes,” Dunkin Donuts and Staples. Quick kills on Wall Street made road kill of the Wisconsin worker and middle class American Dream.
The local police are treating the massacre as “domestic terrorism”. The perpetrator, Wade Michael Page, was an itinerant white supremacist military veteran who only resided in Wisconsin for a short time. We don’t know if the divisions created in Wisconsin specifically or the United States generally had any impact on him. Regardless, he marched into a Sikh temple and started unloading rounds on unsuspecting victims. America, an often violent country with a significant number of people who once bullied like to bully others, was unfortunately true to form in this tragedy targeting people of one of the world’s most peaceful faiths. What we know is that Wisconsin, and America, are deeply divided. Indeed, its Governor, Scott Walker was just caught on video this past January declaring to one of his billionaire patrons that the key to advancing his policy agenda was to “divide & conquer” labor. The NRA and Tea Party takes their cue from the famous Green Bay Packer coach of lore, Vince Lombardy, who affirmed, “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” This played well on the green & gold sleet and ice of 1960’s era Green Bay football fields, but it’s no way to run government. I loved Lombardi, and still do the Packers, but when you “destroy” an opponent on the football field, they lick their wounds, have a few beers, and return to play again no worse for the wear next week. When you destroy communities, they often never recover.
My first reaction to the massacre was to eschew immediate political analysis. Too late. Before the thought of rejecting a political reaction could barely form, our recently victorious in recall election Governor, Scott Walker, and his fellow oarsman Ron Johnson who road into the Senate on the Koch Brothers funded 2010 Tea Party wave, both weighed in. No time for reflection here, they both quickly made the usual pro forma statements calling for prayer, accompanied by the handwringing question of, “why?” Yes, “why” indeed?
I am agnostic on guns. In principle, I neither enjoy nor despise them. Unlike a certain past American Vice-President favored by the National Rifle Association (NRA) who fancies hunting in the Erich Honecker style of being medicated and inside a limousine with index finger at the ready on the power window button, I have never shot anyone in the face. Indeed, I am one of the small minority of people who can consistently place bullets within a small pattern on a target. I used to shoot with the old man as a kid, and did a bit of skeet shooting with an uncle as well. I can take it or leave it, but have no objections to my citizen brethren enjoying the tradition of hunting in Wisconsin. Indeed, I often enjoy the “fruits” of their recreation: venison.
Walker and Johnson are not responsible for this tragedy, but neither have they done anything to prevent such episodes. Senator Johnson who recognizes the need to register automobiles and has worked tirelessly to tighten registration on voting, curiously insists, “I do not, nor will I ever, support licensing or registration of firearms.” He has charged those seeking to regulate or ban semi-automatic assault weapons that can easily be converted to machineguns, as “leftists.” Guilty as charged! Moreover, he fights laws that would limit ammo magazines in excess of 100 rounds. I mean how many shots do you need to take down a deer before grabbing for more ammo? I know some people in the GOP are hopeless shots, but please….
Then there is the NRA’s other favorite son, Mr. Walker. Walker, in our postmodern age, has carefully crafted a Frank Capra “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” image taking on special interests. Yet, he is the perennial favorite of rich and powerful special interests. With a world-busting record number of people in jail and growing corruption, American politics, more than ever is governed by the 6th century B.C. Greek philosopher Aesop’s maxim that, “We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.” Well, their hirelings, anyway….
Indeed, the NRA recently declared Scott Walker to be “one of the strongest pro-gun Governors in the country.” He “has proven his dedication” to halting any regulation on firearms. Further, the “NRA was fully vested in this race with a comprehensive campaign that included tens of millions of online ads and hundreds of thousands of television, radio and print ads… in this remarkable victory for freedom.”
In short, our NRA/Tea Party leaders in Wisconsin rule by divide & conquer and take their cues from and are funded by those opposing any reasonable regulation of guns. The time for hand wringing and prayer is over. We need to put the NRA in the crosshairs of public scrutiny and ask if their extremism is serving the public interest. We should also squarely confront ourselves and the leaders who have divided and failed us. Wisconsin’s massacre, unfortunately, is no mystery. Do such tragedies happen outside of America? Yes. With our frequency? No. Unfortunately, in the current environment of Yosemite Sam gun deregulation, angry man American media, and growing economic insecurity, you can likely expect more.
Jeffrey Sommers lives in Wisconsin.