Gun Violence: Obama’s Best Shot

Obama’s best shot is pathetic—and wholly to be expected. For what is gun violence, but the miniaturization of US foreign policy combined with ages-old treatment of the human being as a commodity under capitalism? That is, human life is cheap, whether as the target of drone assassination (Obama) or the contemptuous regard for working people, particularly people of color, in US political-labor history. Today America is the mirror image of its international and domestic barbarism: how expect the sacredness of human life when the societal context glorifies deeds of violence, including the serial raping of the environment. Capitalism teaches antagonism, power, combativeness; contemporary American politics, both parties together, synchronized, on war, intervention, duplicitous merchandising, glorification of wealth, a stew of ruthless egotism enlarged to Cyclopean proportions consistently vented as aggression licensed by religion through dichotomization of social relations into the strong and the weak. Guns merely validate and carry to a logical conclusion the stifled hatred/fear/mistrust bred in the bones of this historical social order. Collective extermination has been America’s watchword, whether the Plains Indians in the Middle West, railroad strikers in 1877 at the hands of Pinkertons and militias, Bonus Marchers on the Anacostia Flats, Douglas MacArthur looking on, or the village of My Lai in Vietnam—a blood-stained record every schoolchild is encouraged to take pride in. Excessive patriotism = gun violence, or rather, subliminally justifies gun violence: ask any NRA member; better yet, the average American, as gun sales blow through the roof.

Wiseacres may see guns as an in-depth manifestation of penis envy, but why invoke Freudian psychology when there are evident sources for the shaping of the American personality formation. In 1950, Theodor Adorno et. al. called it The Authoritarian Personality, a polite, overly-generous designation for the fascist mindset (and indeed, the authors used what they termed the f-scale to refine the thematic content of such a mindset). Fascism is alive and well, now in southeastern Oregon, but also the mayoral office in Chicago, the Situation Room in the White House, and countless points in-between, in every counting house like Goldman Sachs or Morgan Chase to every defense contractor like Boeing, and the list goes on! Is there still an honest buck to be made out there? Has Monsanto seen the light? Why, then, expect anyone else to behave differently, beginning with Obama himself? Stand in my way—bang. Challenge my uniform—bang. Look a bit out of the ordinary (what in my day was called scuzzy)—bang. Bang, the answer to everything, a society fast draining of affect, except that which reinforces hatred and fear of difference.

Gun holders were once associated in the popular mind with gangsters and thugs, now with generals, Rotarians, and other good, wholesome citizens, the common denominator among them being, guns transformed the individual into a wielder of power—and power is the basic coinage of the realm, that which allows one to push another around or reduce that person to subservience, the Other to be confronted by the mental shorthand, what’s in it for me? Guns confirm the existence and pervasive state of ALIENATION, human separation the rule, violence a life force, not to bridge, but destroy, connectedness, a cheapening of others to repel thoughts of our own desolation and emptiness. Yes, Obama, the right one to personify and presumably wield power over us (for he is truly a fake, the artful dodger as a consolidated ruling group is taking form and cohesion to that end, no longer as in Junker Germany the marriage of Iron and Rye, and instead here the marriage of Wealth and the Military), for as president he has finessed every important issue, including gun violence, widening the already existing social vacuum, and thus allowing, even enabling, crypto-fascist forces to fill in its content. Gun violence will not be diminished until the legitimated violence (Barrington Moore’s emphasis, in Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, published 50 years ago, and very much relevant for our time) of business and government finally ceases. Nations often practice legitimated violence on each other through policies of systematic starvation, and more generally for the US at the point of a gun. What legitimates violence is Authority, it is all so nice and legal, it emanates from above, literally and figuratively like drone assassination. No-one to blame, the majesty of the law, in which case Obama by his recommendations does not scratch the surface.

Gun control is a misnomer, although all that the ideological traffic will bear in the year of our Lord 2016, because what is “controlled” is not supply, and much less of course the underlying disposition to violence in the nation at large, but only the pro forma observance of background checks and, in a few states, prohibitions on concealed weapons. Frills and flounces to make liberals feel good, as they, among the rest, actively plan and execute policies of political murder on the Other, stripped of human identity, penalized because standing in the way of (business-financial) progress. If Obama seriously wanted to burnish his legacy, he would rise up in wrath and confront every area which nourishes violence, from foreign hegemonic adventurism and a worldwide network of military bases to an armaments budget choking off the social welfare to everyday brutality of the police, including unpunished killings, of blacks. If he were serious about anything socially decent, he would come out from hiding, erase the bonds of complicity he established from day 1 with every retrograde sector, from banking to pharmaceuticals, and from the elephant on everyone’s back, an antidemocratic Security State, the climate of massive surveillance being one aspect of the wider militarism tearing out the heart of what democracy still remains. Obama’s best shot is not to gun violence but to the solar plexus of a humanity starved for peace and freedom. His recommendations announced on 1/6 have little more than processing regulations–proper licensing for dealers, background checks for customers, details that however emotional his display of tears over children’s murders, will not hack it in the real world.

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at