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Is the War on Guns the Next War on Terror?

Photo by Tobias Michaelsen | CC BY 2.0

The leaders of the United States of America are sick people. They are ignorant. They lack judgement. They choose to fight rather than to cooperate. Especially the Republican party. And especially our current President, Donald Trump. However, the American public remains a sorry lot also. We kill each other at an alarming rate. We are a violent, angry, and bloodthirsty group from top to bottom.

Donald Trump’s popularity is at its highest since the 100th day of his Presidency. It is worth revisiting how Trump got to his first high mark at 100 days. A Quartz headline read: Donald Trump has raised his approval ratings by embracing his inner bomb. Now they could have said: Donald Trump has raised his approval ratings by embracing his inner O-bomb-A. It would have meant the same thing. But Quartz is right. They list the jump of approval ratings of Presidents when a military event has happened. George W. Bush jumped up 35 percantage points after 9/11. Trump went up because he was bombing Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia and threatening to bomb North Korea.

Now Trump’s approval rating is up again. Could it be because he joined in the international hysteria over Russia’s alleged poisoning of a British spy? Trump expelled 60 Russian diplomats, joining in with more than 20 countries.  Denmark Foreign Minister Anders Samuelson said: ”We stand shoulder to shoulder with Britain and clearly say no to Russia at a time when Russia is also in threatening and seeking to undermine Western values and the rule-based international order in other areas.” So is poisoning people an Eastern value? And note he is saying that Russia is undermining international order not international law. If he was concerned with international law then the U.S. would be expelled. But since he is only concerned with keeping the unjust international order intact, the actions of expelling diplomats makes perfect sense. After all that’s the best way to solve problems right? Get rid of the diplomats.

But even after that power move we see that Donald’s popularity jumps have been small in comparison to past imperialists. I think this is because the American Empire is in crisis. It can no longer take care of its own citizens. Half the country is living paycheck to paycheck. One in five children are hungry. If the Empire was smart it would push through a FDR type American supremacist that would hush up the American middle class. The Russiaphobe Bernie Sanders comes to mind. But the American Empire is not smart. It knows how to pillage and hoard and conquer, and nothing more.

The slight decline of war fervor is certainly a good thing but it is also a little ominous. How do we explain the state of America if these wars aren’t as convincing as they were before? The elephant in the room in Russia. Terrorism is becoming an old story. The new story is “democracy”. Russia threatens our democracy they say. It is remarkable how little they have found on Russian meddling, for all their efforts.

The Russia story works well not because they pose a national security risk but because they help explain the state of America today. They messed with democracy, now your voices can’t be represented. That is why America sucks.

The American public largely mirror its rulers in this way. If there is a problem there must be an enemy to explain it. But I am beginning to think that Russia is not the only homegrown enemy for Americans these days. For Donald Trump and company, the homeland enemy is obvious: immigrants. He wants to build a border wall, deport 11 million people and ban Muslims from traveling to the United States. This is not the war of George W. Bush or Barack Obama, although both deported an unprecedented amount of people. Bush and Obama largely focused on the enemy abroad in their rhetoric. Immigrants may have been worthless to them but Donald Trump acts as if we are in fact at war with immigrants. When he says that they are raping our women, trafficking our drugs and murdering our good Americans he is saying that we are at war. He is saying that these people are not only here to take your job, but to physically harm you and your family.

Immigrants are the enemy of Donald Trump’s enemy and the effects on the American psyche have been consequential. Hate crimes have risen. People are much more open about their racism now, whether that be in the form of the KKK or the Confederacy.

The Democrats pride themselves on being liberal so they have to be slightly more careful about being anti-immigrant in rhetoric. They used to also pride themselves on representing poor people. This is no longer the case. They have celebrated liberalism as a form of superiority and abandoned its virtues of empathy and openness. They have embraced the private sector at the expense of the public. They do not talk about class because they have nothing to offer. There are very specific groups that don’t fund them (the NRA, for example) but for the most part, they answer to the same bosses as the Republicans.

Their scapegoat then is Russia because Russia’s leader is conservative. Russia also works out because liberals lack an internationalist perspective. They may embrace their Muslim neighbors at home but they see Muslim countries as failures. Even the Russia story has dragged on though. The new road of impeachment seems to run through Stormy Daniels.

Where then do the Democrats look for enemies? Their new enemy (and their old one) is the poor. The rural and uneducated poor specifically. The uncultured, uncivilized and angry poor. The deplorable trailer trash poor. And now, increasingly, it is the loser gun toting poor.

When John F. Kennedy was assassinated the great Malcolm X said “the chickens have come home to roost.” American violence has indeed come home to roost. It also has come home to find its enemies. Donald Trump sees Muslims and immigrants as enemies. Democrats cannot code their language in the the same way. The new enemies for the Democrats are the crazy poor people ready to shoot up the place. They are everywhere. They are here to take your innocent children. Enough. Never again they say. God forbid we solve our inequality or our schools. No, the problem lies within the individual. We are at war. These kids are terrorists. With political agendas. It is us vs. them. Our children our good. Their children are bad. We are innocent. They are savages. One never bothers to ask, hey, why don’t rich people shoot up schools? Because they would die, or at least be in prison for the rest of their lives. Who wants that?

The war on guns may become the new war on terror. It may become the new justification for the police state and the security state. America, innocent, good, America; America on a hill, America, the beacon of democracy has been hit. By a savage, a wacko. A loser. A freak who does not have our values. And the liberal special: entitled white male. Entitled? These attacks are suicidal. These attacks come from hopelessness, despair, anger and blind hatred. Who shoots up a school in broad daylight and assumes they can get away with it? Are you going to tell me that the problem is that their lives were too good? And yes, it’s white males who are doing the killing. But this is more because of the social expectations of white men than anything else.

Remember how the war on terror began. It was spurred by a violent attack. An image that stuck in our minds. When 9/11 happened we couldn’t believe it. Who could do this to us we asked? Who haven’t we done it to? The innocence in America is astounding. And it is dangerous.

Americans are obsessed with violence. The shooters, the critics, everybody. When a violent attack happens we replay it over and over again. We say “Never Forget.” The catch phrase for March For Our Lives is “Never Again” Never is used both times. When you say never what do you mean? Do you mean that this will stop no matter what? At no matter what cost? Look at the cost of “ending” terrorism. Not that it worked, but even if it had.

The moment of violation stays stuck in our mind. The audacity that someone could hit us. We are a rich kid who gets mugged. We cannot believe it happened. To us. How could it? We do not look at the disparity between the actors involved. We do not look at the moment as a result of a past, a past that created conflict. A past that created class conflict. We look at that moment at that moment alone. Headline reads: Shooting kills 17 or Plane Hits Tower. Yes it happened, but why?

It is the violence that we remember. It is the humiliation. We felt so safe before, but now, at any time, anywhere, it could happen to us. Can you believe it? To us. We didn’t deserve this. Enough. This has to stop. This could happen to me. And as long as it could happen to me, it will happen to me. Rights go out the window, for it must be stopped. Because we are used to safety and security. We deserve it. The actor who shot the gun becomes unheard. All in his creed become unheard. For they are all like him. We are now at war.

We trust the authorities. We distrust the poor. The poor have no voice. Their deaths are not seen as injustice. Their deaths are because they are poor. How many lives will be lost due to a lack of health care before it becomes “enough”? How many lives will be lost due to drug overdoses before it becomes “enough”? How many times do farmers have to go bankrupt before it becomes “enough”? How many children have to go hungry before it becomes “enough”? How many people will be displaced from climate change before it becomes “enough”? How many women will die from violence within the home before it becomes “enough”? How many deaths from chemically laced food, polluted air or dirty water will happen before it becomes “enough”? How many will die from storms, droughts and heat waves before it becomes “enough”?

The terrifying nature of the madman and the gun he carries is his aimlessness. He is lost. He kills who spites him. Sometimes. Or who is around. But he takes down himself too. For the glory or for the fear or for the confirmation of his status as a loser in our winner take all world. The death of the poor, by violence or otherwise, is systematic.

The bullet is the great equalizer. Although that should be qualified too because the poor are more likely to die from gun violence. But in terms of appearances: anyone can get it, anywhere. The deaths are “senseless.” The poor die by design. The deaths of the poor make sense to the rich. As it goes: the poor are lazy, the poor are dumb, the poor are losers.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe the newfound concern for bloodshed is a sign of hope. Maybe this concern will trickle down to the masses who die systematically from unnecessary control or inexcusable neglect. Maybe gun control laws will be made, lives will be saved, and that will be the end of it.

But the parallels to the widespread panic after 9/11 are evident. The white fear, shock and self-righteousness. The pivot to authority. The distrust of the poor. Our need for an enemy in hard times. The lack of context given to the acts of violence.  The refusal to acknowledge the rich’s role in these lost lives. The refusal to look at terrorism, whether that be 9/11 or Parkland, as a systematic failure, rather than an individual one.

America is a virgin when it comes to destruction. We tremble in fear. We never forget the moment one of us was taken down. We take it personally. And we make sure our enemy knows us, no matter the cost.

Gun violence is not to this point yet. For now, we have enough enemies. Muslims, at home and abroad, will do. Add in the homeless, Russia, North Korea, northern Africa and Mexicans and we have more than enough enemies for now. But America is sensitive. America is violent. And America is crumbling. Who will we punish next for the loss of a stable and secure life? It won’t be rich people. For they can kill in mass and live to tell the tale.

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Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com 

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