Yesterday, four days after the Florida school shooting that left seventeen students dead and many more injured, President Trump invited a group of students, parents and other interested parties to the White House to discuss how best to tackle the problem of school shootings.
The debate was televised, which may explain the apparent emergence of a new, reasonable and sympathetic President Trump. But this ‘new’ Trump was just a fleeting impression – just as the perennial ‘New Nixon’ used to be in a bygone age. The illusion was destroyed when Trump, adopting for the cameras his patented and patently fraudulent solemn pursed-lip expression, put forward the suggestion that the best way forward was to … arm the teachers!
The failure of the audience to gasp out loud at this bovine effrontery was presumably a measure of the respect its members wished to extend, if not to the man then to the office. Or perhaps they were simply overwhelmed by the venue. In either event the deference was misplaced.
There is no new Trump, just a ham actor doing a bad job of playing a role with which he is entirely unfamiliar. The giveaway was the last entry on Trump’s crib-sheet, which he carelessly exposed for the cameras. “I hear you,” someone had written, presumably the man holding it. Any man who needs to remind himself to say that is not to be trusted on anything – including the presidency.
The head of the National Rifle Association, for understandable if not commendable reasons, wasted no time endorsing Trump’s arm-the-teachers proposal. Blaming the shooter’s family, the school and the FBI for the Florida shooting, Wayne LaPierre trotted out the now-familiar NRA mantra. “To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun.”
Even in the face of such madness, voices of moderation can still be heard, even among those who think that the gun laws of the United States are insane, or at least sadly deficient in matters of control. David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, sees the way forward as polite discourse. “We don’t really have policy debate anymore,” he wrote last week. “We have one big tribal conflict, and policy rights are just proxy battles as each side tries to establish moral superiority. But just as the tribal mentality has been turned on, it can be turned off. Then and only then can we go back to normal politics and take reasonable steps to keep our children safe.”
He fails to specify quite what he means by ‘normal politics’. If that is another way of saying ‘politics-as-usual’ it is a discredited phrase, and falls well short of the kind of action that the children from Florida are vigorously and bravely calling for now – in the absence, one might add, of suitable noises of protest from many of their parents.
Brooks refers to this conflict between Blue and Red America as a walk down an ‘emotional path’. He wants the emotion taken out of the gun debate. Otherwise, he writes, “we may end up doing more harm than good. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it is that guns have become a cultural flash point in a nation that is unequal and divided.”
He may be right in pointing out that “the people who defend gun rights believe that snobbish elites look down on their morals and want to destroy their culture” and that “if we end up telling such people that they and their guns are despicable, they will just despise us back and dig in their heels”.
I would say that Wayne LaPierre’s heels are pretty well dug in already – up to his knees. Wayne La Pierre’s heels would be dug in whatever respect he was given.
The message from Brooks, then, if I understand it correctly, is that sensible, peace-loving Americans, in order to get action on the attacks on schools, should simply make nice to the red-necked, over-aged adolescents who worship guns, and to those vile politicians who take campaign money from the NRA, in case they think they are being picked on by elites.
It is not enough, he says, just to ‘vent and march’ but to let people from what he politely calls Red America (which I would translate as Idiotic and Ignorant Neo-Fascist America) to “lead the way, and to show respect to gun owners at all points. There has to be trust and respect first. Then we can compromise on guns as guns, and not some sacred cross in the culture war.”
What arrant piffle. Brooks could not have found a more suitable tree up which to bark. Respect is precisely what gun lovers, the NRA, and its chattels in Washington, want. It is the best possible outcome because it gives credibility to the status quo, and in doing so preserves it. The guns stay. The NRA could not produce a better scenario than the one Brooks has written.
The best response to Brooks I have seen came from journalist and blogger Drew Magary, in an article headed ‘The Importance of Rudeness’: “None of these people deserve civility. In fact, civility only serves to enable them….. When Brooks cries out for ‘respect’ for the coterie of stubborn gun-owners who lap up the NRA’s propaganda, he is tacitly manoeuvring to blunt the momentum of the Parkland kids who, with a welcome brashness, have kick-started a very real and potentially effective anti-gun movement.”
“Well said,” is all I can add. Other than: “Stay with it, kids.”
PS Since I wrote the above, Trump has tweeted the following. “What many people don’t understand, is that Wayne (LaPierre), Chris (Cox, the NRA’s communication director) and the folks who work hard at the NRA are Great People and Great American Patriots. They love our country and will do the right thing.”
Respect, my ass.
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