1. I watched the end of a speech by NRA Wayne LaPierre as I was leaving the Y last week. His final words were something like — “Only a good guy with a gun can take down a bad guy with a gun.”
Later I heard more of the speech on TV and it actually got worse. He framed the present surge of support for meaningful gun control laws as the newest front in an existential struggle over the country’s future. On one side are freedom loving Americans and on the other are socialists, gathered in the Democratic Party and elsewhere. And their aim, so says LaPierre, is to take away people’s liberties and everything else that makes this country great.
LaPierre is a scary dude. In fact, while I’m usually reluctant to use the “F” word, the fascist shoe appears to comfortably fit on his foot. But as scary as he is — and as scary as the NRA crowd is — it’s important to remember that they aren’t operating from a position of strength in present circumstances nor do they represent the views of the majority of Americans. If anything, they — and I would include Trump here — are on the defensive and can’t quickly bury the horror of gun violence as they have done in the past.
While there are no certainties that anything but the mildest gun control measures will become law in the short term, the political atmosphere and dynamics as it relates to gun control have markedly changed for the better and the battle has been joined in a new way.
And while each of us has a voice and should use it, no one has a larger voice than the students who are advocating for real gun control measures in memory of their deceased friends and generations of students to come. They have become, overnight, a social movement that possesses what isn’t quantifiable, but is incredibly powerful — moral authority. So much so that they have been able to unfreeze what had been frozen — a conversation and practical action on curbing gun violence.
No doubt the opposition will be fierce, resolute, well funded, and demagogic. And yet it is reasonable to think that this motley coalition can be vanquished ideologically and politically, provided that this spontaneous surge spreads across the country, deception by Trump and other Republicans is met with the truth, and, above all, control of Congress and state governments passes into Democratic hands in the fall elections.
These are big ifs for sure. But, by the same token, it isn’t wishful thinking. Enough has happened over the past two weeks and since Trump’s Inauguration to believe: Yes We Can!
2. Union leaders came out squarely against Trump’s brainchild — the “arming of teachers.” That’s a good first step; it should be applauded. But it also begs the question: Will it be followed by a nuts and bolts campaign to reach their members? I hope so. Otherwise, it becomes an empty gesture in many ways.
3. I have heard some commentators say that the repeal of the 2nd Amendment should be front and center at this moment. I would like to see it repealed too. But I also can’t think of a worse idea, no matter how well meaning its advocates.
For the fact is that tens of millions aren’t ready to sign onto such a demand. And any attempt to make them would only strengthen the hand of the gun lobby crowd and Republicans who want to do nothing once again.
What a majority of people are ready to embrace — and high school students first of all — is the curbing of gun violence by way of meaningful reforms, including the outlawing of weapons of mass carnage. It is squarely on this ground that victories can be won in the near and medium term.
4. Some progressive-left writers say that people are getting too caught up in the spectacle of Trump to the neglect of what he is doing on the policy level. This strikes me as wrongheaded. The two are inseparable and when the spectacle is filled with oratorical and demagogic sallies on democracy and democratic rights, the impugning of people’s humanity, and the reduction of immigrants to “vipers,” silence isn’t an option.
Much the same can be said about his repeated invective against the media, broadsides against state institutions that aren’t ready to kowtow to him, and inflammatory threats on the world stage. Trumpian spectacle and demagogy aren’t mere theater that can be cavalierly dismissed as the ravings of a stupid and indecent man. They are indispensable features of authoritarian leader and his team to dominate every inch of political, social, and mental space, while delegitimizing democratic governance and institutions and dehumanizing endangering whole categories of people. As such, they necessitate a vigorous counter response from all of us.
5. “Well, we do the same and worse” isn’t a good reply from people on the left to Russian interference in our elections. As the Mueller indictments show, there was interference organized by the Putin government. Did it decide the outcome? By itself unlikely, but was it, nonetheless, a factor that weighed into the election equation against Hillary Clinton. And it is something that we should be concerned about this fall.
6. What goes unmentioned in many accounts of the Obama Presidency is that his egalitarian narrative of the American family challenged a core tenet and mobilizing instrument of right wing extremism, that is, its racialized ordering of “America.” In this racist ordering, white people because of their supposed “natural” superiority and supposed inordinate contributions to the making of “America” not only sit at its apex, but also accord to themselves the right to determine who is in the American family and under what conditions.
In articulating this counter narrative, President Obama became the object of the unrestrained wrath of right wing extremism and the trigger of a mass surge of revanchist and redeemer politics. Indeed, if anyone is looking for the gestation ground of the Tea Party, Birtherism, Republican congressional intransigence, and the explosion of the most vile and open racism, they can begin by looking at this narrative (and the redistributionist economics) that the country’s first African American president articulated and the reaction to it by the right. What is more, it was in this rancid racist and reactionary environment that Trump’s presidential aspirations and authoritarian politics were born.
7. A fascist regime constitutes a qualitative break from the historically formed democratic structures, values, norms, and traditions peculiar to a country. It doesn’t dial down on democracy and democratic rights. It expunges them.
Fascism, in other words, isn’t simply more restrictive and less democratic. It is a regime of a different type that comes to power in the midst of crises (not just economic, and not necessarily mainly economic), a precipitous drop in popular confidence in democracy, democratic institutions, and established parties and concurrent rise in racist and othering ideologies and practices, and, finally, a sharp and longstanding struggle for power between bitterly opposed forces and coalitions.
At some point, the “forces of order” insist on the necessity of an “exceptional state,” in which power is usurped by “The Leader,” in order to supposedly preserve the integrity of the state and the purity of the nation from its enemies from within and its adversaries without.
We aren’t living in this universe yet. But with Trump in the White House, a supine Republican Party doing his bidding, and a popular constituency that drinks the Trumpian Kool Aid — laced as it is with equal doses of racism, nativisim, misogyny, hyper nationalism, and war mongering — the dangers of authoritarian rule are present and already doing great harm. But thankfully, a far flung, majoritarian coalition has arisen contesting Trump and Trumpism in its ugly forms. The mass media, with only a few exceptions, hasn’t capitulated to bullying. State institutions in many instances haven’t bent to Trump’s will. And democratic redress still exists — none more important than the November elections that offer an opportunity to inflict a body blow to the political plans and standing of Trump, the Republican Party and right wing extremism generally.
6. ln this vein, I include an interview of historian Linda Gordon by New Yorker editor David Remnick. The subject is Gordon’s illuminating new book, The Second Coming of the KKK. I read and highly recommend it. Not only does it give the reader a better understanding of past, but the present as well.