I no longer assume the following: That the vast majorty of Americans (meaning, 75% to 80% of us) understand the fundamentals of democracy and the Constitution, that the vast majority of Americans can clearly discern fact from fiction, that the vast majority of Americans understand that peace is better than violence.
That last one — that’s the focus of the column I wrote on the ninth anniversary of the Sandy Hook nightmare. While I understand that most Americans will say they abhor violence, I am convinced that a significant number of us see it — if not rationally, then on some visceral level — as a fact of life, something we have to accept because it’s in the country’s DNA. (Going to a movie or concert? Make sure you know where the exits are.) Some of us accept violence as a source of entertainment, and some come to it tragically as a solution to a problem. Looking at the amount of gun violence in the country — either the day to day shootings that result in homicides or the mass shootings that make big headlines — can anyone ignore the fact that the U.S. not only has a gun problem, but a mental illness problem, an anxiety and anger problem, a hatred problem, a severe domestic violence problem?
So I no longer assume that non-violence is a given — that most Americans are taught to resolve problems and fend off antagonisms with words and not fists, with honest conversation and not firearms. Non-violence needs to be taught because violence is all around us in many forms.
The country has a gun problem, I agree. But the guns are not going away any time soon. The country needs a long, saturating message campaign against violence — there is no such message now — and we need a national effort to get people to talk honestly about violence in their lives and easily get the help they need. Scratching around for answers and a little hope, that’s the approach I take in today’s column, available at this link.
One more thing: We need to reject angry, inciting speech in the media as a marketable commodity. It might seem innocent, just a lot of political blather to please a FOX or talk radio audience, but it debases discourse and supports the coarsening of the culture. And from there, the basic social contract of America — a united country, all of us invested in democracy and working toward the greater good — falls apart, and people become even more self-centered. And rampant self-centeredness works against problem solving in a democracy.