“My wife and I have tears in our eyes over the latest mass shooting in America. Every parent in America should be crying for the lost babies and crying out for change. When is enough, enough? How high is the ceiling of depravity and callousness and apathy in our country? How much longer are decent people going to settle for the thoughts and prayers from the very people who refuse to consider even the most common sense gun control? Nineteen grade school age children are dead and part of America’s soul has died with them.”
— an email received last night from Baltimore Sun reader Carl Smith
This is not the America we were promised. The country is hardly recognizable now.
Long ago, before cynicism and pessimism got into the nation’s bones, there was the promise of America, and it bristled with possibilities. I don’t have a date for that, but it was within my lifetime. The overarching promise was understood to be a national commitment to progress. Inertia was not acceptable. Failure was not an option. The country would learn from its terrible mistakes — Vietnam, racism and segregation, dependence on fossil fuels — as it grew up, grew wiser and became exceptional in all things, with peace and prosperity the big benefits.
Baby boomers will remember this feeling. It was a bequest to us of the Greatest Generation — a feeling of steady progress: Better jobs, better schools, higher education and mastery of science, more prosperity for all and even an end to poverty. This virtuous country had saved the world from murderous tyrants, and now it would defend and serve the high ideals of freedom, generosity and the common good while simultaneously becoming rich and powerful.
But there were also warning signs, starting with the assassinations of the 1960s — JFK, RFK and MLK — a sense that the country had a sickness. We would reach the moon, yet suffer multiple maladies on the ground: Violence, drug addiction, broken trust with government after Vietnam and Watergate, and, by the 1990s, increasingly bitter, super-partisan politics that at times brought progress to a halt.
We missed countless opportunities to learn from mistakes, to fix problems, to expand equality and prosperity, to foster a belief in shared destiny.
We have had 40-plus years of steady ridicule of government. The constant harangues foment more distrust and undercut the government’s essential role in upholding laws and executing policies designed to make life better and safer for its citizens.
And so here we are today: Another gun massacre, 19 children in a school in Texas, the result of all of the above — corrosive violence in the culture, 400 million guns, and a hopelessly divided Congress unable or unwilling to do anything about it.
You stand back from it for a moment, and no other fact of American life stands out as illogical, at minimum, or insane as the amount of guns (an estimated 400 million now) and the liberal gun laws in red states. Fifty states, 50 sets of laws — it makes no sense. You pair those facts with all the usual pathologies that exist in our society, and here we are.
This is not the country we were promised, one that allowed this condition to fester for so long. One that says suffer the little children, but let’s keep all the guns and hold the gun as a grand symbol of American freedom. It’s insane. We get all smug and sneer at countries afflicted with violence and civil strife, yet we tolerate mass killings and everyday killings as if they represented the price of liberty.
Politicians who have the power to change laws, in accordance with public opinion, and don’t — those who cower before the gun lobby and their irrational gut-nut constituents — do not deserve to hold office. The fact that so many Americans do not recognize that and continue to vote for NRA-backed Republicans is as depressing a fact as you will ponder this sad day.
It is said that the filibuster (the need for a 60-vote supermajority to pass a law) is the roadblock to strengthening the nation’s gun laws in the U.S. Senate. I say it’s something else: Too many Senate Republicans with no discernible conscience, and too many Americans who are content with that.
We are two countries: Blue America remembers the promise and still wants to solve problems, care for the democracy, and see general progress. Red America prefers the past, does nothing about our problems, embraces division and chaos, and offers thoughts and prayers.