Growing up in Virginia, I have fond memories of the shooting range. My father even gave me a turn with his .44 magnum which did in fact kick like a mule. The violence followed me to New York with 9/11, and where I was fortunate to try to give blood and wait things out in my dorm, many others who I’d grown up with or befriended back in VA were suiting up to go and fight, first in Afghanistan, then to Iraq. A couple days ago, I caught this letter on a friend’s Facebook Feed – which is starting to make the rounds – and at first, I couldn’t read it. It had been comforting in a way to forget about Bush and the Axis of Evil, of all the squandered potential we poured into the sand. But as we’re reminded so often in this endless war, we must never forget. We cannot hide unpleasant things in the shadows.
And yet, for two years after the attack and ten more after our invasion – the two defining moments of our time – we seem content to do just that. My relationship to guns came into focus in Millbrook, NY where – eating lunch with my band after playing our first funeral – we saw the horrors of gun violence laid bare on the diner’s TV screen. CNN’s coverage of Sandy Hook still fresh, our waitress remarking, “That’s a half-hour from here.” A member of the jazz community in NYC lost their daughter and even Joe Biden says nothing will be the same.
Except it is. Exactly the same. After hearings and meetings and press conferences and statements, there will be no assault weapons ban, no reduction in the capacity of magazines, no new safegaurds against the armed-and-mentally ill. 21 children are dead for absolutely no reason, and for all our wails of grief and shock, no one is willing to really do anything about it. The 1.4% of us who are NRA members must be fairly satisfied by this.
Immigration is looking a little more hopeful, with real-ish players talking about real-ish solutions – path to citizenship, guest worker visas, living wages?? – but if the current legislative process holds true, which it will, we can expect exactly none of these to make it to any real legislation, no leadership or dialogue will take place. Just as we have come to expect, as we have chosen to remember. So on we go with stopping people for their papers, exploiting them with unscrupulous employers and siphoning resources away from the state without putting any tax revenue into – or getting any real value from – the community they’re living in.
The current tally on this War on Terror is coming in to around $6 trillion, with about $4 trillion of that going towards the Iraq war, which I think is over at this point. No further attacks have been made on the home front, and aside from a few pesky revolutions throughout the region, we haven’t had World War III yet, so, mission accomplished. But this war isn’t being fought by “America,” it’s being fought by less than 1% of America. The backlash and destruction caused by what we want is being felt by them, not by us, which makes it easier to saber rattle as the threats continue to pop up in far-flung places all over this hostile world. It is easy to hide the unpleasantness of war, and that much better to remember all the glory and victory, when only a few have to bleed.
We were lied to. We were lied to and believed in it so much that we lied to the world. We remember the attack, the victimization we felt at that moment, but we choose to forget – every day – the reaction that has set us on this path. Something horrible happens, but the real cause is too scary, too political, too much to bear, so we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves, and talk really loud about something else. Something that makes us feel good, or empowered and that lasts just long enough for the next crisis to come, and the next cycle to start, and nothing, nothing, nothing is ever really done.
But this is politics, this is Washington, this is Gridlock and Sequester and Special Interests and this is out of our control. It is also quite uncanny to a nervous breakdown. As a country, we first experienced trauma then threw ourselves into deeper and deeper trauma’s with no discernible solution or responsibility, which eventually lead us to unearth, then ignore, all the skeletons we’ve amassed inside our closet. Guns, war, immigrants, health care, economy, housing, the list goes on.
But you can’t make guns safer by talking by talking about “freedom.” Nor can you keep healthcare prices low by invoking “liberty” or create jobs by claiming to be the victims of “class warfare.” We can’t claim to be a “nation of immigrants” while installing xenophobic laws, nor can we claim to be “pro-life” and fight against affordable health care. These are things both the right and left have been guilty of doing – or are at the very least both complicit in – and the apathy/isolation of the electorate has enabled these madmen to hijack trillions of dollars every year and immense power around the globe with little accountability. We are lied to every day and believe the lie so much, we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves.
During the campaign in 2008, I was reading The Argument by Matt Bai and the quote I wrote with then still rings true now:
The story of modern politics was the story of popular movements molding their candidates, not the other way around. Roosevelt didn’t create progressive government; the progressives of the early twentieth century created him. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, while they despised eachother, both derived their essential arguments about social justice from the equality movements of the late fifties and early sixties. Ronald Regan would not have existed without the movement conservatives who offered him a philosophical anchor. These were great and preternaturally talented leaders, men who had the charisma and the intellect to synthesize the arguments that each of these movements had made, to persuade voters of their urgency, and to adapt them to the realm of policy making. But they were merely conduits for change, and they would never have emerged as public visionaries had others not laid the intellectual foundations for their arguments.
There is no magical elected official or working group someplace that will be able to fix all of this shit, but this does not divorce government – federal, state and local – from their responsibility in implementing solutions. We have to decide, all of us, what the fuck we want, what the alternative is going to be. We have to build it, prove it works, then demand, in no uncertain terms, that it be given to us better, faster and cheaper by those with the money and resources – e.g. government, business, that guy you know – to do so. Occupy Wall Street accomplished exactly none of it’s goals, BECAUSE IT HAD NONE – and no, press coverage/raising awareness isn’t enough on the world stage. We have to be able to confront all of those demons on that list, turn the lights on and get right with everything in honesty before we can expect respect from the dilettantes we’ve been ruled by.
Until then, the government will have no problem treating us the way in which we’ve grown accustomed, and we’ll have no problem taking it. Never forget what we’ve been through. Never forget that we deserved – and still deserve – so much better.