Andy Schmookler: The rising up of the American people
Although the American people have not always been the paragons of wisdom and virtue that flattering politicians habitually tell us we are – we, the people, have made some costly stumbles – America’s course has generally been a good one and, ultimately, America’s destiny is the responsibility of the people.
And now, at this dangerous moment, we are seeing signs that the sanity and decency within the American people are asserting themselves to guide our nation onto a better path.
One sign of this has been the remarkable popular surge in support of a more constructive approach regarding what weapons can be allowed in the hands of which citizens.
It has long been clear that something has gone seriously wrong in terms of the laws regarding guns.
The United States has nearly 10 times the rate of homicides of other nations like ours. Why? Our people are neither more violent nor crazier than the people in other free, advanced nations. What differentiates America, the evidence makes clear, is our having a far less sensible set of regulations to protect society from the murderous use of guns.
And why are our laws so different?
The reason is not that the majority of the American people failed to see the problem and the direction we should take to solve it. (Considerable majorities have favored a variety of sensible measures that have been blocked.)
Rather, the reason our democracy has been impotent to pass reasonable restrictions — to reconcile individual freedom with the protection of public safety — is that a minority of Americans, more intensely motivated on the issue, has been able to prevail over the less-focused majority.
And why this intensity? Because for years there has been a concerted campaig- using deceit and distortion – to inflame people’s fears. The NRA and its political allies have taught people to see any regulation of guns as a step toward the total disarming of the citizenry, exposing them to danger from criminals and from government tyranny.
Fear is a powerful motivator. So the one-issue gun-rights voters, whose fears have been assiduously cultivated, have overpowered the majority who never bought the fear-mongering, but whose votes were determined by other issues.
That intensity gap may now be closing.
This latest mass-killing — the terrible carnage at the high school in Florida – may have pushed the American majority past a tipping point.
Kindled by the eloquent and heroic cry from the young people who survived the Parkland school shooting, the fire of passion seems to have spread through much of the body politic. (A gathering wave of American corporations, for example, is severing their ties with the NRA.)
Observers say that this time is different. The response to this horrific event has not dissipated, like the response to the killings at Sandy Hook, and Las Vegas.
We will see how long this impetus endures. (We know the NRA has staying power.)
In any event, this is not the only sign that a powerful political force is rising out of the American people, driven by an intensified commitment to a sane and decent America. Think of the dramatic eruption of a movement that declares the right of women to have their sexual boundaries respected by men. And think of the extraordinary electoral shift manifested by recent elections.
All this, it should be noted, is not happening in a vacuum. Remarkable things are happening because this is a remarkable moment.
Not so long ago, in a stumble unique in our nation’s history, the American people made a choice for a new president.
Had an audience of Reagan Republicans back in the 1980s been shown a movie made of clips from that candidacy, and from the first year of this presidency, they’d have regarded such a scenario as too dark, too unrealistic to take seriously — other than as a dystopian fantasy. “Unthinkable,” they’d have said.
But through the election process, the American people did indeed make that choice. And the terribly high cost of that choice – the damage that is being inflicted pretty much across the board – is there for the American people to see.
(Recently, 170 professional experts in American history were asked to rank the nation’s 45 presidents. Even after just one year of the current presidency, the consensus judgment of these historians ranked the president Americans elected in 2016 dead last. The worst.)
And so, in the face of the ugly consequences of that presidential choice, and as with the response to the brutal slaughter in Florida, the American people are rising up to rescue the nation from the force degrading the nation – the force of the lie, of bad faith, of injustice, and of contempt for that constitutional order our founders bequeathed us.
The uprising is visible in elections around the nation. In one special election after another – in places as far apart as Kansas and New Hampshire, Kentucky and New York – we’ve seen swings of startling magnitude from how people voted in 2016. Voters have turned even some very deep “red” districts “blue.”
People who were complacent are now impassioned, their hearts both pounding with alarm and inspired by a love of all that’s best about their country, all that so urgently needs to be protected and repaired.
The people – an awakened majority – are rising. A source of great hope for the nation.
Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author and former candidate for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District, is writing a series titled “A Better Human Story,” which can be found at http://abetterhumanstory.org.