The shooting in Highland Park occurred right after I hit ‘Publish’ on my Fourth of July post. These events – it sounds so cavalier to say “these events” yet there are so many of them – make writing about the public discourse and the origins of the nation feel so futile and supercilious. How does recalling our common ground, in an abstract statement of belief, help to solve the horrendous problem? How does it help with so many looming concerns?
In fact, it gives no direct relief, and no solutions to any problem. And I know my references to “maelstroms” of disruption and dysfunction are only a linguistic nod to the fears, grief, despair, and trauma that they bring.
The only answer I have is that no problems will be solved by a divided society. And my few social media feeds show that we all continue to react in divided and divisive sentiments. No need to spell out who is saying what. That would be beating a dead horse. Furthermore, let’s not kid ourselves about political “progress.” Senators negotiating in a back room while broadcasting belligerent rhetoric on camera may be ‘pragmatic’ with each other, but inflame each others’ bases even as they appeal to their own. Partisan trench warfare can always cough up a minimal, anodyne bill that allows everyone to assuage their conscience or their constituents. We remain as divided as ever, and real solutions remain as unlikely as ever.
Taking the horrors of mass shootings as the focus, how do we actually approach this pathology? Guns do not fire themselves, but alienated young men can kill a lot more easily with an assault weapon than with, say, a knife. And yet again, if they only kill one or two with a knife, and even if the difficulty impedes lethal outbursts, is our problem solved? Could we address all the issues, could we, Second Amendment stalwarts and anti-gun activists alike, focus on the problem together? Could everyone concede just a bit of the other’s interest, and devote our energy to what we can do to help?
Just after the Uvalde shooting Sen. Ted Cruz addressed the NRA. Of course, as a politician, he addressed them to justify their interests. But he did note, within that context, a number of other causes of the sickness that motivates mass shooters – isolation, social media bullying, violent online content, broken families. And he was right, that these are “complicated and multifaceted” matters. Support or hate Cruz, oppose or love the NRA, these points are true. How many of the facets require me to oppose you because you are on the “other side?”
Our nation is premised on personal rights, absolutely and inherent to our identity. This makes it easier for individuals to run amuck than in societies premised on obligations, allegiance and traditional rules. It means that for us to maintain our social contract, we have to work harder than peoples who know no options to clan or monarch or ordained creed. We do have common ground and shared belief to work, together. Now we need to take it seriously; we need to recognize our commonality with political adversaries and we need to hold ourselves to the work needed to keep our society viable. We need to figure out how to manage public life, raise children, support values and discipline, better – together.
It remains an airy and distant thing, to write these things. But this society, and all the promise that we bring from our self-conception in rights, depends on all of us to act. Effective action only happens when we do it together. It’s not easy. Endowment in rights means we can reject others’ oppressions. It is up to us to build our life, and the part we share, our free society, demands everyone’s efforts to do it together.