The Republican Convention has begun, and as far as I know there hasn’t been any bloodshed yet. I expect there’s been plenty of rhetoric and ideological ranting, but since I don’t have much taste for such things, I haven’t spent any time watching or listening.
Probably no one would expect bloodshed at the convention, but it’s not impossible. The reason is the Republican position on guns. They have steadfastly resisted any kind of restraint on who may possess weapons–until the time for the convention approached. Then they announced that guns would not be allowed in the convention except to security personnel, which I found amusing, not unlike the distaste that mainstream Republicans had for Donald Trump, whose campaign style they had made possible for the last almost fifty years with Nixon’s Southern Strategy. The narrative that goes with nonrestraint of the gun trade is that the only way to stop a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun. Except when at the Republican Convention, it seemed.
But that changed recently.
Just in the last week or so there was an announcement that at least a few Republicans would be carrying weapons at the convention. That would at least have the virtue of consistency. Of course, it would also risk gunfire on the floor of the convention. The risk was probably always slight, but just imagine how it would be played in the media if it somehow did happen. Gunfire would mean a tragedy, but it would also be ironic: Republicans as victims not only of a possible mass shooting, but of their own policies. It would be amusing in a grim way, but still amusing.
The whole question of how to legislate the matter of guns has been a grim one. When the reaction to the mass shooting in Newtown was, Don’t take away our guns, it became clear that opponents of any sort of gun control were willing to pay the price of massacre of innocent children.
If it’s true that a hostile government yearns to take away every single gun from every single person, maybe that kind of position makes a degree of sense. I hope I will be allowed a touch of skepticism, though.
With the election of President Obama came a sky is falling narrative. He was a Muslim, he wasn’t an American citizen, he was going to demand a third term (at least!), he was going to deposit his enemies in concentration camps, and he was going to take everyone’s guns. None of those things has been substantiated at this point. The reaction to him by a large part of the electorate is reminiscent of that accorded to Bill and Hillary Clinton when Bill was elected president. There were some traits of Bill’s that were less than wonderful (his affair with Monica Lewinsky, and subsequent treatment of her), and some of his policies (repealing the Glass-Stegall Act and the policy that resulted in more imprisonment of African-Americans), but I didn’t remember any incoming president being greeted with absolute negativity by so many people. Not until Obama.
One of the interesting facts about the investigations and impeachment of Mr. Clinton that I read about only in the last year or so was that the people spearheading those processes were themselves involved in less than savory conduct, some of them at the time, and at least one sometime previously (an allegation, at least, of child molestation, and misuse of funds to pay blackmail). Since so much of politics is projection, it makes me wonder about the motivation of those accusing President Obama. They may yet, of course, be proven correct about him, but so far it doesn’t look that way.
The narrative about good people with guns being able to stop bad people with guns doesn’t look too credible at the moment, though. One reason is the number of mass shootings has been appreciating in the last decade or two. There don’t seem be enough good people with guns around to stop those, which the NRA and gunmakers take to mean that guns haven’t yet sufficiently saturated the society. There are some anecdotes that cast doubt: a four-year-old who accidentally shot his mother, a ten-year-old who accidentally killed her shooting instructor, a boy who accidentally killed his sister. I find these stories horrifying. The only time I even considered buying a gun I was dissuaded by thinking it would be difficult to find a safe place for a gun where there were toddlers.
Let me make clear that I don’t object to responsible gun ownership. The stories above, if true, seem to me to demonstrate that being responsible is very difficult. I doubt that ideology helps either. Doesn’t it lead to trying to prove that guns are safer than usually thought? I think that’s a very dangerous thing to try to prove. Guns are meant to kill things, and they do it very efficiently. Being careless with them is a VERY bad idea.
The recent shootings in Dallas also dissuade from belief in the good person with a gun theory. The Dallas police, from what I’ve heard, behaved very professionally during the shootings, making sure that the protesters whom they were protecting were safe, but in the process twelve of them were shot, five fatally. The police must certainly have had more training than the average civilian gun owner, but it seems to have done them little good. Imagine a scene in which the average civilian tried to stop a sniper. They would probably have little ability to determine where shots were coming from, let alone be able to effectively reply. It’s all too easy to imagine that at best they would draw the attention of the sniper, while at worst they would contribute to confusion and possibly even accidentally shoot other innocent people. I’d prefer not to find myself in such a situation.
There’s another thing that I hadn’t considered until recently, too. An interviewee at NPR said that there’s a certain paranoia that strikes people who carry guns. They are always considering possibly having to use their gun, which means they’re looking at people around them to see if they need to be afraid of them. That’s something I, having never owned a gun, haven’t experienced. If caught in a mass shooting, the only thing I’d know how to do would be get down behind something and wait. I might well not survive, and I probably wouldn’t be able to help anyone. But in 67 years I haven’t experienced that.
The other reason for owning guns, about which some are very convinced advocates, is the idea that guns will help protect them from a predatory government. I’m not too sure about that one either.
As things currently stand, the government way outguns any individual citizen. If they want to arrest or kill anyone they’re very capable of doing so, especially since they have access to planes, artillery, and other weapons that individuals don’t. To effectively resist the government means organization and lots of money. I grant that the government is quite imperfect, but I’m not eager to see a civil war play out on our streets. Bad enough that the government should have made such a terrible mistake as to kill so many of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, but I think it would be even worse if private organizations were able and willing to do the same. That’s just another danger of gun ownership.
I don’t expect that there will be bloodshed at the Republican Convention, but I also don’t know what to hope for with regard to gun ownership. I personally don’t want to deprive responsible people of guns, but I also hate the damage done by the irresponsible who somehow are able to get guns and misuse them. There’s no legislation that will protect everyone from irresponsible ownership, nor will legislation protect us from predatory government or other organizations. People determined to acquire guns and use them will be able to for the foreseeable future. I’m afraid innocent people will continue to die.


Revolution From Above


The first thing that announced the 1980s to me was the air traffic controllers strike. They wanted more pay, fewer hours, and better working conditions. President Reagan denied they had a right to strike, and after giving them 48 hours to return to work, fired the vast majority. The head of the agency in charge of the controllers at the time was later quoted as saying that the firing served as an example to many employers, and probably had a large effect on the economic recovery that followed. Many employers disliked unions, and made use of the example.
The next thing I recall was hearing about leveraged buyouts. These were one company buying another, draining all its assets, and leaving its workers without employment, the sort of thing I would imagine a vampire doing. The excuse was to make companies leaner, and this became the rationale for another fashion, which followed: downsizing. In this case, a CEO would fire many employees, often middle management persons who knew how the company did business. Those replacing them (I gather they usually got replaced) had the virtue of not commanding the high salaries of previous employees, but they often didn’t know what they were doing.
Industries had begun to be relocated in the 1960s and 70s. Steel mills vanished from Pittsburgh, Youngstown and Cleveland, Ohio (the general area where I grew up). Rubber plants vanished from Akron. In the case of the steel mills, cities benefited by being less polluted, but they didn’t benefit economically. By the 1990s industries were moving (or so it appeared) en masse to Mexico, China, and southeast Asia. Some blame these phenomena on greed, and that no doubt had something to do with it, but it seems to me that resentment was also part of the story. Where did the resentment come from?
Others are alienated too, but they are usually unsuccessful people with little money and many frustrations. From the time the industial revolution began to dominate the country corporate employers began to treat employees as opponents rather than collaborators. It was apparent in the 19th century and early 20th, when strikers were often met with brute force because they asked for better pay and working conditions. It wasn’t unusual for employers to respond by maiming and killing the strikers, or trying to replace them with people even more desperate, who would sometimes work for even less. Why they responded in such a primal way is unclear to me. In many cases employers had been made very rich by the people working for them (I remember seeing a large number of mansions in Shaker Heights, Ohio, which were probably built with such profits), but they deeply resented anyone questioning how they ran their businesses. Employers may not have been as overtly aggressive in the most recent thirty or so years, but they have seemed uninterested in paying employees a cent more than they could help, and very interested in driving down pay. If you measure the success of these strategies by the number of homeless children, it’s VERY successful. This means ordinary Americans are a potential market which corporations aren’t interested in serving. It seems like the picture of the future described by Karl Marx.
One somewhat plausible explanation was that the large industries knew they had only a limited time to extract profits before ecological catastrophe hit. That’s not impossible, but I’m not sure I believe the industrialists were that rational. Some of their behavior may have been planned coldly, but some seems visceral and ideologically driven.
A Facebook post says, You can tell who is unhappy with their lives because they like to make everyone else miserable too. Applying this proposition to such financial behavior suggests that wealth doesn’t make people happy, though many people devoutly believe it does. Government by bribery has been going on a long time, but the imbalance of wealth makes it even more ubiquitous, and wealthy people reveal themselves as resenting that poor people should get any government benefits at all, like Medicare or Social Security. Considering that wealthy people and corporations (who are now defined as people, by act of the Supreme Court) arrange for themselves to get subsidies, tax breaks, and to craft regulations to suit themselves, their feeling that poor people shouldn’t get ANYTHING from the government seems to come down to their being mean and ideological. Is it impossible for people and organizations who are financially secure to have any generosity at all? Or is their behavior the result of some overwhelming fear?
It’s the kind of behavior that inspired Marx and Engels to begin Communism. Granted that Communism didn’t turn out to be a great idea, but the defensiveness with which capitalists responded to strikes, unions, and eventually to the version of socialism/Communism that took over in Russia and elsewhere, speaks of some bad consciences, as well as the desire to not only make people suffer, but to utterly control their lives. It seems like a sort of sadism flowing down the hierarchies to the lower bureaucrats, managers, and police.
And what is the source of sadism but fear? Is it not striking out at what one fears before one can be attacked? That speaks again of a bad conscience, as does the ideological narrative of people being poor because they’re lazy. It also speaks of proving one has power by exercising it: mistreating people because one can, and hoping the power thus displayed will protect one from any number of undefined catastrophes.
It’s also like the policy that Joseph Stalin referred to as revolution from above. He used that phrase to justify the forced collectivization of farmers which led to a mass starvation that killed millions. The profit from the forced collectivization was used to invest in modern weapons, which came in handy later, when Russia was invaded by the Germans. In the case of the United States, weapons have been heavily invested in since World War II. In our case, the investment has been into tax breaks.
There are things it’s rational to fear. Poor or ethnic people might reject the scapegoat status they’ve been assigned and mount some kind of attack on the status quo. That becomes increasingly likely the longer the gulf between rich and poor increases. That ecological collapse might arrive in spite of all denial. That financial collapse might lead to social collapse. Wars for resources. Drought and famine. Monumental pollution of water and air. All these are rational to fear, and irrational not to try to prevent.
But politics frequently appeals to the irrational. Rather than try to repair or prevent problems, we deny them and block efforts to deal with them. It’s more important to divide and maintain control, which is why various political, economic, and religious groups demonize each other. Whether calculated that way or not, the wars set off by 9/11 have aroused fear of Muslims and increased willingness to commit crimes against them, turning moderate Muslims against Americans.
This may benefit some people, but not ordinary Americans. Ordinary Americans are the ones that have to be soldiers, and become homeless after their service because their war traumas don’t allow them to fit back into society without extensive help, for which funds are not forthcoming. They’re also the ones who lose jobs that get exported, the jobs that get cut to make companies more “competitive”. They were the ones looking for jobs in their forties and fifties who weren’t getting hired because they were “overqualified”. They’re now the people who have to live with their parents because they can’t afford to get places of their own, who have college degrees but can’t find jobs in their specialty areas and can’t repay their college loans.
In other words, they’re not the ones that government serves.
No wonder they’re angry, often to the point of being irrational. I think they often misinterpret who is to blame for their problems, and what the solution is, but I certainly can’t blame them for their anger. Maybe part of their situation is a culture that encourages wrong behavior, but when heroin use becomes common I see it as not merely irresponsible or depravity, but a sign of despair. Is despair unjustified? We believe that having enough money is necessary, and then see opportunity contract. Some can see entrepenurial opportunity, but many don’t have the talent or resources to make use of opportunity if they recognized it. Are they to be jettisoned for being less than perfect?
That’s what predators practice. Unregulated capitalism is the predator’s playground. Actually, what is practiced in this country, and much of the rest of the world, is regulated, but regulated in favor of the wealthy, who already have wealth in their favor. They shouldn’t have to have the legal system biased in their favor too.
This election cycle may turn out to be a referendum on the way things are organized, but little will change unless a lot of people are willing to work very hard for a very long time to change them. A biased financial system is far from being our only problem, though it’s a serious one. Our whole society, in my opinion, is organized on a wrong basis, and needs to be changed. Unless we too change, any changes will most likely be superficial. I wish I were more optimistic.