One of the down-sides of practicing law is having little time to do such things as watch television. Without a steady diet of the flickering screen, a certain sense of cultural illiteracy grows. So when I found myself in a hotel the other day, I turned on the tube. Wow.
I was huffing and puffing my way through an hour on an exercise bike while watching Fox News. The commentary was acid, even rancid. If Obama says hello, it’s disingenuous. I called my wife afterwards to report that full half of the country had lost its mind.
The next night, still stranded in the same hotel, I tried MSNBC. I watched a guy named Ed. He was just as screwy as the folks on Fox, although, I confess, I liked Ed’s screwiness. I suppose we’re fellow travelers.
All the rancor got me to thinking about Aristotle and his definition of citizenship. Folks are members of a community based not just on common interests, but also on mutual and reciprocating bonds of affection. It takes trust to build a community. We seem short on trust, at least it felt that way looking at the talking heads.
But I wonder whether the rest of us don’t have more sense than prime-time performers. Perhaps the media draws out the extremists, who preen for position, each trying to shout the other down. Condescension from Bill O’Reilly or Rachel Maddow doesn’t look all that different.
When Barry Goldwater told the nation that extremism in defense of liberty was no vice, I doubt he had in mind extremism for its own sake.
What are we to make of the likes of Wayne LaPierre? He’s the National Rifle Association mouthpiece, a million-dollar-a-year spokesman for the gun industry. He testified before the U.S. Senate the other day and tried to lecture the senators on King George III and the right to resist. That’s stupid and empty rhetoric in the context of the debate on gun-control legislation.
The NRA does not promote resistance to constituted authority by gun owners. Indeed, I doubt gun lobbyists can recite with approval a single instance in which a gun was used to resist a present-day tyrant in these United States. I mean, LaPierre didn’t exactly turn to Gabrielle Gifford, the former Arizona congresswoman who was shot, and nearly killed, in a mass shooting, and say: “Sic temper tyrannis.” (“Thus always to tyrants.”)
LaPierre is the bauble-headed dupe of the gun industry. That industry sells guns to the military and to ordinary citizens. It is a gaggle of corporations growing fat and sassy selling fear, and it wants a gun or two in the hands of each and every American. But let’s cut all the Second Amendment crap: Those guns aren’t pointed at government or captains of industry — we point them at one another.
Guns are the antithesis of trust. Being taught to fear one another as a patriotic duty is civic death. Prancing around mouthing lines from the debates arising from the founding of the American republic is meaningless noise in the context of the gun debate. I doubt anyone seriously believes that gun ownership makes us free.
There are some 300 million guns in circulation in the United States — that’s 80 guns per 100 people. It is the highest rate of gun ownership in the world. Yet, listening to the rhetoric on the right, we are losing freedoms daily to an encroaching government. Shouldn’t these guns be keeping us free?
The sad fact is that guns are something like corporate lollipops. They are the sweets corporations sell us to keep us pacified. If people get frustrated over lack of jobs or housing or health care, let them shoot one another — anything to avoid asking meaningful questions about meaningful reform. I don’t see guns as liberating devices.
I suspect most NRA members are ashamed of the rhetorical garbage LaPierre spews. But it sells. We’re entertained by it, I suppose. It keeps the chattering class, of which, I confess, I am a member, busy. But I can’t help wondering whether we don’t deserve better than what the networks are offering.•