JAZZMAN CHRONICLES: MARCH 2018.
VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE: A FAILURE OF DEMOCRACY
By Jack Random
To most of us the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in affluent Parkland, Florida was an unconscionable tragedy. To some it was a call to protest. To others it was a call to arms – literally. To the National Rifle Association it was an opportunity for a dramatic explosion in sales of firearms and they wasted little time exploiting it.
According to the NRA the solution to mass shootings by mad killers with high volume killing machines is more killing machines in the hands of more people vetted for mental illness or not. It is not a coincidence that such an approach would require a massive expenditure for guns, gun training and ammunition. Forget the idea that we need more mental health services. No gun-toting, gun-pimping politician has ever gone to bat for increased mental health services. They just use it as a talking point every time one of these tragedies occurs. Indeed, most gun advocates – being good Republicans – have consistently voted against increased mental health services.
The new approach is one the NRA crowd can really get behind: Guns in churches, guns in schools, guns in concerts, guns in bars. Guns everywhere! The more the better. As long as it pads the bottom line let the killing go on. It doesn’t really matter how many die as long as we protect the most extreme and absurd interpretation of the second amendment.
It’s time gun advocates accepted the second amendment for what it is and what it was when it was drafted: A protection against a hostile takeover of the federal government. The right to bear arms in a “well-regulated militia” is the right to rebel against an authoritarian dictatorship.
Only in this light does it make sense to defend an individual’s right to weapons of war. The intended war is against our own government: The people against our leaders.
Is that what the second amendment defenders want? Do they really believe that it is or will be necessary to defend our democracy against tyranny? How do they suppose that battle will end?
I believe democracy will survive despite the constant attempts of some to subvert it. It has survived since the constitution was adopted. We have had many horrible presidents and numerous members of congress that were and are an affront to human dignity and still our democracy endures.
We do not need some federation of private militias turning our fields of plenty into killing fields in the name of freedom. Rather we need to educate our citizenry so that inept individuals like Donald Trump have no chance of being elected to high office. We need to defend our democratic institutions so that when mistakes like the Trump presidency happen they can be corrected in four years or less. Disasters can be corrected by the ballot box – not by the bullet. In some cases they can be corrected by legislative or judicial means.
Virtually all our democratic institutions are badly in need of repair. The most obvious flaw in our system is the Electoral College. That we are still employing a system designed to subvert democracy is absurd to the point of unforgivable. Needless to say, two of the worst presidents in modern history could have been avoided if the election was determined by a popular vote. Other desperately needed reforms include: Outlawing partisan gerrymandering, universal suffrage through automatic registration, strict laws and penalties against deliberate efforts to discourage voting or attempts to disenfranchise voters, week-long elections and easy access to voting polls.
Critically, we need to break our dependence on a two-party system that has lost the support of the majority of our people. As it stands a candidate for public office must conform to one of two sets of policies and ideas that have moved closer over time. It stunts creative thinking and compels anyone who seeks a leadership position to accept the money of major corporate contributors and all that goes with that attachment. We desperately need to get the money out of politics so that decent, intelligent people can go to Washington and solve problems like the proliferation of weaponry.
Beyond the election process itself, we need to reform the media and education. There was a time when the mainstream media was sufficiently trusted by the people that we could all agree on a foundation of facts. Now we invent our own facts. There was a time when our public schools delivered essentially the same narrative – albeit a biased narrative – of history and civics so that Americans shared a sense of identity and values.
We cannot and should not go back to simpler times but we can do better. Journalism needs to observe a standard of objectivity. The institutions of record – the Times, the Post, the major networks and cable news sources – have lost all credibility. They cannot be regarded as consistently objective news sources when they have a financial incentive to distort the news whenever corporate interests are involved. The recent convergence of opinion that Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum are disastrous is a case on point. There is a debate to be had on the use of tariffs to enforce fair trade policies. It is by no means an accepted truth that tariffs are bad and free trade is good but that is how the media has generally delivered the story.
Journalism must understand that one bad story is worth a hundred or a thousand well-sourced and unbiased stories. When the war in Iraq was being debated, the revelation that Judy Miller served as a fence for White House propaganda set the Times back years. The accepted practice of imbedded journalism set all of mainstream media back.
The only reform that goes to the heart of the matter would be to separate journalism from corporate interests. That is not going to happen any time soon. It will therefore fall to self-governance to restore media credibility so that unscrupulous politicians like Trump can no longer get away with the standard denial of “fake news” or alternative facts.
Education must also share responsibility for the loss an informed electorate that is able to separate fact from fiction and employ objective analysis to arrive at logical conclusions. More and more our schools are themselves becoming propaganda machines. That is one reason so many Republicans defend local control of the curriculum. If they can control what kids are taught there is an excellent chance they can control the vote for years to come.
In the end the only way to stop violence in the schools and on the streets of our cities is to throw all the bums out who allowed this to happen. The kids of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are absolutely right. Failure to address this distinctly American problem is bullshit.
Jack Random is a novelist and freelance writer now retired and living in Northern California. He can be reached at email@example.com.