American voters are exceptionally good at voting against their own interests about a host of issues.
Mass shootings prompt simple explanations of the gunman’s motivation. At Columbine High School in Colorado, the killers supposedly snapped after being bullied. The guy who shot up a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado was wild-eyed carrot-topped nuts. After a massacre at a Walmart in El Paso, an anti-immigrant manifesto posted online pointed to right-wing politics. Simple mental illness—if there is such a thing—appears to be the culprit in Dayton, Ohio. Also misogyny. But the Dayton shooter’s Twitter feed indicates the shooter liked Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. So right-wing media blames his progressive leanings.
And when there is no obvious explanation as in Las Vegas in 2017, when the mass murderer doesn’t leave a final message and doesn’t appear to have subscribed to extremist politics and was financially secure, but drank a lot and may have bought into Internet conspiracy theories, we shrug our shoulders and forget about it. But deep inside we believe there is a simple answer. We just haven’t discovered it yet.
Gun control advocates want to ban assault rifles like the semi-automatic AR-15 used in so many mass shootings. But even if those guns disappeared overnight, gun-related massacres would still occur, albeit with lower body counts. Which would be nice, but it wouldn’t address the big question, the one we secretly ask ourselves after such incidents: where does the rage come from?
Flailing about in search of the enablers of personal mass violence (as opposed to state-ordered mass violence) is useful as far as it goes. The NRA and the gun lobby make money with every firearm purchase. Victims of mental illness go uninsured and thus undiagnosed and untreated. Hateful rhetoric, most common on the right and most recently epitomized by President Trump, legitimize the dehumanization of future victims.
In the beginning, though, is rage.
The blind anger that, like the medieval image of a succubus insinuating itself into a previously healthy brain, suggests that shooting a lot of people is either a solution or at least a satisfying way of venting, is the germ of the idea that leads to the first shot being fired at a military base, an elementary school, a country music concert.
The rage says: “I hate everybody.” It continues: “I wish everyone would die.” It concludes: “I will kill them all.”
I am mystified by the fact that so many people are mystified about rage.
I have been there. I have hated everyone. I have been so depressed that I didn’t care what happened to me. I was furious at how oblivious everyone was to my pain and how nobody cared about me. I wanted them to pay for it. Haven’t you ever felt that way?
Mostly it was when I was younger. In junior high school, when I was relentlessly bullied and beaten up and neither my classmates nor my teachers interfered—to the contrary, they thought it was funny—I fantasized about going to school and shooting everyone there.
When I was a junior in college, I spent finals week at the hospital due to a freak injury. Several of my professors refused to allow me to take a make-up exam because they were lazy, I got Fs and landed on academic probation, and the following semester one mean teacher gave me a C+ and so I got expelled. I lost my job, my dorm room and thus a place to live and wound up homeless on the streets of New York. Watching people go about their day, smiling and laughing and exchanging pleasantries and buying luxuries while I was starving, I despised them. Of course it wasn’t their fault. I knew that. What was their fault, in my view at the time, was their active decision not to engage in the struggle for a world that was fair and just, not just to me, but to everybody.
I imagine that most, if not all, homeless people feel that way watching me stroll down the street on my stupid smartphone. They hate me and they are right to hate me.
The NRA and the weapons business and Congress share responsibility, but what really causes mass shootings is the shooters’ alienation from society.
Why doesn’t America enforce mental health insurance parity? Because the American people don’t care enough to raise enough hell to force our elected officials to do so. If you have ever been broke and needed to see a therapist, you probably found out that they charge at least $200 an hour and that your insurance company probably won’t cover it—assuming that you have insurance. American society’s message to you is loud and clear: we don’t care about you. Go ahead and be insane. Die. Returning society’s contempt for you is perfectly understandable.
The so-called “incel” (involuntarily celebate) movement of men who hate women because they won’t sleep with them is a perfect example of society’s refusal to try to understand a legitimate concern. In 2014 an incel killed six people near Santa Barbara. “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it,” the killer said in a video he posted before his rampage. In 2018 an incel killed 10 people in Toronto with his van.
Experts recommend writing laws to deny incels access to guns, shutting down their online forums so that they don’t work each other up, and improving their access to mental health care. Those may be good ideas. But they ignore the root of the problem.
Obviously no one has to have sex with anyone. Incels don’t have a constitutional right to get laid. But anyone who has ever been young and sexually frustrated (or old and sexually frustrated) knows that sexlessness can literally drive you crazy. Glibly suggesting to awkward or clueless or physically unattractive men to hit the gym and get their charm on is just as hopelessly naïve as Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” campaign. Feeling condemned to a life without love or physical companionship really truly sucks and we could start by acknowledging that.
Rage, I think, comes less from having a problem that feels hopelessly unsolvable than from the belief that no one gives a damn about you or your issues. People need to feel heard. People need to be heard.
Given how callous and unfeeling we are about so much suffering around us and among us, the only thing surprising about mass shootings is that they don’t happen more frequently.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Like many other Americans this week, I have been impressed with the poise, passion and guts of the Florida teenagers who survived the latest big school shooting, as well as that of their student allies in other cities who walked out of class, took to the streets and/or confronted government officials to demand that they take meaningful action to reduce gun violence. As we mark a series of big 50th anniversaries of the cluster of dramatic events that took place in 1968, one wonders: does this augur a return to the street-level militancy of that tumultuous year?
The Sixties were the Decade of Youth, an era that ended when Baby Boomers aged out of flowers and free love into jobs and suburbs. Adulthood makes everyone put away childish things — not that agitating against war and fighting for equal rights is kid stuff — and to be fair to the Boomers, they were driven off the protest lines by hails of government bullets at places like Kent State University. For my money the Sixties died in 1972, the first year 18-to-20 year-olds got the vote and either didn’t show up or used their new franchise to reelect Richard Nixon.
Compared to the heyday of the anti-Vietnam War movement, when every little town in America had protests pretty much every day (even just sad little clusters of hippies huddling under umbrellas in the traffic median) for years on end, the activist left has been on hiatus ever since. There were Solidarity Day in 1981 and the Battle of Seattle in 1999 and marches against the Iraq War in 2003 and Occupy Wall Street in 2011 and, recently, a pair of anti-Trump Women’s Marches. But those events were intermittent, exceptional, spasmodic. Generation X — discriminated against, passed over for good jobs, marginalized by culture and media — was too busy working multiple crappy jobs to organize, protest and effect change.
If anything, Millennials have proven even more politically apathetic — or perhaps it would be fairer to say hapless. More than other generations, Millennials believe volunteerism and growing local businesses can change society. The issue they care most about is transparency. There’s nothing wrong with helping out with a community garden, buying organic food or demanding that charities show where donations go — but what about climate change or the fact that capitalism is inherently an engine of inequality?
The last four decades have been characterized by somnolence; that’s why we now call people who are different than that, who actually pay attention and care about the state of the world, “woke.”
Which is the good thing about Trump: he woke us. President Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have provoked nearly as much activism against sexism, misogyny and gun laws that allow 18-year-olds to buy AR-15s.
What we need now is a post-Millennial generation of activist youth — because revolutions require passion and rage, i.e. lots of energy.
The post-Millennial generation, now teenagers and college-age, are so freshly-minted that the best name demographers have assigned them is Generation Z — a riff on their parents the Xers. (Millennials are Gen Y.) So far their no-nonsense “since no one else is fixing the problem we’ll take care of it ourselves” fits neatly into the Strauss-Howe generational theory model. As Gen Z heads into their twenties in the 2020s, the “Generations” authors predicted they’ll be challenged to respond to some major American crisis. If the young Floridians who stood up to establishmentarian right-wingers Senator Marco Rubio and President Trump are any indication, they’ve just begun to fight — and we’ll be in good hands.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is co-author, with Harmon Leon, of “Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America,” an inside look at the American far right, out now. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Democrats occupied the floor of the House of Representatives to demand that people on the federal “no fly” list be denied the right to buy firearms. But the no fly list is maintained by the incredibly incompetent TSA. Why should they get to decide whether you have your Second Amendment rights?
After a mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school claimed 28 lives, Pres. Obama and other politicians said that there was finally political will to do something about gun control. But then incrementalism reared its ugly head once again. Now members of Congress say that the only thing we can expect out of this session will be legislation governing the number of bullets that go into the magazines used by semiautomatic weapons. You still end up dead. But you might get to have an open casket funeral.
After yet another mass shooting, this one claiming 28 lives in Newtown, Connecticut at a local elementary school, right-wing politicians including Texas Governor Rick Perry are calling for students and/or teachers to be allowed to carry guns at school so they can defend themselves from future massacres.
U.S. Drone Strikes Equivalent of Dozens of Newtown Massacres
We don’t have the right to be sad.
We don’t have the right to be angry.
We don’t have the right to care about the 20 dead kids, much less the six dead adults or the one deranged shooter.
Our newspapers don’t have the right to pretend that we are a nation stricken by grief. Our television networks don’t have the right to put the Newtown shootings at the top of the news.
We don’t have the right to gather around the water cooler and talk about how terrible it all is.
Our president doesn’t have the right to express grief or remorse or pretend to be a human being or reference the fact that he is a parent or wipe his eye (assuming he was crying).
Our pundits don’t have the right to use this massacre as a reason to call for gun control. Our Congress doesn’t have the right to use it as a reason to propose a single piece of legislation.
Until we start caring about other people’s dead kids—and their adults—kids and adults made dead by American weapons—we don’t have the right to mourn our own.
Every couple of days, our president orders drone attacks against innocent people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and, no doubt, other places we are unaware of. But we don’t care.
There is no moral or legal justification for a single one of the more than 3,100 murders committed by the U.S. via drones. The guilt or innocence of the drones’ targets is never reviewed by any legal body (the White House won’t even say how they compile their “kill lists“), the dead never have a chance to confront their accusers, and in any case the offed “militants” are not threats to the American people. They are merely political opponents of repressive regimes allied with the United States.
Moreover, the vast majority of the victims are innocent bystanders (by one count 36 civilians per militant), members of the families of the target, or people who simply happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Newtown massacre, so tragic and pointless, would be just another run-of-the-mill, made-in-USA afternoon in the places targeted by America’s campaign of aerial terror. On March 18, 2011, for example, a U.S. drone blew up between 17 and 40 civilians and policemen in the village of Datta Khel in the North Waziristan region of northwest Pakistan. This was part of America’s nasty “double-tap” strategy.
“As the drone circled it let off the first of its Hellfire missiles, slamming into a small house and reducing it to rubble. When residents rushed to the scene of the attack to see if they could help they were struck again,” reported the UK Independent.
Not an accident. Double-taps are policy.
And we’re OK with them.
Drone strikes approved by Presidents Bush and Obama have killed at least 168 children in Pakistan alone.
And in recent months, more than 100 people have been killed by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the same area.
And we don’t care.
Actually, that’s not fair. The truth is, we’re pro-mass murder. Barack Obama makes Adam Lanza look like a peacenik, but we love him. A whopping 62% of Americans approve of Obama’s extrajudicial drone war.
Let’s give you, dear reader, the benefit of the doubt: let’s assume you’re one of the 38% of Americans who disapproves of one man acting as judge, jury and executioner of people half a world away, seen through a video feed taken thousands of feet up. The fact remains, you probably don’t lose a hell of a lot of sleep over the drone victims. Which is understandable. You don’t know them. They wear funny clothes. They do live, after all, half a world away.
Which is why reporters don’t cover their funerals. Why the Today Show doesn’t interview their grieving relatives. Why our politicians don’t shed tears (real or imagined) for them. Which is why we don’t ask each other:
Even the Left doesn’t care. Not much. America’s most recent major progressive movement, Occupy Wall Street, focused on economic injustice and corporate corruption. OWS hardly had a word to say about the drone strikes that killed so many children. America’s “liberal” media—NPR, The Nation, Mother Jones, etc.—barely mention them.
Which is fine. We have the right not to care about anything we want. Including dead kids. Even dead kids killed by our missiles. Even dead kids killed by a president we just reelected by a comfortable majority.
Since we have made a collective national decision to be a bunch of coldhearted bastards, however, we have to be morally consistent. And that means not caring about our kids either. Even when they are little, cute, white, and live in Fairfield County, an upscale suburb of New York City where many reporters, editors and other members of the national media reside.
We owe it to the little, cute, brown kids we’re killing in Pakistan. Stop caring about all kids.
“They had their entire lives ahead of them—birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own,” Obama said of the Connecticut victims. That was equally true of the children Obama murdered—some whose snuff videos he watched. It is also true of the children Obama is planning to murder. “We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years,” the president continued.
Not that he cares.
COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL