July 3, 2022

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Mass Shootings, Killings, Guns: Is the United States Living in the Prewar Era?

In the lost paradise For John Milton, Lucifer – who until the previous day was God’s favorite – consoles himself with this idea: “The mind is its own place and can itself make heaven from hell or hell from heaven.” The USA, a god-favorite, plays the same mental joke from time to time. For now, the country appears committed to the second option, as if united by a natural preference for hell.

Mass shootings and killings

It has already happened. The American theme now is violence and the promise of violence (perhaps a mirror of the epidemic). The murder rate is skyrocketing, not only because of the mass shootings, but also from the routine, even ritualistic, killings that occur on weekends in Chicago and other cities.

A heavily armed young Californian will appear at Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Maryland home with a plan to assassinate him for abortion and guns. According to the authorities, the would-be killer believes that such a political and moral murder, so to speak, will give meaning to his life. Police now monitor the homes of all Supreme Court justices 24 hours a day.

Ku Klux Klan threats

Jane’s Revenge, a kind of pro in the Ku Klux Klan, organizes a “Night of Rage” if the court overthrows Roe v. valley. Baby-boomers will absorb the reference to the Weather Underground’s “days of rage” in 1969. Across the country, so many pro-life centers have been set ablaze that it’s become a trend. One might say it’s an obsession.

The US Senate candidate from Missouri has posted a campaign video showing him with a long rifle and firearm, leading fake commandos in search of “Rinos” – Republicans in name only, that is, anti-Trump Republicans. Not far away, in the American woods, the Republican representative of Illinois Adam Kinzinger receives a letter threatening to execute him, his wife and their newborn son. Kinzinger is an anti-Trump member of the January 6 investigation committee.

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In 2020 or 2021, Americans seem to have overcome a psychological barrier and plunge into new territory, a place where things are no longer taboo as they once were. The citizens got into a suspicious mutual fight, to use Milton’s expression. People have learned to think outside the box. Crowds learned that they could, for example, set a police station on fire and watch the police flee. You can try to set fire to a federal court; To burn down the Presidents’ Chapel in Lafayette Square across from the White House. You can loot shops and take things away without the law going after them.

The pandemic has given rise to new and horrific parables: the scene in which Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of George Floyd and Floyd died; The scene in which Americans – some in tourist euphoria, others in fury – streamed into the United States Capitol. It was something between a demonstration of cheerleading and a random killing.

The routine on the southern border reminds me of the “Casablanca” scene where Captain Renault orders “a bottle of the best champagne” for Victor Laszlo. When Laszlo protests the overly extravagant gesture, Reno smiles and explains, “Oh, please, sir. It’s a little game we play. They put it on the bill, and I tear the bill. It’s so convenient.” Border security has become a game. There are laws against illegal entry. Democrats in Biden are tearing them up. It is very comfortable.

In all of this, the relationship between fantasy and reality — and more deeply, between self and country, between Americans and other Americans — has changed and changed. The rules (written or unwritten) are different now.

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The country’s political rituals are no longer what they used to be. The cult of progressive change answers this: “So what?” Donald Trump agrees. You can’t make an omelette without cracking eggs. The idea is correct, but on the other hand it is a favorite metaphor for monsters. The law itself – the principle of law, the authority of the law – is subjected to a severe test and has the impression that it has been broken. When prosecutors refuse to prosecute real crimes, society is morally underwater.

There is a sense of crisis. Are things that bad? what’s new? Is the country simply going along a bad road? This has already happened in the past, for example in the second half of the sixties. Is it an exaggeration to say that this moment feels like it was in the 1850s? In 1856, Congressman Brooks, a pro-slavery Democrat from South Carolina, nearly killed Republican abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner in the Senate. It took Sumner three years to recover.

In its violent certainty, in its blind morality, the law carries the flavor of 2022. 1850 was a presidential election year in which three mediocre candidates faced each other: Democrat James Buchanan, Republican John C. Fremont, and former President Millard Fillmore. Buchanan won. He turns out to be one of America’s worst presidents, in sad company with Andrew Johnson and Warren Harding. But it so happens that the worst president, Buchanan, preceded the best president, Abraham Lincoln, whom he inherited from a divided nation and civil war.

Morrow is a senior fellow at the Center for Ethics and Public Policy. His latest book is God and Money: The Records of American Money.


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