It’s More Than Guns. And Mental Health. And the NRA. We Lost the Common Good When We Let Them Demonize Government
Over these last couple of days, I’ve read a lot of posts about the Florida massacre. Guns. Violence. Mental Health. Congressional Inaction. Gun Lobby. They are all that you would expect because you’ve read them before many times.
There’s another one that typically pops up when these massacres happen and it did again this week. Amidst the sadness and grief, there are always those who point to the breakdown of the family and a lack of respect for community or public good. They bemoan “kids today” who do not respect authority or their community. They wonder why no one did anything when this 19-year-old showed signs of violence and in this instance, will likely blame the FBI or YouTube for not “catching” him earlier.
I am so tired – so tired – of hearing about how wonderful things were in the past without any regard to what it took to create that environment. First – it was not as “wonderful” as we remember. It was different. That is all. Life changes and comparing it to previous decades is a waste of time. We should figure out how to adapt faster.
What happened in Florida is a result of a lot of things. Guns? Absofuckinglutely. There are too many of them on the street. There needs to be fewer – a lot fewer – of them available for legal purchase. Done. Mental health. Yes. But what does that even mean? We trot out these words after the carnage and use it as a shiny object to distract from gun control, but what do we really mean? Is it money for treatment? Early detection? The ability to lock people up in sanitariums? What? Most importantly, what do we need to do and how much money do we need to spend to fix this problem?
Do we really know why this happened?
I have a theory. Yes, it is political. The New Deal and the Great Society were based fundamentally on progressivism. At its core, progressivism seeks to improve society through reform and sees government as a tool in its arsenal. But as we all know, humanity is selfish – we are all fundamentally selfish beings – and as such, will prioritize individual benefits over those that might benefit the community. And so, progressives championed the idea of the “common or public good.” From the Progressive Era to the New Deal to the Great Society, our political leaders (Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, FDR, Truman, Johnson), despite their numerous flaws, spoke in terms of the common good in the public space. Reformers did this in many ways and at different points in our history, they were incredibly successful.
The government has been the arbiter of the public marketplace and was an institution that did the things that individuals could not do on their own. One look at the Hoover Dam, for example, tells you all that you need to know about what the government can do in service of the public good. The 1950s and 60s have always been considered America’s Golden Era; go spend time researching the centrality of government during that period. You will be surprised at how critical government engagement was in making this era “golden.”
And then it changed
In the last 40 years, the conservative movement – yes, the conservative movement which has completely usurped the Republican Party – has convinced too many Americans of government’s incompetence. But more importantly, it has decimated even the idea of the public good by deifying “individualism.” What started as “self-reliance,” in an attempt to dissuade people from remaining on welfare, has become a full-throated attack on government at all levels.
Forty years of budget cuts will take a toll but so will a negative marketing campaign. If your competitor ran incessant ads against your company, and then collaborated with your creditors to cut off funding (the Republican Congress), which then forced you to shut off services, or reduce headcount causing an even further erosion in quality, how would you be perceived by your customers?
So yes, this school shooting happened because a mentally ill 19-year-old walked into a high school with a machine gun that he never should have had in the first place. We should have that debate. We won’t. But we should also realize that this happened because for 40 years we have desecrated the idea of the public good. We have scoffed at liberals who spoke of community and commonality because it sounded too much like communism. We accepted it as gospel when Reagan said, “government is the problem.”
Was it? I’m not suggesting that a huge bureaucracy results in a community love-fest. But when our elites – our political leaders – demean, deface, and defund public programs after insinuating that those using their services are “sucking off the tit of government and taxpayers,” we might be sending a message that “you are on your own.” It has taken 40 years for this individualism to seep into our culture. Individualism and individual liberty. Those have become more important than community.
I have written this post quickly – typically they take a couple of hours and even then, I will find a grammatical error or two. Travel and timezone changes have left me with limited time. So please excuse any issues I may have missed.
Our nation’s problems are complex and they will not be easily solved. But their root cause is also complex; they did not appear overnight and while you may disagree my assessment, you cannot refute facts. In the last forty years, we have shrunk government and moved to the right across all spectrums. Selfishness, greed, income disparity, and poverty have increased. Gun violence has increased as regulation has been rolled back.
Our current politics must change. We are beyond the need for simple electoral victories or Democratic control of Congress. There must be a real progressive movement – one based on the resistance – but also one that encompasses all of the issues that are critical to America’s future. We must address through progressive reform initiatives:
- Comprehensive Immigration Reform
- REAL tax reform that yes, redistributes wealth from the top to the bottom
- Comprehensive Education Reform – to prepare our kids to compete in a global marketplace
- Electoral Reform & Voting Rights – Get rid of political gerrymandering and start setting some national goals to increase voter turnout.
Oh yeah – let’s get the guns off the street and out of the hands of kids who want to shoot up schools.