Another mass killing. Another round of politicians offering "thoughts and prayers," but acting as if nothing else can be or should be done. It doesn't have to be this way.
When people suggest measures to address gun violence, the response is, invariably, "that wouldn't eliminate these massacres!" As if there is no middle ground between totally eliminating all bad things and doing absolutely nothing. We don't think this way about automobile or airplane crashes. We don't think about medical problems this way. That people revert to such an all-or-nothing response when it comes to guns is purely a function of their unwillingness to do anything, not the inefficacy of taking action.
Indeed, there are several things which could be done to reduce the probability of mass shootings happening again or, at the very least, making them less common and, when they do occur, less deadly.
Unlike some people on the left who talk about gun regulations, I do appreciate that the Second Amendment exists and I appreciate that it limits much of what can be done to address gun violence. The Second Amendment does not, however, foreclose action. Indeed, the landmark Second Amendment case, District of Columbia v. Heller, specifically held that "like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose." Justice Scalia's majority opinion, in fact, provided that all manner of reasonable restrictions -- including licensing, background checks and restrictions related to mental illness and the like -- could be imposed without offending the Second Amendment.
We can and should work to pass laws or regulations, on the state or federal level, as appropriate, that impose some common sense on a gun industry that, at present, enjoys a shocking lack of oversight due to political cowardice and the power of the gun lobby. The restrictions I favor, which would in no way unreasonably infringe upon people's legal rights under the Second Amendment as currently interpreted, fall into three categories:
None of these sorts of regulations would take guns away from law abiding citizens or infringe on the their rights under the Second Amendment. All of them would work to keep guns from falling into the hands of violent criminals and discourage those who would seek to inflict mass casualties.
No, these regulations would not totally eliminate gun violence in this country. Such an expectation is unrealistic and rejecting any reasonable measure because it does not meet that unrealistic expectation would be absurd. Such regulations would, however, go a long way toward reducing gun violence.
Every lawmaker should be asked why they don't support these measures. Any lawmaker who does not have a good answer should be voted out of office.
Over the past couple of months I've been chronicling how President Trump and Republicans in Congress have taken aim at the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society. How they passed a tax plan that benefitted the wealthy at the expense of those in need. How they have since aimed their sights on programs which benefit the poor and the sick. How they are seeking to stigmatize and alienate those who use and depend on social services.
My aim in doing this is not to simply point at a political party I do not support and say "hey, that's bad." A lot of people do that. My aim has been to show how, in these policies, Republicans have largely abandoned all pretense of conservatism as it's normally understood and have, instead, adopted a political agenda of unabashed class warfare, in which the poor and needy are cast as enemies. It's a campaign that cuts across traditional partisan lines and will likely harm just as many people who have traditionally supported Republicans as have supported Democrats. As such, I have argued, it is, I believe, either evidence of or a harbinger for of a political realignment in which the poor, regardless of their political orientation, are pitted against the wealthy, regardless of theirs.
The latest example of this can be found in President Trump's budget proposal, released yesterday. It would slash Medicaid. It would defund regional authorities and commissions whose work disproportionately impacts low-income people and minorities. It would end job-training and educational-development programs, slash or end subsidized student loans and public-service forgiveness for student loans. It would end low-income-housing energy-assistance programs. It would impose time-limited benefits and work requirements for those seeking disability assistance.
Perhaps the most notable of all of its proposals, however, involve the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, SNAP, which was once known as the food stamp program.
SNAP involves what is, basically, a debit card, preloaded with a relatively small amount of money to help poor families buy food. About 44 million Americans, mostly women and children, get their nutrition needs supplemented, in part, by SNAP. While the program has long been a boogeyman for conservatives, who pass along unsubstantiated claims of SNAP recipients using their benefits to buy steaks and things, it's a rigorously policed program, which has seen fraud rates dramatically decline over time, to all-time historical lows today.
Trump's proposed budget would radically transform SNAP. Rather than provide money in an debit card, it would slash those benefits and attempt to make up the difference with a box of canned goods, referred to as "America's Harvest Box." The Office of Management and budget director Mick Mulvaney described it as a “Blue Apron-type program," but it's more akin to war rations or a trip to a soup kitchen. The boxes would include shelf-stable milk instead of fresh dairy products and would not contain any fresh fruits or vegetables whatsoever, rendering the word "Harvest" in the title rather dubious. The boxes would be paid for, assembled and distributed by the federal government.
It's strange that such a program is being proposed by so-called conservatives, because there is absolutely nothing conservative about the scheme:
So, if this "Harvest Box" idea neither saves money nor advances traditional conservative principles, what does it do?
Mostly it's aggressively hostile to SNAP recipients. It presumes they cannot and should not make their own food choices. It deprives them of the ability to purchase fresh food, food to which they are accustomed to cooking and eating and likely limits the ability of SNAP recipients with specialized diets -- people with food allergies or celiac disease, for example -- to meet their nutritional needs. It thus directly harms them while having the added benefit of stigmatizing them. It's essentially a punitive exercise aimed at making the everyday existence of SNAP recipients worse.
While such a thing makes zero sense in the context of traditional governing, it makes perfect sense in the context of the political realignment about which I've hypothesized.
Such policies lend themselves perfectly to a political regime that, as a matter of conscious policy, favors the wealthy and disfavors the poor and vulnerable. It feeds directly into class resentment which can be seen in the erroneous complaints of those who believe in the old "welfare queen" stereotype and pass along apocryphal stories of food stamp recipients buying T-bone steaks and cigarettes at the grocery store. Such class resentment, in turn, gives greater and greater power to those who would demonize and marginalize the poor.
Proposals such as these are not tone deaf. They are not aberrant. Attacking and scapegoating the poor is a mode of conduct that is reasonably and rationally calculated to rally the support of the wealthy and privileged who, in recent political history, have had far, far greater say in who gets elected in this country than anyone else. It is class warfare, consciously undertaken by the wealthy and the powerful for political gain.
It will not be stopped until leaders those with influence in public opinion call it out for what it is and work hard to oppose it. When they do, and if and when people are mobilized, the political realignment will be complete. Instead of a fight between conservatives and liberals as we currently know it, it will be a fight between the wealthy and currently powerful on one side and ordinary Americans on the other.
Which side will you be on? For my part, I'll take the side with the greater numbers. There can't be more of them than us. There can't be more.
Jesus Berrones was one and a half years-old when his parents brought him from Mexico to the United States. Though here illegally, this country was the only one he knew. He grew up in Arizona and called it home.
When he was 19, he was caught driving with a fake license, probably obtained because he couldn't get a real one without proof-of-citizenship. He was deported, came back, was deported again and came back again. It's a pretty standard story of illegal immigration in the American Southwest.
After coming back the second time, Berrones started a family. He's 30 now and has a wife, Sonia, and five children, with another baby on the way. They live in Arizona. Sonia and all of the children are American citizens. Berrones is the family's sole breadwinner.
In 2016, his now five-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia. As always, he was under threat of deportation due to his own immigration status, but in 2016 Immigration and Customs Enforcement granted him a stay due to his son's illness. Such a decision, in the past, was a typical one. ICE has discretion when it comes to deportation and it had traditionally declined to deport adults who were caring for sick children as a matter of basic human empathy.
Last month, with no warning, things changed: Berrones was told by ICE that he was going to be deported. He hired an attorney to attempt to renew his stay, but it was denied. Berrones is scheduled to be deported tomorrow, but he has since fled to a Phoenix area church which has taken it upon itself to shelter people facing deportation. ICE has no compunction about raiding homes and places of work to arrest and deport people, but it is reluctant to raid churches.
Denying a stay to Berrones and deporting him is certainly within the law, but like all exercises of executive and prosecutorial authority, it is also a choice. A decision driven by the political priorities of Donald Trump and ICE that inflicts needless suffering upon a five-year-old boy battling cancer and his father who cannot be by his side as he fights for his life. They could grant an exception here. They simply choose not to.
It'd be easy to make Donald Trump and ICE into over-the-top, out-of-touch mustache-twirling villains here, but they have backing in this madness. A lot of it. People like the ones who, when I tweeted about Jesus Berrones' case last night, responded like this:
No, I do not believe that the most vile, primarily anonymous Twitter users truly and faithfully represent Americans as a whole, but in this case does it make any difference? The obscenity of the above-quoted sentiment is not the crude manner in which it was stated, but the outcome which such sentiment supports: deporting Jesus Berrones and separating him from is cancer-stricken child. Supporting other perverse family-destroying outcomes because doing so is sold as "getting tough" on illegal immigration. A lot of people support such obscene outcomes. Our president was elected, in large part, because they are outcomes he promised. Millions of Americans back him in this.
The people who responded to me last night may be particularly horrible, but in effect, they are no different than those who are convinced that the greatest threat to America is illegal immigration and who believe that no action which purports to fight illegal immigration can be truly bad because, hey, the law is the law. People who are fine with discretion and compassion being removed from our immigration decisions. People who have stood by with no concern as ICE has been transformed into an often lawless paramilitary force, devoid of human empathy.
One day, I hope, the sick, xenophobic fever and mass failure of empathy gripping this country will break. If and when it does, the history of this time will be written and, I suspect, Donald Trump will be cast as the villain. He'll deserve that, but it'll be a whitewash if he and he alone is cast in that role.
Millions of self-proclaimed good Americans support this obscenity. People who should have to go to sleep tonight and every night for the rest of their lives facing the fact that they chose, through their opinions, their votes and then through their silence to support a system which would deprive a cancer-stricken child of the love and comfort of his father.
That is who we are as a nation right now. Those are our values.
Last year President Trump said that he'd like to see a grand military parade on Pennsylvania Avenue, with troops and tanks and missiles passing by as he stands there like some generalissimo or something. Yesterday it was reported that, yes, Trump has asked the Pentagon to plan such a spectacle. I suspect that, as a result, we'll have such a parade some time this year.
It's a terrible idea. Given where we are, historically speaking, it would be unprecedented. It would come off like a propaganda exercise and, worst of all, it would fuel Donald Trump's already overheated strongman fever. It's an idea that should be shot down immediately.
There are two basic reasons nations hold military parades. The first one is to celebrate or commemorate great military victories.
There was a tremendous one in Washington following the Union's victory in the Civil War. Similar parades were held following the end of World War I, World War II and the first Persian Gulf War. While military bands or specific military units or, on occasion, some actual military equipment has appeared in various national parades -- Kennedy's inaugural featured Nike missiles, for example -- celebration or commemoration of a military victory is, traditionally, the only reason the United States has held large-scale, dedicated military parades.
The other reason to hold big military parades is for propaganda purposes. The Soviet Union and, later, Russia, held the largest and grandest of all military parades each May to celebrate Victory Day in World War II. That, obviously, was something worth celebrating and commemorating given the Soviet's massive sacrifice and massive contribution to victory in the war, but there is no question that it was and is a propaganda tool as well. In the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras it was to signal to the United States and Western powers that the Soviet military was formidable. When Vladimir Putin revived the parades a few years after the fall of the Soviet Union, it was clearly done with an aim at reestablishing Russia's status as a power.
This is in keeping with the manner in which other autocrats and despots have used military parades in recent decades. As a means of flexing muscles to show how strong they are and to send such a message to their neighbors or the the rest of the world. It's not surprising that Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi used to hold them. No small number of Latin American despots have done so. North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un recently went so far as to change the date of a historical military anniversary in order to have an excuse to hold such a parade with an aim toward flexing his muscles before the upcoming Winter Olympics. A large scale military parade is the classic tool of a little man who wants to appear big.
Which brings us back to Trump.
At the moment, we have no grand military victory to celebrate. We still have over 10,000 troops in Afghanistan. It's a war that has dragged on for over 16 years and is increasingly being described as, at best, a stalemate. We have mostly pulled out of Iraq, but calling our more than decade-long involvement in that country, which led to multiple political and humanitarian disasters and continued instability, a "victory" is misleading at best. We still send troops and there. Sometimes they still die. Thousands upon thousands of them suffer from physical and mental injuries and lack adequate medical care. Our country should honor, memorialize and, above all else, take care of the men and women who fought, died or were wounded there, but it would be highly inappropriate to mount the glorious victory parade Trump no doubt envisions.
That leaves the second justification for such a parade. Propaganda. An event staged so that a little man can appear big. This is, without question, what Trump has in mind. It is likewise in keeping with the other autocrat/strongman traits Trump has displayed in his year in office.
He has attacked our free press and endeavored to stifle dissent. He has called for the investigation of his political opponents. He has fought -- and possibly obstructed -- investigation into his own acts and the acts of his subordinates. He has scapegoated immigrants and minorities. He has engaged in rank cronyism and kleptocracy. He has, at almost every turn, praised dictators and strongmen. There is a palpable sense of envy to such praise.
Is it any shock, then, that Trump wants to hold a military parade? Is there any doubt what is motivating him? The only thing in doubt about the whole affair is whether he'll show up to it wearing some gaudy quasi-military uniform of his own making, demanding to be addressed as Commander-In-Chief until the last missile rolls down Pennsylvania Avenue.
While there is much to criticize in our history and while we have often failed to live up to our own ideals as a nation, historically speaking, we have preferred to think of ourselves as a nation that speaks softly and carries a big stick. That Trump would rather we wag our stick around like this is not at all surprising, but it's not in keeping with the American tradition and American ideals.
I doubt there is anyone in a position to offer this man actual constructive advice these days, but on the off chance there is someone he listens to, I hope they tell him how idiotic this all is.