Charlottesville Has Upset the Applecart
By Mike Booth
How Much of a Threat Is the Right to Bear Arms?
I’ve been following for most of my life, as I suppose most of us have, the debate/controversy/conflict over Americans’ second amendment right “to bear arms.” In the end I decided to shelve the issue along with cholesterol, transgenders in the military and monosodium glutamate in everything. It seemed to me, frankly, something of a tempest in a teapot. Sure, the odd teenager raised on Prozac would shoot his entire family and liquor stores would have to reinforce their security measures, but I couldn’t conceive of gun-toting Americans posing a life-or-death threat to their own country.
Then, at auto-accident speed, three events occurred:
- A mixed group of white supremacists, Nazis, Klansmen and other right-wing sympathizers paraded, armed to the teeth, through a small Virginia college town called Charlottesville.
- President Donald Trump, in his trademark stumble-bumble way, expressed tacit support for this “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally, which included a murder, by distributing the responsibility for the disorder equally between the gun-toting demonstrators and the unarmed counter-protesters.
- Right-wing talk-radio tzar, Newt Gingrich, pronounced on the air the ominous phrase, “civil war.”
This conjunction of three loosely associated events changed everything. Now we’re not looking at law-abiding citizens who feel the need for a gun in their homes to protect their families from intruders, nor enthusiastic fathers who want to share with their teenage sons and daughters the joy of trudging cross country and shooting at rabbits with .22 rifles.
We’re Looking at Qualitative Change
Charlottesville is not just another unfortunate incident. We’re looking at a nationwide—east to west and north to south—collective of more or less heavily armed citizens who have just heard the President of the United States endorse out loud, however indirectly, an armed mob of hard-core American white supremacists. This should come as no surprise as he’s been courting them for years. They played a truculent role in his presidential campaign (not unlike that of the Sturmabteilung or “SA” brownshirts in Germany between 1921 and 1934). Nonetheless, I was surprised. Nothing had shocked me so much since living through the coup d’etat attempt in Madrid in 1981.
Fair enough, we know that President Trump is impulsive, that he is narcissistic and unenlightened, but we never expected to see him virtually cheerleading a nascent alt right putsch in George Washington’s home state. David Duke, high priest of the Ku Klux Klan, is on record as saying, “We are determined to take our country back.” That would have sounded like a hollow threat a couple of weeks ago. Today it sounds frankly menacing. Awakened and emboldened not only by the President’s leniency/approval, as well as the spectacular press coverage, all of the rag-tag (and some not so rag-tag) alt right elements in the United States have suddenly become aware of their own sinister “importance.”
What’s to Contain Armed Dissent?
So the stage is set and the lines are drawn more clearly than at any time since Lincoln’s Civil War. The White Supremacists (Let’s start capitalizing them. They are now a force to be reckoned with.) are on the march, along with a variegated collection of other armed loonies. What’s left of the Left doesn’t have any guns and it wouldn’t make much difference if they did. Can you imagine Noam Chomsky, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren wielding Bushmaster sniper rifles? Neither can I.
What’s next? That’s the question. The only thing standing between some sort of “normalcy” in the United States and an alt right armed uprising are the country’s democratic institutions: the Executive Branch, the Congress and the Courts. Due process of law has seen the country through some trying times since it last broke down in the first half of the 1860´s. Will democratic processes stand firm this time?
Actually, there’s some doubt. As you will recall all three branches of the American government today are firmly in the hands of the right. Just how “alt” that is remains to be seen. But before we can even begin to guess the outcome of a theoretical showdown between armed “patriots” and the government we must first consider the fourth factor in the democratic mix.
To what extent are American democratic institutions actually democratic—a government of, by and for the American people? After decades of unscrupulous politicians and businessmen undermining the democracy, there is no clear answer to this question. Between the machinations of low people in high places—the gerrymandering, pork barrel schemes and unlimited political “donations” the incumbents employ to stay in power and the outright purchasing of government influence and the almost absolute control of the mass media by big business interests, the democratic legitimacy of the U.S. government is wide open to question. And let’s not forget that Supreme Court justices are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. So much for the court of last resort, the hollow cherry on top of the democratic sundae. The greatest irony in all of this is that all these dubious mechanisms for grabbing, holding onto and, ultimately, wielding power would be illegal in any other western democracy. In the United States they are perfectly legal. Self-perpetuating legislators with their snouts in the corporate troughs have seen to that.
What is to be Done? Who Knows?
I’d like to end these reflections on a positive note, but I can’t see how. Even if it were possible to impeach and convict a dishonest and incompetent President, there are layers of equally radical alt right elected politicians in the line of succession beneath him, and not all of them are stupid nor incompetent. Perhaps the most frightening question of all is: If push came to shove, whose side would the police and the armed forces be on?
As for me, I have no idea how to go about sorting this mess out. I’ll limit myself to pointing it out.
Where is Gary Cooper when you really need him?