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Sticking to Our Guns

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Hot Springs, Arkansas, July 17, 2015
Danny Johnston/AP Images
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Hot Springs, Arkansas, July 17, 2015

Acres and acres of trees without a single leaf. Their bare branches appear startled. There’s a feel of defeat in the air. Rusty cars, partly disassembled refrigerators, washing machines, and other junk in backyards hidden till recently by that rich foliage, leaving people’s homes looking as if they’ve been caught collectively with their pants down.

It’s presidential primary time in the United States, when truth is spoken sparingly, if at all, and many pressing problems facing this nation are completely ignored. You’d think, with more than one mass shooting per day in this country that on average leave four or more people injured or dead; with more than sixty school shootings in 2015 alone; with gun murders in the United States occurring at nearly thirty times the rate they do in the UK, where firearms are strictly regulated; with sales of guns in America, even now, after the San Bernardino massacre, breaking every known record, that the Republicans could bring themselves to address the issue seriously. But no, all they can bring themselves to say to the families of the killed is that their loved one will be in their prayers while they tell the rest of us that if only there were no gun-free zones anywhere, and if only every American was packing heat at all times, none of the massacres, like the ones in Paris, Oregon, Colorado, and California, would have taken so many lives. As far as their usual excuse that it’s a mental health problem and not a problem of the easy availability of guns, I’d agree that these shooters are crazy, but so are the politicians and voters who let people turn their homes into arsenals and equip themselves with military-type weapons designed solely for the purpose of mowing down crowds. These gun enthusiasts have forgotten the fundamental house rules of human co-existence: Don’t brandish a weapon in their faces.

Still, to wake up every morning with the thought that Donald Trump, who is to build the world’s longest wall since the Great Wall of China along the border with Mexico and deport more people than Stalin and Hitler ever did; and the soft-spoken Dr. Carson, who solved the mystery of Egyptian Pyramids and compared Syrian Muslim refugees to “rabid dogs”; and Senator Rubio, who thinks the September attacks and the recent massacre in Paris were part of God’s plan for the universe; and Ted Cruz, who wants the Statue of Liberty to hold a sign saying, “Christians only”—the thought that these men may be all shaking hands somewhere close by, ought to make mine and everybody else’s lives here during the primaries perpetually thrilling, but somehow it doesn’t seem to.

The truth is, one rarely runs into the candidates nowadays. Years ago they were hard to avoid. One would be having a haircut and George McGovern or Richard Nixon would barge in and rush over to shake your hand. Today you walk into a shopping mall some weekday and what do you see? Just some teenagers playing hooky from school, a few elderly couples trying to warm themselves, and lonely sales people standing around and dying of boredom in empty stores. If you were to shout, Where is Hillary Clinton? They’d look at you as if you’ve gone mad. In my little town I saw only one Trump sign, one Carson for President, and one for McCain/Palin put up recently either by a prankster or someone genuinely nostalgic for the great men and women the Republican Party nominated once upon a time.

The coverage of our elections, too, is no help. It has a fairy tale feel to it. Our national press pretends that they are dealing with men and women of principle, offering carefully thought-out solutions to our nation’s problems, rather than groveling servants of billionaires who finance their campaigns; and that the voters these candidates try to persuade in the primaries are well-informed and well-meaning Americans and not people who by and large get their information from Fox TV and hate radio. “Lobotomized by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage” is how a friend describes a neighbor of his. In other words, someone unreachable by anyone who doesn’t believe that Obama is a Muslim or a Communist, that Planned Parenthood dismembers living children and sells their body parts for cash, and that Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden had a pet dinosaur.

Every country in the world has dimwits and crooks in politics, but no country treats them with greater respect than we do—or with such gutlessness. Some con man who claims on a Sunday morning talk show that global warming is a hoax and every scientist who claims otherwise is faking it, or argues that if the rich in this country paid no taxes, their wealth would trickle down to the rest of us, is treated with respect and mildly queried, without being reminded that what he is proposing has not only been discredited repeatedly, but known back in the old days as the horse-and-sparrow theory of economics: If you feed the horse enough oats, some of them will pass through for the sparrows.

Screw the consequences, is what they are all saying. Neither our past nor our future interests them. Some foreigner unfamiliar with our ways may wonder why these people running for president are not pressed to answer how, with the many wars we have already fought and the many wars they recommend fighting in the future, we will avoid the fate of every other empire and nation in history that set out to fight the entire world. But we know that they are not likely to be asked about that. Nor will they be queried about war profiteering, the disappearance of billions of tax payer dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan; nor about Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and some of our other so-called allies in the Middle East who we’ve been selling tens of billions of dollars of weapons to, and who are themselves supporting the jihadists in Syria; nor about the US firearms industry and its huge and growing profits; nor about the incitements to violence against illegal immigrants and Muslims by some of their fellow candidates. It’s the total lack of accountability in our political system, where incompetents, crooks, and war criminals not only get rich but continue to have their advice sought everywhere, that makes one lose any hope that any of these disastrous and suicidal policies can be reversed.

“Daddy knows best” is what autocrats everywhere say to their followers, whom they intend to keep in a state of childlike helplessness and ignorance. Thus Donald Trump—whose fans swoon hearing him say something like that and grew positively ecstatic recently when a Black Lives Matter protester who objected was kicked, punched, and choked at one of his rallies—was able to say afterwards that he was sorry that the protester wasn’t roughed up some more. And he is not the only one. There’s Cruz, too. Their rants remind me of the nationalists in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, for the very simple reason that the repertoire and the vocabulary of nativist bullies is limited. Wherever they come from, they not only all sound alike, they often look alike.

My friends assure me that neither Trump nor Cruz have a chance of becoming president and I tend to agree, though, thinking back to Yugoslavia, I recall how many intelligent and otherwise kind people fell for some vile nationalist and tried to convince me that we needed a tough man for tough times, and how this fellow may be a little rough at the edges, but he is honest and in this historical moment we all have to get behind him. One beloved aunt of mine even tried to convince me that Milošević was good-looking. I was speechless. I thought for a moment I hadn’t heard right, and asked her to repeat what she said. It was like hearing your mother or your sister say to you that she thinks Donald Trump is cute.