Friday, May 4, 2018

Pence and Trump at the NRA

Today Mike Pence and Donald Trump spoke at the NRA's convention in Dallas. Amidst the absolute shitstorm of the Trump administration it was easy to miss, but very important.

This year has seen the biggest youth-driven protests since the Vietnam War, all calling for gun control. In the face of a popular outcry that has mobilized millions, politicians who are concerned with public opinion might feel some responsibility to move away from their unpopular opinions, pay lip service to those aggrieved, or even just to keep their mouths shut on the topic. Now, in the face of protest, the president and vice-president went straight to the NRA to pledge their fealty. This would have been surprising even in normal times; the last president to address the organization was Reagan. The vice president even openly stated the NRA's most infamous talking point "the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

The president went on one of his patented rants, railing about witch hunts and attacking the justice system for daring to investigate him. He did this in front of an organization that disseminates radical right-wing propaganda through NRA TV. These were the "second amendment people" he referred to threateningly during the 2016 campaign, implying that they would do violence against Hilary Clinton. These were the people "warmed up" for the president's speech with videos played in the convention hall attacking Black Lives Matter and journalists.

Now let's play a game. Let's imagine we are behind the veil of ignorance in an unnamed country. If the leader of that country went to an organization advocating gun proliferation, whose convention attacked political dissent and the press, and that leader spent his speech ranting against his enemies, how would we view it? This certainly does not sound like the behavior of a democratic leader. It sounds like a despot. Imagine the headlines if a leader in a foreign country did this: "Embattled Leader Condemns Rule Of Law In Speech At Radical Reactionary Meeting." 

In a subtle way, Trump and Pence's trip to the NRA is a sign of our democracy's death. In a nation crying out for limitations on guns, nothing is going to happen to answer those cries. Some of this is rooted in contempt for the political opposition, but some of it comes with the knowledge that our system, as currently composed, currently allows minority rule.

Trump is president, despite losing by three million votes. The House is gerrymandered eight ways from Sunday. The Senate gives outside power to small, conservative states. The Supreme Court remains in conservative hands after the Senate refused to move Obama's nominee forward. The right is well aware that they are in the minority, but also that that doesn't matter. With the levers of government rigged, with massive infusions of Koch cash able to swing state-level elections, they know that they are not about to lose power anytime soon.

The only possible short-term solution is for those of us in the disempowered majority is to organize organize organize and flood the polls in November. I am afraid that the momentum of the gun control movement after Parkland has already been lost. The other side is organized and ruthless, and we are still, even at this late day, divided and in disarray.

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