“It’s necessary to let people from Red America lead the way, and to show respect to gun owners at all points. There has to be trust and respect first. Then we can strike a compromise on guns as guns, and not some sacred cross in the culture war.” Brooks wrote.
Brooks’ nudge to reach across to those on the other side of the aisle, shake hands and then get down to the business of solving the gun problem in America hasn’t been particularly well received.
“Yet another exhibit in the endless case @nytdavidbrooks has been making for himself as the most tone-deaf and dunderheaded columnist at the paper of record.”
To be fair, I can find Twitter responses that hate Santa Clause. But this time it was a little easier. Because I think Mr. Brooks was pretty far from the mark. Not because people shouldn’t be respected. He’s right about that.
But because respect won’t change anything.
Mass shootings have changed the gun debate from a sideshow cheat button, handy for firing up one’s base, to a real live societal problem that needs a solution. We haven’t quite figured out how to let go of the political debate though. And we shouldn’t underestimate the influence that politics has on a people’s ability to not do things they ought to do. We can get it wrong for a long time in the name of politics.
Just think of the state of American healthcare.
We rarely just snap out of our broken beliefs and collectively wake up. We hang on for dear life until our politics are overcome by forces outside the realm of normal political discourse. Politics is an irrationally sticky business.
Our political leanings, as fully formed adults, are usually firmly planted in our heads by about the time we’re 14. Not in the form of politics. Instead, in the form of a vision of what “right” looks like.
Political beliefs are the matching game that follows.
Which things look or feel like the ideals I have in my head?
Which ones represents shocks to those ideals?
It’s how one can be equally fervent pro-life in terms of abortion and pro-death penalty in terms of justice. That mental model of “right” involves accountability. Accountability for crimes. Accountability for sex.
The narrative engine in our head gets to work on cleaning up any logic or moral gaps in the model that ensue.
I’ve lived on both sides of the cultural divide in America and witnessed both ends of the narrative engine. As a vet, I spent most of my professional life attached to Special Operations Forces fighting radical Islamic terrorists. I’ve also spent the last seven years in the touchy-feely warmth of the Silicon Valley tech sector. I’m familiar, painfully so, with the size and scope of our societal rift.
Nowhere is that rift more obvious then when progressive minded people blame the NRA for the gun culture in America. Or when conservative minded people blame the liberal media for giving a platform to children who just survived a mass shooting to voice their concerns about the ubiquitous presence of American firearms.
Neither side can believe that rational people, if left to their own devices, could come to the conclusions that represent such a shock to their own ideals. The narrative engines gets to work on an explanation that it must be the external forces of evil at work on the minds of good people.
They just can’t see it otherwise.
In the wake of yet another mass school shooting, it may be hard for many American’s to believe there’s an organic gun culture in America not fed by the greed of gun manufacturers or the power lust of politicians.
There is though.
It’s rooted in the conservative belief that each person has the right to arm and defend themselves. That guns are not just necessary evils. They are objects that represent the empowerment of the individual.
People who hold this belief are not ok with school shootings. But they view them as a result of a broader societal rot, where faith and family have a diminished place in the lives of Americans. Where people have kids they don’t want with people they don’t care about. Where guns are not only not the problem but instead are an even more essential enabler of the core task of taking care of our own in an ever decaying society.
The matching game must meet the standard of an American willing to do what is necessary to stand up to the evils of the world and protect what is ours.
The narrative required for it to work is bleeding all over my social media feed right now.
Extending the olive branch, as Mr. Brooks suggests, isn’t going to change it.
Three days after the shooting in Florida Black Rifle Coffee tweeted out the following.
This is a coffee company.
It’s who they are.
They are veteran owned. They employ veterans. As far as anyone can tell, they are good and decent people—a net societal positive. And they see nothing wrong at all with anything displayed above three days after a mass shooting that killed 17 school children.
They are a coffee company using guns as the defining theme of their brand for something as unrelated as a hot caffeinated beverage.
…add one cup of coffee to the matching game.
The other day, while waiting for the Apple store to fix my phone, I wandered over to the Barnes and Noble across the street to kill some time. Browsing the non-fiction session I came across two full rows of books by Special Operations vets. A half dozen of them were by men I worked with. Men I knew. They’re great human beings. Duty bound patriots, worthy of every ounce of respect they get.
…add one book to the matching game.
Our ideals rarely change. They get replaced by new ones in the minds of the generations that follow.
I grew up under Reagan and served during 9/11 and the never ending wars against the broad coalition of outsiders to which America assigned blame. The kids on stage this week at a town hall in Florida from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will grow up with Donald Trump in the White House in a world where 10 kids a month get shot in a school. The picture of the ideal America, formed by the experiences they have, will look very different than yours and mine.
And that’s how things change, if ever.
…remove one gun from the matching game.