It was starting to get obvious that “thoughts and prayers” weren’t really working — not with some 185 kids and teachers dead and 369 wounded in shootings at 331 American schools in the 23 years since the Columbine massacre birthed the catchphrase, used most often by lawmakers desperate to wash the NRA-sponsored bloodstains off their corrupt hands.
After learning late Tuesday that a troubled 18-year-old who celebrated his birthday by legally buying two semiautomatic murder machines had gunned down 19 fourth graders and their two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, leaving corpses so badly mangled they could only be identified with DNA, the best minds of today’s Republican Party and a few Democratic enablers needed a new approach.
Something sensible like raising the legal mass-killing-machine purchase age to 21 — like for a can of Bud Light? Heaven forbid.
Even the stuff we call “common sense” gun laws like stronger background checks were a bridge too far. (“Common sense” being America’s euphemism for tepid and only somewhat effective.) Instead, America’s Top Cowards™ used the Uvalde massacre to workshop a brand-new slogan: “horrified and heartbroken.”
At 5:17 p.m. Tuesday, Tennessee GOP Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Second Amendment zealot who won her seat in 2018 with a whopping $1.25 million in donations from the NRA, tweeted that she was “[h]orrified and heartbroken to learn of the significant loss of life” in Texas.
Just 40 minutes later, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — who has wielded the minority power of the filibuster to kill any and all new gun laws or regulations — tweeted that he was “[h]orrified and heartbroken by reports of the disgusting violence. …”
And exactly 40 minutes after that, Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema — who unlike Blackburn won her seat in 2018 promising voters she’d vote for gun-safety legislation — also tweeted that she was “horrified and heartbroken by the senseless tragedy. …” But apparently Sinema is neither horrified nor heartbroken enough to change her position against ending the filibuster that empowers McConnell and his NRA buddies, a position that has been oiled with billionaires and corporate lobbyists writing large campaign checks to the fallen ex-Green Party progressive.
The vapid tweets are just one part of a series of familiar rituals seemingly intended to numb the citizenry in the world’s only developed nation that has mass shootings — let alone mass shootings of schoolchildren — on a regular basis.
But then something started to happen, right around the time the TV channels started showing the first photos of smiling 10-year-olds.
People got mad. Really mad.
Something snapped in the America psyche on the afternoon of May 24, 2022. Raw, unvarnished anger was no longer that thing to be suppressed, for many of us. Anger felt virtuous. Anger — even, or especially, up in the face of those hypocrites claiming to be so horrified and heartbroken — suddenly felt right.
Because it was right.
‘When are we going to do something!’
It wasn’t totally surprising when a teary-eyed NBA coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors — who’s spoken out against gun violence and racism in the past, and whose father was shot to death by terrorists — told his pregame news conference in Dallas that he couldn’t talk about basketball, not after the shooting on the other side of Texas. “When are we going to do something!!” Kerr exclaimed as he pounded the table and poured out his angst. “I’m so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families.” And he didn’t stop there, calling out McConnell and his Senate allies by name.
You can’t start a fire without a spark. Around the same time, Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona — seen by many as a 2024 replacement for the now wildly unpopular Sinema — read a tweet quoting Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz that Democrats were bound to “politicize” the mass killing and just went off. He fired back a four-letter invective at Cruz, adding that “you care about a fetus but will let our children get slaughtered. … You are useless.” To make sure that folks understood he had no regrets, the congressman then dropped more F-bomb-laden tweets on Cruz and the NRA.
By Wednesday it felt as if Kerr and Gallego were laying the groundwork for even more rage. Especially from Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman and presidential candidate now running against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has fought to weaken gun laws in the Lone Star State even after high-profile mass shootings in El Paso and at Santa Fe High School. In Uvalde, O’Rourke stunned a news conference featuring Abbott, Cruz, and other top politicos by approaching the stage and yelling that a mass murder was “totally predictable” under the GOP governor’s policies. After law enforcement escorted the Democratic candidate out, a visibly angry and emotional O’Rourke raised his voice around reporters: “Why are we letting this happen in this country?!”
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The central premise of President Biden’s 2020 campaign, after all, was restoring some type of comity to America after the tiki torches of Charlottesville and the chaos of the Trump years. In announcing his campaign in the spring of 2019, Biden insisted: “I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time.” It wasn’t, though. Donald Trump left, but the intolerable conditions that helped create him — including a sick gun culture and growing acceptance of Big Lies over basic truth — continue to get worse. Are you mad? Because I am so … you know the word … furious as I type this.
Why are we letting this happen in this country? It’s been 9½ years since we saw the angelic faces of kindergartners and first graders who were slaughtered in Newtown, Conn. Nine and a half years since we watched in astonishment as our government did nothing, and we knew that this unspeakable pain would be inflicted again and again.
I choose anger
Now there are just two ways to go.
One is depression and despair, which is exactly what millions of Americans are understandably feeling at this moment. But that’s exactly what they — the gun merchants, the false prophets, and the political hucksters — want, isn’t it? To numb you to their oppression. I reject their despair. I choose anger — righteous, focused, nonviolent rage against the machine of death and denial that gave us the loss of life in Uvalde, Buffalo, and cities and towns all across the country.
I’ve seen in my lifetime that the most dysfunctional families aren’t the ones that fight all the time, but the ones who keep it bottled up inside. And there’s no more dysfunctional family in the world right now than 331 million Americans. When the supposed-to-be-buttoned-down Steve Kerrs and Beto O’Rourkes of this nation can no longer be silent, or even civil, that is not a bad thing. Nor is it “politicizing a tragedy,” as you will hear again and again.
It is, hopefully, the start of healing — an intervention by moral people to bring our country back.
The images from Uvalde should make you so angry that you’re probably not sure where to focus this energy — and that’s OK. But in the days and weeks to come, we must transubstantiate our anger into action, because we can’t wait anymore for Washington or Harrisburg or anyone else except ourselves.
So, yeah, surround that NRA convention in Houston and shut the whole place down — no less a wild-eyed radical than Gen. Russel Honore, the Katrina hero, has endorsed this — and maybe try to levitate the building in the spirit of Vietnam War protester Abbie Hoffman. Maybe it’s time for teachers and students to walk out and stage a strike, since our leaders can no longer guarantee their safety. Maybe we should all stage a general strike, since money seems the only thing that makes politicians listen.
The question you must ask yourself is: What are you willing to risk when the present becomes intolerable?
One of my heroes, the late activist Mario Savio, said famously in 1964 when he was fighting for the free-speech rights of young people at Berkeley, that “there’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part! … And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus — and you’ve got to make it stop!”
It’s 58 years later, and I am so sick at heart — and mad as hell. We’ve got to make it stop. Who’s with me?
» READ MORE: SIGN UP: The Will Bunch Newsletter