How to avoid sinking into cynicism and despair as the chaos and violence seem to sweep through US society? The first step is to understand what is happening and why. Trump and company would have us believe it’s simply a matter of “evil” individuals, while the liberals say that the solution is simply gun control. In reality, the real underlying reasons are much deeper and reveal a lot about US capitalism:
- The legitimation of racism and xenophobia.
At a rally last May in Florida, a Trump supporter called for shooting those who cross the border from Mexico without documentation. Trump made a joke of it. A few months later, he paused to encourage the chants of “send her back” regarding Representative Omar. Trump used this sort of rhetoric to get elected, he legitimized it, and words have consequences. In the first year he was in office hate crimes increased by 17%. This year, it is even worse with 255 mass shootings (over one per day) leaving 273 killed and 1,067 injured.
- The legitimation of narcissism and bullying.
Trump has encouraged violence at his rallies. He also sets the example for narcissism and bullying. His rallies as well as his tweets and other forms of messaging have helped stoke making violence legitimate.
- War and mass murder
War is organized mass violence and mass killing. The United States has been at war for nearly 20
years – ever since 9/11. Any time a country goes to war, the ruling class has to create a war fever, and that’s what’s become the norm in the US – a low grade war fever. This entails becoming numb to the death of “others”. Forget about Trump for a minute. Under Obama, “capture or kill” Islamic terrorists and alleged terrorists, which in reality meant simply “kill” became the norm. When US ally Saudi Arabia bombed and killed an entire wedding party in Yemen it was no big deal. When US forces kill innocent civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan, that is simply “collateral damage”. If a society becomes numb to the killing of others overseas, that will inevitably become part of the culture at home too. That is doubly true for the United States. As, former civil rights leader H. Rap Brown said, “violence is as American as cherry pie.”
Studies have shown that compassion and empathy are basic survival instincts. (See Oaklandsocialist’s review of the scholarly book The Compassionate Instinct.) This is the instinct that allows a herd of antelope react en masse when one member of the herd goes on alert when it sees a lion on the prowl. It means feeling what others are feeling.Capitalism in general, but especially capitalism in the United States, encourages individualism, selfishness and greed. That was what the Reagan (counter) “Revolution” was all about. Advance yourself as an individual and leave the next person lying in the gutter.There is another element to this: Like all other mammals, humans communicate by far more than word alone. Not only touch, but also facial expression, tone of voice and general body language are involved. But many of the mass shooters fell down the rabbit hole of mainly living in and communicating through the cyber world.For example, Patrick Crusius, the accused mass shooter in El Paso, reported that he spent eight hours a day on the computer when he was in high school.
- The role of the union leadership.
It may sound strange to blame the union leadership, but blame them we must. It has always been the collective struggle against the oppression of capitalism that has brought millions of ordinary people together. In the US, this has included the Civil Rights movement, the movement against the Vietnam War, and more recently the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements. There have also been the various strikes. But especially in recent years these struggles have been sporadic at best. Meanwhile, the union leadership has added to the choir of selfishness. Every union leadership has defended any policy that might add immediate jobs to their industry and opposed whatever might not. The United Auto Workers union, for example, joined the auto industry to oppose more stringent auto emissions requirements. The building trades leadership is infamous for supporting every single construction project, no matter how damaging to the community or the environment, just so long as it is built union. This has affected the consciousness of a layer of union members.Further, the union leadership has been missing in action as far as the wider social movements. A black UAW member in Ferguson reported (to this writer) that his local leader had told him that “this is not our battle” regarding the police murder of Michael Brown. That general attitude has discouraged workers from seeing their individual issues as being part of a larger whole.While the editors of the NY Times called for the mobilization of all wings of the capitalist class – including preachers, tech companies, and banks – the AFL-CIO was silent once again.
Where from here?
So, yes, the prevalence of assault weapons as well as the obsession with guns by millions of people here are a problem. But it goes much much deeper than that.
After all these mass shootings, the preachers and politicians gather people together for candle light vigils. Instead, what’s needed and what’s possible is for people to come together in public places to talk about what they think is happening and why. A public speak-out, in other words. Not some new-age touchy feely event, but simply standing back and trying to figure things out.
Who knows what could develop from that?