Only hours after the murders in Charleston, as if the horror itself wasn’t enough, the reprehensible reactions from the right made me feel like rolling into a ball and crying.
When the president said, “this type of violence doesn’t happen in other countries,” I knew, as sure as the planet is warming, that, despite his next sentence, “It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency,” the damage was done. Right-wingers jumped on it like Chris Christie on a tuna sandwich. Now we can talk about Obama politicizing, coming for our guns, and, as usual, ignore the heart of the issue. And ignore it they did.
“This is an attack on religious freedom,” preached Rick Santorum. “There are people out there looking to kill Christians,” warned Lindsey Graham, presumably from under his bed. Jeb Bush couldn’t imagine what the motivation might be, nor could Gov. Nikki Haley; Marco Rubio couldn’t either, but managed to reaffirm his faith in the Second Amendment. Rand Paul intoned, “It’s people not understanding where salvation comes from.” Ted Cruz said that Christians across the country were mourning the loss, not bothering to mention anyone else, while Rick Perry referred to it as an “accident,” and blamed prescription drugs. Predictable as December rain, the NRA blamed the assassinated minister. On Fox “News,” Steve Doocey found it beyond his capacity to understand how anyone could call it a hate crime. “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country,” said the killer to a parishioner before opening fire, his clothing in online photos bearing flags of apartheid countries. “You have to go.” Online, he was even worse. (See: tinyurl.com/pw7wllk) No. He wasn’t talking about Christians.
A slog through right-wing websites found them excreting the whole loathsome litany: It’s a hoax, a “false flag” excuse for confiscating guns and imposing Sharia law. Obama is a Nazi, Jews control the media and Obama planned it. There was more, lots more. I’ll spare you the rest. But the message is clear: We’ll not talk about race, we’ll not talk about guns, but we will revel in our ignorance and call it truth. What produces such people? How does their hate get that strong, their denial so pervasive?
NRA-bullied legislators are too cowed even to consider reducing access by criminals and the mentally ill to guns. And what does it say about our culture that the man’s parents chose to gift him with one, given his history? (Of course, you don’t come to embrace those views in a vacuum.) We know it’s not racism though: The right has informed us it is no more. The Confederate flag? Not about racism, but proud heritage. If you’ve forgotten on what heritage the Confederacy was founded, their vice-president stated it very clearly as the Civil War began, and maybe we need a reminder. (See tinyurl.com/oqmugdr) After the murders, the Confederate flag flew at full mast in South Carolina.
Why is it so hard for today’s Republicans to admit there might be a problem with racism in this country? They’re all moochers, they tell us. When there’s violence, they were “asking for it,” “no angels themselves.” They’re “thugs.” It’s whites who are victims. “Laziness is a trait in blacks,” recently said Donald Trump, who’s amazing. So-called conservatives have no problem claiming Obama is “divisive.” When might they concede that Foxolimtrumpian rhetoric has an effect, too? It’s as if they think that even uttering “racism” will cause their throats to constrict and their brains to leak out of their ears. What are they so afraid of?
There goes Obama, dividing us yet again, wail “conservatives,” outraged. Yet when their leaders hustle the Christian persecution pretense on which, in the absence of workable policy, they’ve chosen to run, that’s just fine. Clearly it’s impossible for a once-great political party even to consider that gun violence needs addressing, or that, despite Barack Obama’s election, racism might still exist, and I wish I understood why. If both sides are politicizing, liberals are pointing out actual problems, while today’s “conservative” leaders are pushing phony claims of a war on religion. And nothing will change. With half the country in denial, choosing ignorance on this and on so much more, nothing will ever change. Who wouldn’t weep? Who wouldn’t despair for our country?
Sid Schwab is a surgeon and Everett resident. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.