November 5, 2017, another mass killing in the United States, this time in a small Texas town. The vultures swoop in. Well, actually, that metaphor seems normal, natural, that’s what avian vultures are for, but the human variant, well; … that’s another thing, or at least it should be.
First thing the human vultures do is start debating about why this killing is not labeled a “terrorist” act, seeking to widen the racial gulf among us, as though they couldn’t tell the difference between domestic problems and international conflicts. Polarization seems the only thing that matters, and, of course, blaming the Russians. Then the issue of gun control versus gun rights, another great wedge issue to divide us, somewhat more complicated this time as, evidently, a gun owner came in to avert an even deadlier incident and caught the “bad” gun owner. The “bad” gun owner was a dishonorably discharged Air Force veteran, discharged due to a conviction for family abuse. Imagine that, he’d somehow become uncontrollably violent.
Perhaps the sickest thing in our polarized society relating to this incident is how, as reflected on social media, we’re mostly concerned with what the “bad” gun owner’s political perspectives were so we could gain a bit of discursive political advantage, seemingly unaware that it plants us squarely in the human vulture’s nest, demanding our fair share of political blood.
I participated in legal forum last Friday, presenting a paper on how judicial constitutional review has led to the politicization of the judiciary, not only in the United States, but in the Republic of Colombia as well. During a break, a bright young student asked me about the Second Amendment in the United States. Unfortunately nowadays, almost always a timely topic.
I explained that, from my perspective, the Second Amendment was an anachronism utterly distorted by both its opponents and supporters, a vestigial remnant from an era when an American empire was envisioned only by the most Machiavellian among the founding fathers (think the current Broadway icon, Alexander Hamilton) and his opponents naively believed we’d stay an agrarian society without a standing army, following Washington’s advice about avoiding foreign alliances or adventures. Thus, national defense was to be based on organized state militias with the citizenry providing the weaponry.
The premises for the Second Amendment have, of course, evaporated and a strict reading of the “arms” we are to be permitted to bear would now include nuclear weapons, aircraft carriers, intercontinental missiles, etc. Certainly fully automatic assault weapons too. Or else, none of them, state organized militias now being a mere memory. Of course, the Second Amendment is one thing, a thing that has nothing to do with hunting or target practice or personal defense. American culture is another, and culture is the basis upon which governance is based. Even more so, culture in a federalist context involves differing values and norms in different areas based on majority consensus subject to limitations necessary to preserve both liberty and pluralism. And of course, the common welfare, shouldn’t forget about that although it’s now normal to do so.
The student walked back to the audience as the break ended and I started preparing for the ensuing panel discussion. I was joined by a distinguished Colombian jurist (he’d been president of the Council of State) and several other academics with varying perspectives. The jurist surprisingly echoed my observations concerning the dysfunctionality of the politicized justice system in Colombia and was surprised by my observation that, for both historical reasons and new politically based distortions, the situation was even worse in the United States. Much, much worse, worse because of petulance and distilled greed. I suggested to the group that the political premises that had, with one significant interruption (the Civil War), kept our social, cultural and political differences from impacting a tradition of respect for electoral decisions, were now apparently sundered; coups being not only openly discussed and plotted, but, abetted by treason-prone political opposition, mainstream media and intelligence community. That in fact, it could well be that a slow motion “soft-coup” (as if any coup could be soft) was actually in process. Whether it would succeed or not was an open question but what was probably undeniable was that our system of respect for electoral traditions was gone in a holocaust of Identity Politics-bred polarization, and that a dictatorship from one side or another smelled like too distinct a possibility.
We did not discuss the issue raised by the student directly, one unfortunately all too timely today, and not just today, one seemingly relevant every week, guns and mass murder having become a norm rather than an exception with polarization rather than solutions the obvious goal on all sides.
When the student had asked about the Second Amendment he’d brought up the undue influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and I’d responded that I believed that to be a canard. To me, the fact is that the NRA does not create public opinion but rather reflects the deeply held views of a segment of the American populace that can neither be ignored nor belittled into changing their libertarian perspectives, but that were polarization and Identity Politics for political purposes not the goal, reasonable compromise, especially in a federal setting was probable.
You might ask what all this had to do with my presentation at the conference. Well, the answer is that the student wondered why, in a system where the United States Constitution had devolved into a politicized effluvium, really the antithesis of a constitution (where permanence and stability are the goals), replaced by the political foibles of a group of five among nine oligarchs, those five people didn’t just fix the problem. A damned good question and my response was reflected in my discourse, that because of the method for selection of the federal judiciary the identity of those proposed had become a primal political topic during presidential elections and that when that was combined with the lack of respect in the federal judiciary for constitutional concepts, replaced at all levels by political considerations, the topic was just too politically charged for a functionally non-existent federal judiciary to resolve. Part of my discourse had involved the new trend where federal judges of limited territorial jurisdiction issue orders that purport to be binding nationally on non-parties, thus rendering possible hundreds of conflicting orders, not really a problem when the goal was disruption of the political branches. Pretty cool until the game is played against political branches of which one approves. Political branches, you know, those we elect, rather than those imposed upon us.
What a sick state of affairs everywhere in our polarized polity. Perhaps it is the divine’s punishment (assuming the existence of a divinity, something of which I am very uncertain) for two and a half centuries of hubris and hypocrisy and legalized murder come back to haunt us. To either put us in our place or, to create an armed asylum where the inmates kill each other off, leaving everyone elsewhere somewhat more at peace.
We desperately need mirrors in which to reflect on who we are, how we’ve become this way and why. Our neighbors seem fine, as a People, in most respects we seem not only worthwhile but caring and noble, but as a polity, we seem insane and self-destructive, led there by an ignoble mainstream media and omnivorous political class that sees us as no different than cattle, cattle still in need of herding but being bred to go willingly into the automated killing bins in automated slaughter houses.
So, while we pay hysterical attention to the horrible symptoms of our social disease, symptoms manipulated to keep us divided into opposite herds running headlong into each other, the causes sit comfortably watching the show and egging us on, asking for a few more political donations, a dollar at a time, to defeat their evil twins.
And our massacres continue, here at home and much more so abroad. The living dead seeming a more and more viable option as each day passes.
You know, for lawyers, it’s not all bad. Attitudes are changing and rather than Shakespeare’s “first let’s kill the lawyers”, it is becoming more and more likely that the attitude today is “first let’s kill the ‘journalists’”. Lawyers may even have moved to the third item on the agenda, following “the politicians”.
So, … about “House of Cards” on Netflix. Did you hear the latest news about Kevin Spacey? And what about Melania’s shoes? Outrageous!!!!
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen). Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.