On the Benefits of Distortion for Political Profit in Tragic Contexts

Harbingers in grey

Another terrible tragedy involving the combination of mental problems and firearms; of course, immediately politicized.  After all, Congressional elections are less than nine months away.  As with anything today, the mainstream media immediately blamed President Trump (who I personally oppose but neither fear nor hate).

This time the shooting was purported his fault because he agreed with a Congressional majority that regulations adopted at the very end of the Obama administration (and thus not applicable during the Obama presidency) requiring public dissemination of information concerning mentally ill or mentally deficient individuals that could, among other uses, restrict their access to firearm purchases, be suspended.  The regulation was also actively opposed by the liberal American Civil Liberties Union which in a letter to members of Congress wrote: “We oppose this rule because it advances and reinforces the harmful stereotype that people with mental disabilities, a vast and diverse group of citizens, are violent.”

No disclosure of the foregoing in mainstream media reporting though, or in the barrage of Democratic Party criticism, they instead presented the suspension of the regulation as a deliberate GOP ploy to increase firearm related deaths.  As they make clear to anyone who’ll listen and to many who won’t, “all Republicans eat babies for breakfast” which is why their uncrowned Queen refers to them as the Deplorables.

Given the proclivity for distortion nowadays (I just engaged in a bit for illustrative purposes), I’ll make clear at the outset that I do not believe people with issues that make them likely threats to society ought to have guns but I do believe that facts, rather than politicized distortion, should form the basis for public discourse and political decisions.  That is rarely the case today given the mainstream media’s obsession with imposing Clinton – Obama model Democratic Party leadership over us all (think Nancy Pelosi from whom I receive multiple daily donation requests) at every level of government, and by necessary implication, creating devastating scandals out of every decision or action by the Trump administration, its members or even acquaintances, without regard to its nature or to its coincidence with historic Democratic Party policies or practices.  All non-Clinton – Obama model Democrats, whether independents, members of third parties, or even non-conforming Democrats are Deplorables too.

The regulation in question potentially impacted access to firearms by people with mental disabilities was one of many adopted at the very end of the Obama administration and thus, surprise, surprise, not applicable while Obama was president (despite being based on legislation passed at the end of 2008).  Thus, like so many of Mr. Obama’s last second “initiatives”, it seems primarily a propaganda ploy for future political campaigns.  It would have required the Social Security Administration to send records involving social security beneficiaries receiving benefits involving mental disabilities (so much for the sanctity of their social security related privacy) to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. About 75,000 people found mentally incapable of managing their “financial” affairs without any indication of violent proclivities would have been affected[1].  States can already report those individuals to the NICS database used by federally licensed firearms dealers to screen for prohibited gun buyers and, as of Dec. 31, 2016, there were more than 4.6 million active records in the NICS database for people with “adjudicated mental health” issues, according to FBI data.[2]

I understand the issue well.  Unfortunately.  My younger brother, an army veteran, is among those to whom this regulation would have applied.  For a time I was called on to serve as his legal guardian, a horrible experience for us both.  He posed no danger to anyone other than to his own financial wellbeing but he couldn’t vote, or marry, or even drive without my consent.  The rights of the mentally impaired, like the rights of former felons are all too frequently and unjustly impaired by well-meaning busybodies of all political persuasions.  That’s why this overreaching Obama era regulation was suspended with American Civil Liberty Union support, not because of a desire to increase gun sales.

Of course, as with almost everything the Trump administration does, the mainstream media distorted the suspension of the regulation to make such suspension seem monstrous and insane rather than merely involving political premises with which many of us disagree; as though we cannot be trusted to base our decisions on real facts and honest discourse but need to be manipulated into voting in a manner our intellectual and moral betters, based on their own political premises, deem best.  No thank you Mrs. Pelosi, and Mrs. Clinton, and Mr. Bezos, etc., etc., etc.

Conflation of disparate issues to distort their meaning or application has become an art form, and an effective one.  Many of those I love and respect on all sides of the political spectrum have been manipulated into incoherent political attitudes, members of my own family prominent among them, which makes it all the more urgent for me and others who want the real facts, who eschew manipulated political posturing, not to lose hope, not to despair despite the criticism and sophomoric ridicule heaped upon us by both the cynical and the naïve.  The issues involved are just too real, too important.

The problem of school shootings and other mass shootings in the United States are desperately real and horrible.  We lament their consequences with heart rending despair and immediately cast blame on political opponents for fun and profit.  Some of us, the worst among us, immediately and cynically use the tragedies for political fund raising purposes (I’ve already been deluged with requests for donations).  But the real causes of these horrible incidents are virtually ignored.

As President Trump but also many others have noted, causes primarily involve mental aberrations and the causes of such mental aberrations include how our children are raised, the nature of our entertainment industry with its focus on violence in movies, video games, etc.; our culture of problem resolution through violent intervention abroad and at home; all too recurrent incidences of police violence and violence by military veterans whose psyches have been deliberately altered in training to accept violence with equanimity; and, of course, the proliferation of weapons, including firearms, based on a constitutional premise no longer applicable, the idea that our first line of defense against foreign aggression is based on citizen militias like the legendary Minute Men, rather than on standing armies, navies and air forces.

The problem will not be resolved unless all causes are addressed and the political animals who bombard us with divisive and polarizing Identity Politics are driven from leadership roles.  Firearms, one of the means used to inflict murder and mayhem on our most innocent and most vulnerable are not even the symptoms of the problem.  Taking away all guns won’t resolve the crisis.  All the talk about the United States being the only country where incidents like these occur is pathetically foolish and in many cases deliberately misleading.  Do we really not know about the massive incidence of violence in the Middle East using improvised explosive devices, or in Europe using trucks and cars?  But providing reasonable gun regulations will certainly help to ameliorate the current situation.

Isn’t it time to get serious and move the issue from the realm of political polarization to that of social reconciliation and mental health care?

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2018; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.  The information in this article is inspired by a Facebook post by my friend Ron Sprovero and highlights how distortive the mainstream media is, how deceptive, how dedicated to misinforming us rather than to helping solve critical social ills.

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 guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.

[1] “Adjudicated as a mental defective” means people who — “as a result of marked subnormal intelligence, mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease” — lack the mental capacity to manage their own affairs, or are a danger to themselves or someone else. It also includes people found insane by a court in a criminal case, or found incompetent to stand trial, or not guilty by reason of lack of mental responsibility.

[2] That joint resolution suspending parts of the Obama regulation didn’t affect all “people with severe mental illness,” as television comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s tearful comments involving the recent Broward County tragedy suggested. It merely rescinded the Social Security Administration rule requiring the agency to report to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System disability applicants unable to manage their finances due to a mental health condition.  The rule applied to “a narrow group of people who have been determined by the Social Security Administration to lack the capacity, on the basis of a mental disorder, to manage their affairs, specifically their benefit payments.

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