Thursday, September 19, 2019

Why Beto's Long Game Just Might Work

 "We're coming for your guns" may be what we need to hear.

Of all the candidates running for president on the Democratic side, Beto O’Rourke stands out as the maverick, the rebel, the “I don’t give a Flying F” guy who doesn’t pander and doesn’t cower. He’s got a mouth like a drunken pirate and he revels in it. (His campaign is selling tee shirts that say, over and over, “This is F — ked up”.)

Beto is the guy who almost took down Ted Cruz in 2018. That was big. He’s a Texan who speaks perfect Spanish, who waves his arms and bounces around to the point of distraction, but can handle comparisons to the Energizer Bunny because, well, he’s energized.

By rights he should be a force to be reckoned with — he’s young, earnest, charismatic, Kennedyesque— but so far there have been no real poll surges. Nothing that would suggest he might have a chance. It’s a crowded field and there are other more adept stars who tend to dominate the stage.

But Beto is a force. He shows up on the border, near tears as he reports on the conditions in the refugee camps. He boldly rails against white supremacists from his perch in Texas, a state known for its love of guns and rage, and he minces no words when he talks against Donald Trump. (Tell us how you really feel, Beto.)

He made it clear just days after the August 3 shooting massacre in El Paso, where 22 people died in the district Beto represented in congress for six years, that he had no interest in running for the senate. It’s the presidency or nothing, because he knows only the power of the presidency will allow him to make radical change.

The shootings hit him hard. He took a two-week break from campaigning so he could be with his people in Texas. He went to funerals and visited victims still hospitalized. He gave blood. He listened to horrific stories told to him by victims and survivors, as well as the doctors trying to repair bodies savagely shredded by bullets meant only as the ultimate deterrents on a battle field.

It changed him. He’d had enough. And, as usual, he was going to say so.
In every public appearance, his fury was palpable, his tears near the surface, as he zeroed in on the proliferation of weapons of war in a culture so fearful of “others”, reports of armed white madmen going on deadly rampages have become commonplace.

Beto made a wrenching decision: He could no longer ignore the need to get those weapons out of the hands of anyone who wanted one. No more “We don’t want to take your guns away from you”, as he had earlier promised, however reluctantly. Now, without equivocation, his message is laser-beamed on the absolute removal of military-style weapons from the hands of private citizens.

In an August 22 editorial, he startled everyone by putting in writing what no politician had ever dared. He wrote,
On Aug. 3, my hometown of El Paso, Texas — one of the safest cities in America — was attacked in one of the deadliest mass shootings in our country’s modern history. This was an act of white nationalist terror, and one we could have prevented.
All countries have video games. All countries struggle with mental health. All countries deal with hatred. But only America has more guns than human beings — 390 million firearms in a country of 329 million people — which kill nearly 40,000 people every year.
Some of the nurses, surgeons and doctors heroically treating victims at Del Sol and University Medical Center in El Paso told me they hadn’t seen such horrific wounds since they were deployed abroad in our armed forces, saving the lives of soldiers on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq…
… That’s why, as president, I would institute a mandatory buyback of every assault weapon in America.
He didn’t say “every gun”, he said “every assault weapon” and he’s careful to make that distinction every time he repeats his promise. On August 31 he was in Charlottesville when a reporter asked him how he would address the fears of people who were afraid he really would take away their assault weapons. He said without hesitation:

“I want to be really clear that that’s exactly what we are going to do. Americans who own AR-15s, AK-47s, will have to sell them to the government. We’re not going to allow them to stay on our streets, to show up in our communities, to be used against us in our synagogues, our churches, our mosques, our Walmarts, our public places.”

And at the presidential debate held on Thursday, September 12, he said again, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47, and we’re not going to allow it to be used against your fellow Americans anymore.”

It’s clear he means it. He may, in fact, have blown any chance at the presidency, but he has accomplished what he set out to do. He's establishing a radical idea, and radical ideas have to start somewhere.

He has started a dialogue that will build momentum, and as it builds, the idea of an all-out ban on assault weapons will become less radical and more accepted. Millions of us want to see it happen. None of us knows how it would be possible. That’s the next step: figuring out how it can be done.

But first things first. A political leader has said out loud what hundreds of political leaders are saying behind closed doors — we must get assault weapons out of the hands of ordinary citizens. We can’t rely on licensing, or background checks, or even statewide bans, as in California, when gun purchasing is so accepted, so easy, that any restrictions can be readily sidestepped. Literally anyone can buy a gun. Sellers are waiting to accommodate. Enough of them are willing to look the other way. The only solution, as far-fetched as it seems, is an outright ban.

The blowback to Beto’s insistence on an assault weapon ban is fierce, as he might have expected. Members of his own party are praising his honesty while not quite getting there yet. Both Kamala Harris and Corey Booker have plans to do away with assault weapon sales but they’re swimming in red tape, trying to be all things to all people. They aren’t nearly as convincing as Beto. Yet.

Some colleagues, like Delaware Senator Chris Coons, are afraid he’s playing right into the NRA’s hands. He told CNN’s Poppy Harlow he’s worried about Beto’s debate comments:
I frankly think that that clip will be played for years at Second Amendment rallies with organizations that try to scare people by saying that Democrats are coming for your guns.
And, as expected in this culture now, Beto is getting death threats, like the one from a Texas state legislator who tweet-warned, “My AR is ready, Robert Francis”, invoking Beto’s real name, doubling as a reminder of what happened to Robert Francis “Bobby” Kennedy.

But the message is indelible now: If we want to end the massacres we have to ban military-style assault weapons. Beto O’Rourke did this for us and, while we may not reward him with the presidency, this is how he will be remembered. As the leader who finally cut through the bullshit and gave it to us straight. He opened the floodgates and, as with every radical idea, we’ll need to get used to it. Already Adam Schiff is calling for petition signatures to reinstate the assault weapons ban. (kuuuuu)

Joe Biden is reminding voters in a tweet that he worked on banning assault weapons before and he’ll do it again as president:
25 years ago this week, Senator Feinstein and I led the charge to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. We beat the @NRA and got it done. As president, I’ll do it once again. We will get these military-style weapons off our streets.
Kamala Harris is pushing a red flag law that will allow the temporary seizure of guns in the hands of White Supremacists showing signs of acting on their threats. (Key word: temporary.)

So, if we’re lucky, Beto’s Democratic colleagues will get braver. They’ll test the waters to see if they can survive the onslaught. They’ll waffle until it seems safe. They’ll yell as if they mean it, and then they’ll add exceptions to keep voters happy. But all the while Beto will be howling to be heard and his message will stay the same.

In time, the notion of an assault weapons ban will become not just acceptable, but necessary.

In time, the howling will be coming from the other side. And when the ban is in place, when military guns in the hands of private citizens becomes a painful memory, when statistics show the number of lives we’ve saved — by the thousands — we’ll wonder what took us so long.

. . .

(Cross-posted at Crooks & Liars)

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Eighteen Years After: We Remember 9/11

Today marks the 18th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.  Eighteen years have passed -- more than a decade and a half -- but for those closest to the terror, for those whose loved ones were caught in that unimaginable rage storm, for those who trained for this, who mobilized and fought so hard to try and save the lives already lost to them, we pay tribute by refusing to forget.

The pictures are all that is left.  They stay with us and resonate as terrible, beautiful works of art.

The agony of the men and women who could do nothing but stand by and watch the towers fall reflected and drove home our own agony -- even those of us in the hinterlands who watched the horrific events unfold on our TV screens, helpless to do anything but gasp and moan and rock with a kind of psychic pain most of us had never felt in our entire lifetimes.


As painful as the dredging up of the images of that terrible day is to us, there is no sense of dread as the annual anniversaries approach.  Every year, on September 11, we want to remember.  9/11 has become a watchword.  Nobody in America has to be told what those numbers represent.  

  Every year on this anniversary, in a ceremony to honor the dead, family members gather for the recitation of the names of the men and women lost to us on September 11, 2001.  The names are being read alphabetically.  For one brief moment the people live again.  We do this for their families and for us.  They're not just numbers or actors in an unimaginable event that became the catalyst for change, altering our lives forever.  We need to keep their memories alive in order to recognize their humanity, and possibly our own.

We remember.

We remember.

We will always remember.

Monday, September 9, 2019

The President’s Mission: Let Him Entertain You

Trump loves schlock, shock, and chaos, especially when the theater is on fire.

Image: Reuters
Remember that day in mid-June, 2015, when Donald Trump rode his golden escalator down into the depths, digging deep into a Chaplinesque version of Benito Mussolini as he announced he was going to run for president and not only save a dying America but build a great wall and make Mexico pay for it ? Remember how we laughed? 

I wasn’t the only one who saw his imperious ride down the escalator as tongue-in-cheek performance art, a bid to push that crazy idea he’d been tossing around for years — a run for the presidency — and,what the hell, give it another shot. He drew the cameras and the crowds, and his addiction for attention got the hit of all hits.

Remember his nonsensical attacks on President Obama, pretending he had proof Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii but in Africa, where Trump’s agents were already scouring the countryside, talking to people who, he said, swore they remembered his birth, swore they saw the future president in swaddling clothes? Remember when he promised to reveal all? Soon?

He knew he had nothing. WE knew he had nothing. But he got the attention he craved and he rewarded us by giving us something to talk about.

Getting attention is everything to Donald Trump. He craves attention and it’s an addiction that consumes him. He ran for president, not because he and he alone had to chops to get the job done, but because he craves attention. (It’s clear he never expected to win. It was never his intention.)

When he saw he would be just one of 12 other candidates on the debate stage, he knew he couldn’t compete politically so he chose to do the thing he does best: He went all entertainer. He built an act around teasing and tormenting his fellow candidates. He called them silly names. He made airy promises that nobody in their right mind believed. When he wasn’t painting the government as weak and inept, he was sloshing bright red MAGA paint all over a government he portrayed as dark and sinister.

People — even those who saw right through him — sat up and took notice. The press loved him. The deplorables loved him. And he loved that he finally found something that would make them love him.
Nothing excites Trump’s Vaudevillian brain more than a rapt audience. So to that eternal question, “Is he serious?” — no, he’s not serious. This is what he lives for.

When he uses the words “beautiful” and “fun” in totally inappropriate sentences, (“Kim Jong Un writes me the most beautiful letters”. “Are you having fun? This is fun. Right?”)he wants us to be entertained. It keeps us from looking beyond his carefully built caricature to see how ugly his ugly side really is.

But he’s a weak man, a pretender, and he can’t go on hiding his weaknesses behind a clown face forever. He is not a president. He’s not even a comic example of a president. He’s a menace because he isn’t serious, and he isn’t serious because that would require studying and contemplation — two things this president works overtime avoiding.

His only function is to keep the Trump legend alive. We knew before he was president that he’d go to any lengths to promote himself. We knew, for example, that he became “John Barron” and sometimes “David Dennison”, pretending to be his own press agent. We heard the tapes of his phone calls and recognized not just his voice but his distinctive speech patterns. We knew it was him. He denies it.

We knew he was dishonest and corrupt and given to fits of red hot revenge, but if we thought we could shame him by exposing him, we learned early on it was a lost cause. He feels no shame, no remorse, no regret, no guilt. Any human feelings were long ago replaced by his need to build the character he plays into someone the world would see as heroic.

We’ve suspected there’s something more — that he’s not all there —but we keep waiting for the constitutional checks and balances to kick in. It stops being funny when this president uses his formidable powers to attack and destroy at will, and counts on his popularity to keep the madness going.

Under his watch real people, including refugee families held at the border and often separated from their children, are suffering in ways so horrific we want not to believe it.
Under his watch the economic and military experts, the scientists, the teachers — the country’s caretakers — have been labeled inept and rendered useless.
Under his watch our infrastructure and our safety nets are disappearing.
Under his watch thousands of brown-skinned hurricane victims have been left to die.

We’re in deep trouble, but in order for Trump to keep it from seeming as impossibly awful as it is, he has learned to go for the giggle. How bad can he be if he can make people laugh?

So when he says he wants to buy Greenland, or be president forever, or maybe even be God’s chosen one, he anticipates the deliciously satisfying fuss and he can forget for that moment that he may someday be indicted for various criminal activities, that history will not be kind to him, that the stage lights will dim and the crowds will disappear and he’ll go back to being that Donald Trump that nobody liked, that Donald Trump that everyone saw as a joke.

It’s those last laughs that will finally get him.

. . . 

(Cross-posted at Indelible Ink