Donald Trump is President-elect of the United States of America. Regardless of the popular vote, he won the election according to the rules in the Constitution, according to the way the States have, to this point, apportioned electors to the Electoral College, and according to how the vast majority of electors have voted when the College convened in the past. Regardless, for the time being, of whether the Electoral College is an archaic artifact, it is part of our system for choosing our president.
Assuming the States and the College follow the patterns of the past, Donald Trump will be the President of the United States. And he will be my President, whether or not I voted for him, whether or not I approve of him. During my time as a voting citizen, my candidate has not always won: city council or school board, mayor or state treasurer, assembly member or member of congress, president. Still, they won the election, and that made them my councilor or board member, my mayor or treasurer, my assembly member, representative, or senator, my president.
I disapprove strongly with much of the rhetoric of the Trump campaign (and with some of that from the Clinton campaign, for that matter). The question is, then, where to from here? How do we heal the country, how do we protect those made more vulnerable by the campaign rhetoric?
Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president of the United States, quoted from the Gospel of Mark, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Similar statements are in the Gospels of both Luke and Matthew.) Despite very deep divisions in this country—around race, around economics, around sovereignty, around slavery—he strove for unity. He strove for unity from before he was even nominated for the presidency. Conflict occurred only as an absolute last resort. When Lincoln forged his cabinet, he built a team not of solely like-minded people, but of those with a diverse set of views and politics. He presided over the most divisive period in our country’s history, the most deadly, the most damaging.
He tried to heal the country.
Ronald Reagan, another Republican president, delivered an impassioned address in West Berlin, at the Brandenburg Gate, in which he implored, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” He sought to bring peace, unity, and freedom to a divided nation, to a divided world, and was cheered loudly and long by those in West Berlin.
George H.W. Bush, a third Republican president, spoke of his desire for “a kinder, gentler nation,” one of compassion, understanding, and cooperation, one with acts of goodness.
Melania Trump has said she will work as First Lady to reduce online bullying. Let us hope she does, this and more.
Donald Trump campaigned on a rhetoric of anger, of mistrust. He encouraged racism and bigotry, his words were those of misogyny and prejudice.
What concerns me as much as—even more than—Mr. Trump’s election is the way so many Americans accepted Mr. Trump’s words and his tone. I have read explanations of the election result that focus on his conservative-populist economic message, on his appeal to those in this country who see globalization as a threat to their well-being, especially their economic well-being. Those explanations might be spot-on, but they don’t ameliorate my concerns over the responses to the hate-filled campaign speeches, tweets, etc.
Whereas there is little question of what a Trump executive branch can do, with no collaboration from the other two branches of the government, on issues such as the environment and immigration and trade and foreign policy, and whereas some of those can be so damaging as to be difficult at best to reverse, I am yet more concerned about what I saw in this country during the campaign: not out of Mr. Trump, but out of the American people.
Too many responded positively to the rhetoric of racism, bigotry, misogyny. Too many did not vigorously condemn these words, did not come out strongly in support of those being marginalized and demonized: women, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, people of color. Too many among the Republican leadership, especially, implicitly accepted the rhetoric of scapegoating the other by not explicitly and vigorously decrying it.
And too many people at the Trump rallies loudly supported his hate-filled rhetoric.
I think it is not hyperbole to look at the parallels of 1933 Germany, for all who can be labeled as other.
In an interview with Leslie Stahl of CBS’s 60 Minutes, Mr. Trump said, to those who committed and commit acts of violence and intolerance, especially those who do so in response to his campaign rhetoric, “Stop.” Mr. President-elect, keep it up. Keep telling those whose hate against the other was inflamed by the campaign rhetoric, “Stop.” Keep telling those whose hate against the other existed before they heard that rhetoric, “Stop.”
Mr. Trump, follow in the path of President Lincoln and recognize the country is badly bruised, that people are afraid. Help heal our country’s soul.
Mr. Trump, follow in the path of President Regan, and do not build a wall! Help build unity, and with it, freedom.
Mr. Trump, follow in the path of President Bush and strive for a kinder, gentler nation.
Mr. Trump, listen to your wife’s words and work to reduce bullying—online and offline.
Let us stand with all who are other. We can support those being bullied, marginalized, made the target of scapegoating. We can ensure they—we—never stand alone. We can put pressure on our country’s leadership—all of that leadership—to repudiate the rhetoric of the other.
“I’m the NRA, and I vote”—for sane, reasonable, rational control of private firearms purchase and ownership.
I’ve been a target shooter for over forty-five years. For about a dozen of those years I competed seriously, in and after college, including at the U.S. national championships and the Olympic tryouts. I’ve been coached by multi-time Olympic and World Champions. I won a half-dozen state shooting championships in three different states. I coached and taught others to shoot and to improve their shooting. For me, “gun control” means improving my ability to hit as close to the center of the paper target’s concentric rings as I can, more and more consistently.
I was in my early teens when I got my first target rifle, a .22 cal. Anschutz Model 64. Later in my teens, I became a life member of the U.S. governing body for the competitive shooting sports, the National Rifle Association. Among the NRA’s primary missions then were the promotion of competitive shooting, preservation of and continued access to open lands conducive to enjoyable and safe hunting, and firearm safety. Having come to enjoy the outdoors, thanks in large part to Scouting, I strongly supported those three missions.
Something has happened in the intervening years.
The NRA’s mission has been perverted.
Firearm safety? Where is there the promotion of firearm safety in advocating the arming of elementary school staff?
Firearm safety? Where is there the promotion of firearm safety in the insistence of allowing private ownership of magazines capable of holding 30, 40, 100 rounds of ammunition?
After the murders of children and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, the NRA had the perfect opportunity to show national leadership on the political stage. After those murders, more than any others in many years at that time, the call for change was broad, deep, and loud. After those murders, the NRA could have taken the lead and said, “It’s more than enough: it’s too much. Something must change. We must change. We, the people in the United States, must change how we think and how we talk and how we listen about private firearms ownership. We must change what we see on screen, what we glorify, what we promote, away from ever more realistic, ever more frequent depiction of violence—especially with firearms.”
Instead, only a few weeks after those murders, the NRA endorsed a new first-person shooter video game—a game that inures its players to using violence. Instead, the NRA declared that we should deploy armed guards in our schools. Instead, the NRA’s leadership dug in its collective heels and vehemently opposed any meaningful change in our discourse, our country’s laws, and even our psyche.
The dialogue must change. The tenor of the discourse must change.
It’s not that the most recent 102 more victims—49 more dead, 53 more wounded at Pulse nightclub in Orlando—were young. It’s not that the most recent 102 more victims were part of a specific community, the Latino community. It’s not that the most recent 102 more victims were part of another specific community, the LGBTQ community. It’s that the most recent 102 more victims were people: forty-nine more people who died and fifty-three more people who were wounded by a lunatic. A lunatic who used a gun.
I don’t care whether the gun was legal in Florida or not. I don’t care whether the configuration of the rifle was legal or not. I don’t care whether the murderer possessed that firearm legally or not. After all, the murderer didn’t care. Neither did the victims—or the families and friends and colleagues and communities who survive them and mourn them, or those recovering from their injuries and the trauma of the attack.
How we talk about gun violence in this country must change. How we talk about any violence in this country must change.
How should it change?
Stop glorifying violence.
Start passing and implementing further reasonable controls on private firearm ownership. Unlike what perhaps the NRA would like us to believe, there are already restrictions on private firearm ownership in the U.S. Those can be extended without impeding hunting or competition (except competitions that focus solely on those firearms). There are already restrictions on some people’s ownership of firearms in general. In fact, Franklin Orth, who was NRA Executive Vice-President during the Congressional debate on the Gun Control Act of 1968, supported a ban on mail-order sales, stating, “We do not think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States.” (Lee Harvey Oswald purchased the rifle he used to murder President Kennedy by mail—legally, at the time—and one of the provisions of GCA 68 banned mail-order firearms purchases.)
I think we could make similar statements about many of the firearms used in large-scale multi-victim murders.
GCA 68 has not been ruled unconstitutional. The Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, also known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, is no longer law not because it was unconstitutional, but because of a ten-year sunset clause and Congress’s unwillingness to renew the law in 2004. (In 2004, the Republican Party held a majority in the Senate and in the House, and George W. Bush, a Republican, was president.)
Laws will not change the behavior of those who break them. It is already illegal to murder someone. A law prohibiting possession of an instrument of that murder is just one more law.
Why pass more laws, then?
Because it will begin the change we need. Legislation can be a continuing catalyst to changing the way we talk about violence and violent crime in the United States. Legislation will not be a short-term fix: there are no short-term fixes, and that’s a big part of the problem. The United States, as a nation, has a short attention span. The United States, as a nation, would rather see a quick fix that’s minimally effective than a long-term fix that actually works. But, there is no quick fix for this problem. Fixing this problem will take a generation.
Just because we cannot fully resolve the problem does not free us from beginning the work.
Does the Second Amendment guarantee the right to private firearm ownership? The United States Supreme Court has said it does (in District of Columbia v. Heller—a split decision of 5-4). How broadly can “…shall not be infringed” be interpreted? Not beyond the limits of GCA 68. Within these bounds lies the area for discussion. Within these bounds—not at the one pole of complete prohibition of firearm ownership and confiscation of all private firearms, nor at the other pole of utterly unfettered private access to all firearms of any type—lies the area about which we must talk and listen, listen and talk.
The conversation must move from one of sides and camps and entrenchment to one of compromise. Compromise and cooperation are the only ways that we can solve this problem. Any other route will, at best, result in a small and short-term change instead of a lasting change. Along the way, the conversation must, especially, focus on our national psyche, on changing our society from one which promotes and glorifies violence to one which does not.
“I’m the NRA, and I vote”—for sane, reasonable, rational control of private firearms purchase and ownership, for sane discussion, for listening, for compromising, for reaching a viable and workable middle ground, for changing the way we talk and listen, for beginning to change our national psyche.
Friday evening, I went to the San Francisco Symphony with a good friend. On the program were Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto and Bruckner’s Third Symphony. With my friend on my left, I had a couple of women to my right: it looked to be a woman in her thirties or very early forties, and a woman older, maybe in her late sixties or early seventies, perhaps the younger woman’s mother or aunt. As sometimes happens, the younger woman, who happened to be between the older woman and me, and I struck up a bit of a conversation.
She mentioned she didn’t really know Bruckner. I commented that, though I’ve enjoyed Bruckner’s music for many years, I had recently learned a new way to approach and appreciate his music, from the “Explore the Symphony” podcast published by the NAC Orchestra of Canada. (In that podcast Marjolaine Fournier and Jean-Jacques van Vlasselaer discuss the composer and piece featured in an upcoming concert.) The episode in question was on Bruckner’s Ninth, but much of the time, van Vlasselaer and Fournier discussed the composer, and Bruckner’s work in general. Regarding Bruckner’s music, as the synopsis of the podcast explains:
Words like “epic” and “timeless” are regularly applied to Bruckner symphonies. They have a pace of their own. But let yourself get in synch with their pulse, and you’ll be richly rewarded.
During the podcast, the notion of that pace was discussed at some length. Van Vlaselaer and Fournier explained that one must be patient with Bruckner, and the conductor must understand the necessary patience. The discussed that with Bruckner, it’s as much about the spaces between the notes as about the notes themselves—not about the silences, but about the spaces.
I liken it to differentiating between a theme being built note by note, chord by chord, as opposed to being built measure by measure. Bruckner’s progression are longer than those of most composers, his themes more expansive.
I explained some of this to my seat neighbor, noting especially that one must be patient with Bruckner’s music and let it develop. She likened it to the way one must be with a cat.
That doesn’t feel right, but at the time I couldn’t come up with another analogy that worked. It’s certainly not like a typical dog, eager to please, eager to be with you, wanting your companionship as much as you want its.
Later, well after the concert, it hit me.
Listening to Bruckner is like whipping cream.
With Bruckner, you cannot be a passive listener. You have to go get the music as it comes to you. It will come at its own pace, but once there, you need to go get it—actively.
When I’ve whipped cream by hand, with a whisk, I nearly became discouraged and quit—except I needed the whipped cream for the dessert. I whipped and whipped and whipped—and nothing happened. And I whipped and whipped and whipped some more—and nothing happened. And I whipped and whipped and whipped and whipped and whipped and whipped and whipped some more—and still, nothing happened. So I whipped and whipped and whipped some more.
Voilà! Whipped cream!
Suddenly, when the cream was darn good and ready, it became whipped cream. Almost instantaneous was the transformation.
Such is Bruckner. You cannot be passive. You have to go get it, and go get it, and go get it as it comes to you. And then, almost all at once—yet lasting an hour—it’s there.
After the concert, my neighbor told me she enjoyed the piece. I hoped that my very brief explanation helped her. I, also, enjoyed Blomstedt’s conducting and the orchestra’s playing. There were many smiles in that hall, both among the audience and on stage.