July 5, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

In ‘safe’ Highland Park, white-power violence finally comes for respectable white people 

Will they blame the Republicans or will they turn to them for protection against the anarchy and chaos that the Republicans created?

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There was another shooting massacre over the weekend, this one in Highland Park, a picturesque, affluent and majority white suburb of Chicago, where mass violence of the kind experienced during a Fourth of July parade isn’t supposed to happen on account of Highland Park being picturesque, affluent and majority white. 

Mass violence of this kind is supposed to happen in places like Philadelphia, which did experience a shooting during a fireworks display, sending hundreds of spectators fleeing, but that has gotten none of the attention that the Highland Park shooting has gotten on account of Philadelphia, which is mostly Black, being where violence is supposed to happen on account of being mostly Black.

Evidently, Robert E. Crimo III doesn’t get it. 

Shooting massacres, one way or another, are a reaction to the politics of liberal democracy that made it possible to elect the first Black president, who was no longer subject to the law but instead the enforcer of it. 

The 22-year-old, who appears to be white, perched himself atop a building along the holiday parade route with a “high-powered rifle” to shoot into the crowd, killing six and wounding 40. Per the Post:

“At least two long bursts of rapid gunfire left five people dead at the scene and sent hundreds of people fleeing in panic, leaving a wake of overturned lawn chairs, coolers and strollers. … One spectator, a father, put his young son in a dumpster for safety as he scrambled to find and shield other family members while bullets rained down.” 

I’ll talk more about the shooter after the story has been reported out. The details of his case don’t matter, however, as much as the larger social contours they fit in. All shooting massacres, in one way or another, are a violent reaction to the politics of liberal democracy that made it possible to elect the first Black president, who was no longer subject to the law but instead the enforcer of it.

That’s not possible for those who see “the law” as white.

So impossible, they feel crazy.

Shooting massacres are the result of “the natural order of things” being turned upside down in a country where “the law” is not the law so much as the law is a white man with a gun. In such an upside down world, it’s only “natural” for some Americans (ie, usually white men who cannot and will not tolerate “their country” turned upside down) to seek “justice” by “taking the law into their own hands.”

This pattern has held steady since at least 2012, after the Sandy Hook massacre, when the Republicans made a permanent choice. They could do the truly conservative thing – enact laws that would regulate the distribution of firearms for the purpose of promoting the general welfare and securing the blessings of liberty for all. Or they could recognize the obvious – that liberal democracy and the rule of law in the hands of a Black man had become the enemy. 

The Atlantic’s David Frum once famously wrote that “if conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.” 

That’s close, but more precisely: if the champions of white power become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon white power, nor will they only reject democracy. 

They will go to war with it, replacing law and order with anarchy and chaos so that respectable white people themselves doubt democracy and support the GOP’s goal of militarizing civil society for the purpose of protecting white power against liberal democracy.

Since 2012, the GOP has built on the structures of white power already in place in police departments around the country. (These structures are why cops arrested Robert Crimo without incident, but shoot Jayland Walker 60 times, killing him, for no crime at all.) 

They radically expanded the number of people with the authority to enforce the law by deputizing every white man willing to wield a gun. They got around the old constraints on law enforcement that were acceptable to respectable white people by resorting to vigilantism. 

With easy access to guns, and permission to carry them virtually anywhere, Republicans created conditions for wave after wave of mass death that has for years been tearing apart civil society. 

I don’t think the respectable white people who populate places like Highland Park are champions of white power. If choosing between a liberal Democrat and a fascist Republican, they’d opt for the former. 

But respectable white people, who determine so much of the direction and scope of our national politics, are nonetheless the principal beneficiaries of white power. They are the property owners. They are the bourgeoisie. They are the social class that elected officials turn to when seeking a respectable position on any given issue.

As the principal beneficiaries of white power, respectable white people are more often than not insulated from or immune to the consequences of the Republican Party’s decision to go to war with democracy. (It’s a one-sided war that involves “soft targets” like parades.) They are, that is, all the way up to when they are not.

I think that’s the case with the Highland Park massacre. 

White-power violence first came for brown immigrants, then Black Lives Matter, then LGBT-plus people. And now, finally, it has come for those who had least expected it. A survivor told USA Today that “if this can happen here, I promise it can happen anywhere. This is the last place I would ever imagine something like this happening.” 

Per the Post:

They had thought the area was so safe.

Martinez-Vicencio thought so, too. In the aftermath of the May mass shooting at a Texas elementary school, her biggest fear had been sending her daughter back to class this fall.

But after hiding from the shooter at the parade, and then having to avert her eyes from the carnage as she and her daughter fled, she had a sudden realization.

“Nowhere is safe,” she said.

Will respectable white people understand that the Republicans are responsible for the chaos and anarchy, for the upheaval of the established order? Or will they turn to the Republicans to protect them from the chaos and anarchy that the Republicans created?

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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