December 18, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Sandy Hook, the GOP and massacre politics
Mass shootings are political violence.
The leaders of the Republican Party are now slowly recognizing publicly that Joe Biden is going to be the next president of the United States. While that may seem reassuring to those with an abiding faith in democratic institutions, it shouldn’t be that reassuring. The more the GOP leadership moves forward, preparing itself to face a Democratic administration, the more Donald Trump’s insanest followers are going to feel betrayed. The more they feel betrayed, the more they are going to act violently.
I have no doubt about it. The pattern was established in the 1990s. Whenever there’s a Democratic president, there’s mass violence of one variety or another, some of which is transparently political, as when Dylann Storm Roof entered an AME church in Charleston to murder Black people kneeling in prayer. Most mass shootings are not transparently political but they are nonetheless inherently political. They reflect something sinister in our society, something deeply paranoid yet deeply entitled, and ready to kill itself if that’s what it takes to kill its mortal enemy, whoever that is.
The Republicans looked away from a viral plague as they looked away from a plague of mass violence and death.
That’s the context. Add to that events of the present: a president refusing to concede while flunkies attempt to execute a coup d’etat; close allies inside and outside the government urging him to declare martial law. Add to that context events of the past: Trump’s victory by way of Russian sabotage; the insistence that investigations into Trump-Kremlin relations are part of a conspiracy deep in the government attempting to depose him and the confederate nation-within-a-nation for which he stands; the logical transmogrification of that conspiracy theory into one that now ensnares even Trump’s appointees to the US Supreme Court; and leading Republicans, such as US Senator Rand Paul, who give oxygen to it by accusing Biden of stealing the election.
During Trump’s tenure, he encouraged violence against political enemies broadly interpreted by the perpetrators of mass violence to be anyone who was not among the “real Americans” living in the confederate nation-within-a-nation for which the president stood. Anti-Trump protesters were mowed down in Charlottesville in 2017. Jews were massacred in Pittsburgh in 2018. Immigrants, and the urban setting they and their white liberal allies lived in, were targeted for elimination in El Paso in 2019. In each case, leading Republicans never pointed a finger at Trump. Instead, they sought cover on ground that was sacred to them, the Second Amendment. The occasional spasm of violence, some actually said, was the price of our freedom.
By the time Trump took office, the Republicans were practiced in looking the other way. They looked the other way when the previous Democratic president asked them to join efforts to save the US economy from collapse; when the Russians helped Trump beat Hillary Clinton; and when the Russians pulled off the biggest hack in our history, including the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees our bomb stockpile. They continued before and after Robert Mueller all but named Trump in the commission of federal crimes punishable by law; when the president involved a foreign leader in an international scheme to defraud the American people; and when the Senate Republicans acquitted him, as if they did not see the treason in front of them.
The worst time they looked the other way was when the new strain of the coronavirus arrived. Since March, the covid has killed more than 318,000 Americans and infected millions more. This past week saw more than 3,000 deaths per day, with the daily equivalent expected over the next 60 to 90 days despite a vaccine being rolled out and another waiting in the wings. More people have died from the covid pandemic than all who died fighting in the Second World War. By the time this is all over, more Americans will have died than all who died fighting in all foreign wars combined.
The Republicans have looked the other way during a viral plague just as they looked the other way during a plague of mass shootings and mass death, a plague that will grow in intensity under a Democratic president even as the viral plague subsides. And they will continue looking away even as they stoke the paranoia and entitlement that inspires people to to kill themselves in order to kill their enemies, whoever they are.
I haven’t hoped much for reform since Dec. 14, 2012 when 20 first-graders were shot to pieces at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a few miles down the road from where I am writing this, in Newtown, Conn. I don’t see much reason to hope in the near term either. That said, things might change when most people most of the time stop seeing mass shootings as an issue of gun rights that will never be resolved. All shooting massacres are political violence no matter what the shooter’s motives are. They are political violence in the service of a political party making the political decision to look the other way while sickness, suffering, and death engulf our beloved country.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.