Killing One Another
The mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton unleashed their own secondary agony of interpretation provided by our Jacobin commentary class. At the heart of this pathological narrative are cynical manipulative notions of white supremacy, gun control, and a larger agenda of galvanizing rejections of President Trump. We can find our way past these false interpretations and back toward a world where we are not killing one another.
A key commentator on this matter is former El Paso congressman and now Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. O’Rourke spares little wrath in describing the reactionary and acidic response he seeks for the public with regard to President Trump: "This is the most racist President we've had since perhaps Andrew Johnson, in another age and another century, and he is responsible for the hatred and the violence that we're seeing right now.” He went further to attack a journalist who asked if Trump was racist by responding: “What the f**k!” O’Rourke’s boiling over at the President is part of a larger blue privilege narrative about President Trump either being a white supremacist or appealing to them. Drawing on deliberate distortions of the President’s remarks regarding the protests at Charlottesville, the blue privilege interpreters create an ongoing gaslit echo chamber that the President regularly appeals to white supremacists and is an apparent racist.
It is important for us as Americans to reject the psychological projection of the media culture led by figures like CNN’s Don Lemon. Media organizations like CNN are elevating white supremacist rhetoric with the purpose of creating associations between such individuals and the President. Richard Spenser is a regular guest on CNN and without this deliberate promotion by media outlets Spenser and his archaic notions of race would continue to wither in the American public consciousness. In reality, the United States is most successful political project of racial and ethnic integration in human history. The separatist notions of race were successfully dismantled by a wide array of American heroes like James Meredith, James Farmer Jr., Medgar Evers, Mickey Schwerner, Diane Nash, and many more. While racism will likely always remain a problem, the deliberate elevation of separatist voices like Spenser’s constitute the ugly basis of why such ideas find increasing salience in 2019.
Of course, the El Paso shooter is quoted with regard to his racist desire to rid Texas and the United States of Hispanics. This is plainly racist rhetoric. At issue is how this violence came to be spawned. In his own manifesto, the shooter sought to distance himself from the master narrative of the media:
“My ideology has not changed for several years. My opinions on automation, immigration, and the rest predate Trump and his campaign for president. I am putting this here because some people will blame the President or certain presidential candidates for the attack. This is not the case. I know that the media will probably call me a white supremacist anyway and blame Trump’s rhetoric. The media is infamous for fake news.”
Of course, the shooter’s views are thoroughly pathological, but the selective quoting of the shooter by ideological reactionaries serves to escalate public anger and hatred. Moreover, the radical leftist views of the Dayton shooter are largely ignored in favor of lives that matter for an ideological agenda -- to say nothing of individuals dying in urban centers such as Chicago on a daily basis. The problem is further confounded by reports that the shooter was particularly set off by remarks in the first Presidential primary debate where so many Democratic party candidates raised their hands for providing free health care to illegal immigrants. Should we think that these candidates “caused” the shooting? Of course not.
Analysts challenged about such rhetorical framing of white supremacism assert that ‘something must be done about these shootings.’ Certainly rhetoric always plays a role and ought to be as ideal as possible. There is however something that can be done about these shootings. Moreover, this action will almost certainly reduce the shootings to near zero. Very little is said about this solution.
Of the most recent shootings, 26 out of 27 shooters lacked the primary influence of a father in the home. In their excellent book, Fatherless, James Dobson and Kurt Bruner painfully document the massive sociological devastation of human community without a father. The reality of this can be anecdotally observed in the difference between two civil rights heroes: Malcolm X and James Farmer Jr. Malcolm X’s father was murdered when he was three while Farmer’s dad was the first black PhD in the state of Texas and a Methodist minister. The presence and absence of a father were the life and death difference on how a productive challenge to segregation and racism would be achieved in the United States. The cultural annihilation of fatherhood is systemic and profoundly unjust. It must be ended and we should acknowledge that the restoration of fatherhood as an ideal goal is in fact a solution to this terrible problem of mass violence.
Our blue privilege storytellers would like to pour rhetorical salt into our national wounds over these shootings. The terrible rhetorical goal is to tear us further apart and incite us all to further acts of violence. This is reprehensible and we must all become better consumers of the words and symbols that motivate us. If our partisanship prevents us from saying words of healing and help then we do well to observe more than a few moments of silence. Better yet, have a challenging conversation with our heavenly Father who is more than capable of dealing with our frustration. This would be better and less hurtful than saying words that will lead to more of humanity killing one another, whether on a baseball field in Virginia or a Walmart in El Paso.
Ben Voth is an associate professor of Corporate Communication and Public Affairs and Director of Debate at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.