If you want to get a good laugh from my family, use my name and “optimist” in the same sentence. You know what? I don’t consider that to be defamation of my character. I confess that I’m the guy who searches for impurities in silver linings. I guess I’d label myself a “skeptical realist,” Now, with the approach of another partisan (that’s a synonym for “mindless”) political season, my negativity quotient is ramping up pretty fast. I think that’s happening because, squelch them as I try, I really do have hopes for the future. But for hopes to be realized, obstacles to them can’t be evaded, as they’ve largely been lately. Lamenting problems without trying to find solutions for them is the tactic of two-bit politicians who disguise their shallowness and inability to comprehend with unbridled ambition. The prospect of self-promoting mediocrities like Trump, DeSantis, and Abbott playing pickleball with the future of this country doesn’t encourage growth of optimism on my part. How have millions of Americans become susceptible to such cheap hucksters? Lack of education? Selfishness? Resentment? In any case, the answers to that pivotal question, regardless of how troubling they are, demand exploration.
Currently, there’s no shortage of national problems to obsess about. One in particular continues to upset the part of society that’s civilized, and rather than abating, it’s becoming worse. Gun violence has become endemic, not only in our cities but in areas one would never have imagined being victimized by it. Several years ago, when Elaine and I lived in the Chicago area, the daily news predictably started with the number of people killed overnight by gun toters. The same theme dominates Philadelphia, where we now live. Our sense of being safe has deteriorated to the point where venturing out even in broad daylight to commercial areas requires caution.
The mayor-elect of Philadelphia has proposed two policy changes to address the current situation: more police patrolling neighborhoods and resumption of the stop-and-frisk practice. I respect her ideas as reasonable responses to a dire situation. But they can, at best, only marginally lower the victim count. As things stand now, more effective solutions to this ever-looming threat exist, but the extensive lunatic fringe in this country guarantees they’ll be thwarted.
Controlling sales of certain types of weapons, legislating age limits for gun ownership, and requiring background checks for purchasers would undoubtedly reduce the mayhem, but in benighted states, and, let’s concede, there are a depressingly large number of them, those policies will never be legislated. Just as they claimed their option to ignore masking mandates during Covid, these dens of ignorance cling to their constitutional right to bear arms, no matter the cost to innocent life. The legally and morally corrupt NRA and the obvious connection of gun ownership to a particular brand of masculinity make that a virtual certainty. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court accepts the presumption that “ordinary, law-abiding citizens” have the right to own guns and carry them anywhere they please. The majority decision embodying that right was written by Clarence Thomas, whose effort, I don’t doubt, will be rewarded by opulent, corporate-financed vacations. I assume none of these will include visits to graveyards in places like Uvalde, Texas.
So, barring some earnestly wished-for miracles, we simply await news of the next slaughter and the ones after that. Maybe there will eventually be an addition to daily weather reports, which now list predicted high and low temperatures as well as long-time averages. In the absence of a sudden surge of common sense and collective responsibility, we’ll expand daily local weather reports to include a social climate report. In it will be the number of gun fatalities occurring the previous day and on the same day a year ago. After a while, a norm will be established. Numbers will be compared month by month, and, eventually, each day will have predicted high and low figures. Naturally, the higher the numbers, the more elated will be the gun lobby. Their sales pitches will continue to be variations of, “See, you need protection. We are happy to sell it to y’all. How ‘bout this beautiful semi-automatic? It has your name writ’ all over it it!”
There was a time when this would have seemed like a terrifying fantasy, but that time has gone. We are a sadly divided country, filled with anguish and mistrustful for conflicting reasons. Without competent, responsible leadership, the tunnel ahead shows few signs of light.