No one emerges from the latest farcical turn in our national discourse smelling like roses.
In the wake of the horrific slaughter in Parkland, Fla., a cadre of energized and understandably traumatized teenagers has flooded Washington and the airwaves to say remarkably passionate, occasionally extreme things about guns and the need for gun control.
Because these teens are politically effective, a bunch of goons, buffoons, and trolls have floated conspiracy theories aimed at discrediting them. I won’t be more specific than that because it’s all reprehensible bilge.
At the same time, quite a few advocates of gun control, including many who claim the mantle of “objective” journalism, have taken the view that these kids cannot be criticized or gainsaid in any way. Apparently, it’s fine to push kids suffering from post-traumatic stress — or the still-grieving parents of murdered children — in front of cameras in order to drive public policy, but it’s an affront to decency to disagree with what they say or question the practice of using victims this way. (No, it’s not morally equivalent to some of the horrendous things the swamp-dwellers have said about these kids, but that is a low bar.)
Of course, the parents and the surviving kids aren’t being forced to do anything. They clearly want to be heard, and they have every right to do what they’re doing. Indeed, they’re entitled to their rage and grief. They are right to be furious.
But fury, in and of itself, is the enemy of reason. This point was once obvious to many of the people eagerly hiding behind these children to wage a political battle. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks — and countless terrorist attacks since then — the op-ed pages and the airwaves bulged with cautions that we not let “vengeance” or “anger” cloud our judgment.
And that’s what I find so tawdry and mercenary about all of this. I can scarcely imagine that the same people touting the unimpeachable wisdom of children would have the same position if the children of terror-attack victims called for, say, a ban on Muslims entering the country.
Of course, the response from many people to this counterfactual would be, “But that’s a bad idea,” or, “That would be unconstitutional.”
And that’s my point exactly.
In an enlightenment-based democracy, the validity of an argument is supposed to stand independent of the person — or people — making it. Two plus two equals four whether a child says so or a demagogue denies it.
The introduction of child combatants in this political war seems only fitting in the never-ending cycles of exaggeration. So now we can hear children shout, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us!” Or, “If you’re against us, you’re in favor of murdering children!”
Of course I feel sorry for the victims, and I support their right to parrot the extreme rhetoric of their elders. I don’t feel sorry for the NRA. When you turn the volume to ten on everything, you shouldn’t be surprised when your opponents invent an even louder eleven. But I am disgusted by the entire spectacle, and I feel sorry for a country that thinks any of this remotely normal.
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