I know I haven't blogged much these past several weeks, and believe me, it's not because I had nothing to say. Part of it, as some of you are aware, is I'm still enduring a difficult recovery from recent surgery, and I just haven't had much energy. But a larger part of it is that I just don't know where to begin, given all of the tragedy and senseless violence that has dominated the headlines: a terrorist who claims to belong to ISIS, and who has expressed a hatred for gay people, attacks a gay nightclub, killing forty-nine. A crazed fan shoots a popular singer dead while she is signing autographs after a concert. A family on vacation at a Disney resort watches in horror as an alligator attacks and kills their two-year old son. And those are just the events that occurred in Florida.
Whenever there is a tragedy, it's often accompanied by demands that "something" be done, or that "someone" be held accountable. In many cases, the "something" is pretty obvious: if you run a hotel in an area near where there are alligators, shouldn't you have signs up to warn the patrons? But in other cases, the situation is more complex: many entertainers love their fans, and while it's impossible to spend time with every one of them, a meet-and-greet or an autograph-signing provides some closer interaction between the public and the performer. But it also provides an opportunity for obsessed fans to get much too close to the object of their obsession. It's a dilemma: should all meet-and-greets and autograph-signings be banned, to keep the performer safe? Or, if you still have these events, perhaps metal detectors should be in place, and everyone who wants to meet the performer must first go through screening. These days, increased security is becoming as important as enjoying the show.
And then, there's the massacre at the Orlando nightclub, which almost immediately became fodder for politicians from both sides of the political aisle. For Republicans, the fact that the killer had sworn his allegiance to ISIS meant the rhetoric could quickly shift away from bigotry against gays (something few Republicans had protested over the years) and shift almost entirely towards the dangers of "radical Islamic terrorism"-- a magical phrase that GOP politicians insisted must be said frequently in order to combat it. (Given the number of times it has turned up in talking points on the campaign trail over the past several years, one would expect the problem to have been solved by now. But alas, it has not.) And for Democrats, the fact that the killer committed his crimes using an assault-style weapon meant the conversation could return to issues like closing the so-called "Gun Show Loophole," preventing people on the terrorism watch-list from buying guns, and restoring the ban on assault weapons.
For Donald Trump, it was of course another opportunity to claim he was right about how dangerous Muslims are, and to once again insist the answer was to ban them-- of course, the killer was American-born, and while he may indeed have gravitated towards ISIS at some point, he also worked legally as a security guard and owned a number of weapons; thus, none of Mr. Trump's solutions would have had any effect. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump was busy hinting that President Obama was somehow to blame for the carnage, and that Mr. Obama might have secret sympathies with the terrorists. Even some Republicans, not known for defending this president, found that assertion both tasteless and inappropriate, but they did not withdraw their support for their presumptive nominee.
I took to Twitter a couple of times, noting that there are extremists in all religions (a Christian minister even said the victims in the night club murders deserved to die, as their punishment for the sin of being gay), noting that Mr. Trump's claim the president has allowed millions of Muslims from violent countries to come pouring into the US was demonstrably false (and had been debunked by fact-checkers repeatedly, as had his claim that there is no vetting of the immigrants who come here). And I also noted that my congressman, Seth Moulton, a decorated combat veteran from the Iraq War, had spoken out against assault weapons-- he said what many law enforcement personnel also believe: you can be pro-Second Amendment without allowing easy access to AK-47s. In fact, I have never understand why the NRA defends the "right" to own a weapon of war. If the Orlando killer did not have such a weapon, many more lives might have been saved.
But every time I wish for a serious conversation about the easy availability of guns, it rarely goes well. With a few exceptions, I was sent memes that called liberals idiots, fools, and traitors, accusing us of protecting/coddling terrorists, of not supporting the Second Amendment, and of course, of not understanding the "real threat"-- Muslims. Believe me, as a Jewish person, I do not always agree with my Muslim friends, especially about the Middle East. But I also know from first-hand experience that American Muslims care deeply about America, and they have made important contributions as doctors, scientists, professors, and small business owners. Yes, we can all point to some religious zealots, but the Muslims I know are 100% in favor of their daughters getting a good education, and the degree of piety in the Muslim community is NOT monolithic: I know some Muslims who are deeply religious and others who rarely go to the mosque. It is also worth noting that American Muslims are quite patriotic (many have served our country with distinction, in fact). But you wouldn't know any of that from the talking points I keep seeing, equating every Muslim with ISIS or claiming that Islam is incompatible with being an American. Totally untrue, but widely believed.
And so, here we are again. Another series of tragedies, another series of outraged responses, another example of both sides retreating to their corners, each determined that only they are right. And once people decide they are right, then no further action is needed, even if the resulting stalemate has not worked out well for us as a nation. My favorite rock band, Rush, once said "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice." I hope people will decide to move beyond their certitude and their anger (and their talking points) and start seeking out opportunities to collaborate, even if it means (gasp) working with the folks from the other side. Otherwise, I fear we'll see this all repeat itself again in the months to come, with equally disastrous results.