The Best and Worst of Times

How many times have I heard the first line of A Tale of Two Cities? I always thought I knew what it meant, but now I feel it in my bones.

For those of us who see the big picture, the last few months have been difficult. It’s been like watching a slow motion train wreck. We see the tracks are laid straight towards a mountainside, and yet everyone on the train is celebrating because they think they’re finally going somewhere. We screamed. We hollered. We jumped up and down and waved our hands, trying to stop the train before it slams into the wall, and for that we were ignored and ridiculed.

The right had to make up garbage to fear about Obama – He’s a secret Muslim from Kenya who is going to bring sharia law to the US, take our guns, create death panels to kill our parents, and build FEMA camps to put all his enemies in. Despite us being the creative types, liberals didn’t have to imagine any fears of 45. He laid out his vision for this country, which included taking away people’s health care with no idea how to replace it, banning people for the accident of their place of birth and religion, and if not banning them, then making them register so that when the country needs to deal with them, they know just where to find them. He at one point wanted to punish women who have faced a difficult decision about a pregnancy, and made the choice HE thinks is wrong, because we women should all be subjected to what HE thinks. He thinks the environment is only there to be raped and profited from by big business. And he wants to turn us into a nation with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a country that only thinks of itself and doesn’t care if we destroy other economies as long as we WIN! He has vowed to bring back torture, a policy that has never provided any actionable intelligence, but has created many, many enemies and endangered our troops. And as a cherry on top of the cake, he thinks nuclear weapons should be used if we have them.

He is a walking, talking, dystopian nightmare.

The damage these policies will do is immense and doesn’t take into account the damage that will be done by the policies of those pulling his strings. Those around him have learned it’s easy to control little donny… praise him and he’ll think you’re brilliant and listen to all your ideas. Criticize him and you’re going to be ridiculed, abused, and discarded. So, you want to privatize programs Americans have paid in to, and deserve to draw from… Paul Ryan just whispers sweet nothings in his ear, and voila… they’re working on plans to do away with the social safety net, despite 45’s promise to leave it alone. Easy peasy. He’s a puppet whose strings are pulled so easily.

We are becoming isolated in the world. Allies are not sharing intelligence. Trade deals are evaporating and becoming more difficult. If he continues on this path, we could face sanctions. Let’s hope it doesn’t go far enough that some other country decides we need regime change.

The despair is palpable among those who still believe in the promise of America – that all men (and women) are created equal and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Not just those who look alike, think alike, love alike, and pray alike. All! Instead we’ve watched him dismantle the policies that protect our people and the environment. There are Nazis in the White House forming policy. I’ve tried to reach out for common understanding with the other side and the response seems to be, “We won, you lost. We’re right, you’re wrong. We don’t care about understanding.” So much for uniting the country. 45 is beginning to appear mentally unstable, and we’ve given that man the nuclear codes. I’ve heard silver-haired Americans say, “I’ve never been scared for my country like this before” and they lived through WWII. It feels like the worst of times.

Yet, despite this, it also the best of times. The Women’s March kicked it off. There is power in connection. There is power in unity. There is power in love. We who marched were drawn by the connection, unity, and love, then left completely empowered. We found our voice together. We found our purpose together. The sniping by the right couldn’t even take a dent out of it, probably because their criticisms were so off-base, and also because it was easy to see a tinge of exclusion and jealousy in their words. It’s okay. They enjoy their somewhat equal status because women like us marched for them, also with the criticism of conservative women of the time. Their granddaughters will thank us.

And our show of resistance led to the defiance of National Park employees, as well as other federal employees. Watching the rebellion grow was inspiring! It gave me hope like nothing else. The tyrant can sit in his high tower and issue all the decrees he wants, but if nobody follows them, he is nothing but a silly gas bag.

His most odious act so far, choosing to refuse the entry of refugees and others on National Holocaust Remembrance Day (but only from Muslim countries where he doesn’t do business) felt like a directive coming straight from Bannon and the alt-right(Nazis). It felt like a gut punch. And then we, the people, mobilized. The connections we’ve made allowed protests to spontaneously break out across the country in airport after airport. Americans of every color, size, and religious belief, stood side by side in defense of Iraqi translators, visiting relatives, and refugees who had spent two years being vetted, and were finally on the verge of safety.  The ACLU became our voice in the courts and stopped that atrocity for now.

The worst of times have woken us up to rediscover our connection to each other. It’s hammered in the lesson that democracy is not a spectator sport. We can’t just sit back and let politicians handle things. Without any leadership, we are bypassing the parties and finding each other and our power. We are talking. We are formulating plans. We are on the move. We are united. We are one. It is the best of times.

At our march, one speaker acknowledged that we were able to march that day because we stood on the shoulders of those who came before us. We called out their names in remembrance of their sacrifices. Standing there, I realized it was my turn to provide a place for future generations of women to stand. Our shoulders are needed. We have some very dark days ahead. The struggle is hardly won, but we know we will win because as MLK said, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it inevitably bends toward justice. There will be losses and casualties ahead, yet I see hope. And rebellions are built on hope.

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In Guns We Trust

In 1956, the United States adopted “In God We Trust” as our motto. It’s time for an update, because clearly the overriding sentiment now is, “In Guns We Trust.”

I grew up in the 70s on a farm. We had guns, though we were not really hunters. They came in handy protecting chickens from rats and skunks and the like. Thankfully, I once watched my brother shoot a charging rabid skunk. Guns do have their uses in rural areas. During that time, the NRA was a somewhat benevolent force in the community, offering free gun safety classes to 6th graders. We did live in a world of guns, and it was good to provide basic gun safety education for kids who might not get it from their parents. Things like – always assume a gun is loaded, don’t point guns at people, etc.

According to my research, the NRA changed in 1977 when hardliners took over the organization and began to push an absolutist reading of the 2nd amendment. They overlooked that little part about a “well regulated militia” which made sense in a country yet without a standing army. We needed the citizens to be armed in order to call them to action quickly without the time needed to build an arsenal. Common sense. Instead, the interpretation became that God and the founders wanted every citizen to be armed for self-protection and for protection of an over-reaching government – yeah, like a few rifles and handguns are going to stop drones, missiles, and tanks.

The NRA pushed fear, more people bought guns, and more people joined the NRA. This meant a windfall of money for the NRA. In fact, this happens every time there is a mass shooting. They sell nothing but fear, and Americans gobble it up.

They developed slogans like, “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” despite the fact that nobody was suggesting guns be outlawed, only regulated. Then there was “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” True, but people with guns kill a whole lot more people than people without guns. If you were in that conference room in San Bernardino, would you rather have seen 2 people walk in with assault rifles, or knives? I’d vote for knives. Guaranteed they wouldn’t have killed 12 people. The latest slogan is, “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun. Absolutely not true. When a man had a kalishnikov on a French train, the thing that stopped him was two corageous, unarmed men who acted and tackled the man with the gun. Yet, in 2014, after a couple killed two police officers and retreated to a Walmart store, a good guy with a concealed weapon thought he could be a hero and take out the bad guys. He paid for the overassessment of his skills with his life. Handling a firearm, and dealing with bad guys takes actual training and skill. That’s why people go through intense fire arms training as a police officer or soldier. And because most gun owners aren’t really trained, they have a higher risk of homicide, suicide, or accidental death than people who don’t own guns.

In fact, it’s surprising that people aren’t talking about the role of gun proliferation in police violence. After the North Hollywood shootout, when officers were so outmatched by assault rifles and body armor, an arms race began. Police departments realized that with everything on the street, they needed to be better armed. Their fear of us grew. Then our fear of them grew. It has become an arms and fear race. It’s not really surprising they are quick to protect themselves in a world where more and more people are armed. Welcome to the wild west folks. Thanks to the NRA and the gun culture, we’ve reverted back to might makes right instead of the rule of law.

Another element that adds to the fear that has driven gun sales and NRA membership – Pro-gun advocates have pushed the narrative that Obama is trying to take away our guns. Hopefuly we can all get out of the FEMA camps and escape the death panels in order to get our guns back from Obama when his term ends. Oh wait… in fact, Obama has only signed two gun laws during his presidency and BOTH expanded gun rights. Does he call for new restrictions, yes, but does anything get done by the politicians in the pocket of the NRA? Nope.

In a world saturated with laws, it seems a shame to add more, but there are huge holes in our gun laws. If you go to a retail store, yes, there is a background check and waiting period. But why bother with that? Just go to a gun show and buy them without any questions asked. Or, perhaps find someone who has a gun to sell, and just get it from them. It’s all perfectly legal, and it doesn’t matter if you’re mentally unstable, angry, homicidal, a child, a criminal, drunk, high, or a terrorist. So, closing that loophole would go a long way in preventing guns from getting into the wrong hands.

My idea, though I’m sure the gun nuts would hate it, is to require all guns to be registered, just like a car. You would also need to prove your ability to operate the machinery, just like a car. Once registered, the owner would bear all responsibility for what happened with it. You leave it unsecured and a criminal steals it and commits a crime with it… you are just as resonsible as the criminal because you did not secure a deadly weapon. A child finds it and accidentally shoots someone, you are legally responsible for the results and not securing your gun. Only when ownership is transferred to another registered owner, is your liabity for owning that weapon at an end. Simple.

However, I also believe that even that would not stop this problem until we change our culture. Right now, a great many Americans do believe that it is in guns we trust. Mad? Solve it with a gun. Hurt? Solve it with a gun. Lonely? Solve it with a gun. Afraid? Solve it with a gun. Disenfranchised? Solve it with a gun. Whatever problem you have, the gun is the answer. In Guns We Trust.

Many people have tied guns and God together, yet the Bible teaches that God is in control of all things, provides for the birds of the air and flowers of the field, and instructs in Luke 12:7 “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” For me the crux of that passage is DON’T BE AFRAID! The King James version of the Bible advises against fear 365 times. Some scholars say it is the over-riding message of the Bible. But guns, unless you are solely a hunter or target shooter, are about protection, which is nothing but fear.

I have no solutions to offer. I don’t know how to change our culture. It has come to my awareness that all actions can be divided into one of two categories – Love or Fear. Love’s actions lead to goodness, but nothing good comes from fear. Right now, our country is running on fear.

So, my final thought is that until you are willing to rely on your prayers to God to lead you, protect you and act in love, then you are not allowed to ask others to rely on your prayers for comfort after a mass shooting. Your prayers mean nothing, because your true faith and your motto is In Guns We Trust and you’re part of this nation’s fear problem.

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