Jeff Spevak, Writer

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Losing their religion, their guns, their flags and their minds

flagFor the first time in years, on this Fourth of July, I’m optimistic. Proud to be an American. I really started to feel it while a handful of us were sitting in a bar after a night at the jazz festival here at the end of June, and Sue held up her iPhone for everyone to see. It was that photo of the White House bathed in rainbow colors after the Supreme Court had finally conceded to the obvious: The government can’t discriminate against people just because of a braying minority that willfully ignores facts, science, change, the truth.

“It gives me goose bumps,” Connie said when she saw that photo.

You’ve likely read about the amazing week that President Barack Obama was in the midst of. Marriage equality. The court upholding his Affordable Care Act.  The lunacy of racists hiding behind the Confederate battle flag. Some of it was sadness, but Obama was there nonetheless, singing “Amazing Grace” at a service for nine people murdered in a church. A few years ago, we were calling it Hope.

Only the timing was coincidence, not the outcomes. Our brilliant president laid the groundwork for all of this to happen. He’s leading this country into the 21st century.

People tend to look at all of this news, these debates, as separate issues. They are not. The same people who don’t see the Confederate flag as a historical reminder of slavery, armed rebellion against the U.S. and hundreds of thousand of people dead and maimed are the same people who champion open-carry gun laws in public places. They are the same people who insist the tax scofflaw Cliven Bundy and a handful of gun-waving Tea Party supporters threatening Federal agents who came to Bundy’s Nevada ranch are patriots, but they see it as a threat when others protest the epidemic of unarmed black men being killed by cops. They are the same people who make excuses for why nine people were murdered in a church. The killer was crazy, the killer was a fringe racist, the killer was on mood-altering drugs. Well, Europe has crazy people, racists and prescription drugs, yet doesn’t have our level of mass murder. The only difference is, we have plenty of guns.

It was thrilling to see the country react so quickly in the last few weeks to the idea that the Confederate flag must come down from government buildings in the South, along with questioning the morality of statues of Jefferson Davis in public places and schools named for Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. It’s about heritage, not hate, they say? You really have to re-think your heritage if one of the groups coming to its defense is the Ku Klux Klan.

The same public disapproval for the Confederate legacy must also be heard on other issues. Open-carry advocates want Americans to see guns as a familiar accessory of everyday life. They’re just another tool? No, they’re a weapon. Designed for only one purpose. A Texan who carries a gun onto a church or a college campus should be looked upon with the same public disdain as a redneck who flies a Confederate flag in his front yard. The name of a Klan founder should not be on a school. Your gun should not be in a school. Or a movie theater. Or a nightclub. Or a mall. Or a political rally, as we saw during the last presidential campaign. Even tucked away in a holster, a gun is an unspoken threat.

Opposition to forward movement comes from the same people who sneered at the Occupy movements of a few years ago, those brave citizens who camped in public spaces, sacrificing the comfort of sitting on the couch in front of a TV tuned to Fox News, igniting awareness of how 99 percent of America is getting screwed by the top 1 percent.

For more than a decade now, conservatives have chosen to define America, and their fellow Americans’ love for it, by yardsticks that millions of people do not agree with. If you were against the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan from the start, you were labeled unpatriotic. If you were against a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions, you were going against the will of God, and hence unpatriotic. Because this is a country built on God’s principles. Their God, of course. Never mind that stuff you learned in school about the Pilgrims fleeing England to escape religious persecution, and that Founding Fathers prattle about freedom of religion.

School. Isn’t that the place where they teach us that man evolved from monkeys? Science, what good is that?

There is one reason that all of these frantic people running for the Republican nomination for president are saying such nonsensical things. It’s because they are willfully ignorant of facts, science, change, the truth. There is one reason Donald Trump rocketed into second place in the Republican polls after he called Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers. It’s because he’s saying what conservatives believe. Their political platform is Obama was born in Kenya and rich people can build golf courses wherever they want.

It is all about control, and these people are losing it. Today’s debates are one agenda championed by a dwindling minority.

Dwindling minority, I say? On virtually every issue, Americans now fall on the progressive side of the debate. Americans want to see the minimum wage raised, because profitable business shouldn’t be built on the backs of people working 40 hours a week, yet living in poverty. We’re OK with pot now. Oregon legalized recreational use last week. In the coming weeks, it appears we’ll be seeing Obama commuting non-violent drug offenders, treated like murderers in our overstuffed prisons.

Obama has even said that the racist nickname of Washington’s NFL team must go.

And soon enough, it will.

America is not a conservative country. It is progressive. All of the issues, all of the progress, tells us so.

The boys in the junk store

The bravery of the citizens who rushed to the aid of their fellow citizens maimed by the Boston Marathon bombings on Monday, and the bravery of the police and assorted authorities and military personnel who brought the two suspects to justice on Friday, bookended the shameful cowardice of the U.S. Senate, which declined this week to act on a necessary piece of legislation: background checks on anyone who wants to own a gun in this country. Those two stories are intrinsically related. And a lot of people just don’t get it.

I had the day off on Friday, spending the day running a few errands, when I popped into an interesting-looking  junk store up in Charlotte, on Lake Avenue. The one with FLEA MARKET in big red letters in the windows. A woman I recognized from the bus ride home from work was there. I haven’t seen her for weeks, and she explained she’d been laid off from her job of 13 years. She introduced me to the store’s owner, who was evidently a friend. She left, and I started poking around. I found an interesting old vinyl jazz album that I considered buying.

The owner’s buddy was milling around the store as well, and they started discussing the Marathon manhunt. Suspect No. 1 was dead after an early morning shootout, Suspect No. 2 was still at large.

“We gotta stop letting these young Muslim kids into the country,” the owner was saying. “Those kids come here, they get scholarships, which we pay for, and then they turn around and murder us. We need to replace the torch that the Statue of Liberty is holding with a baseball bat.”

I thought about saying something. But emotions are running high, I guess that’s a understandable reaction for some people. I started looking at another piece of junk.

Then the owner’s buddy piped up. “Obumhole isn’t making it easy for us,” he said. “He wants to take away our guns.”

I looked at the guy, giving him my most withering stare. He didn’t look at me. What should I say? Did these guys understand the contradiction in these beliefs? I could explain it to them, perhaps. Yes, the suspects – who came to this country as political refugees – committed a vile series of crimes. But thousands of immigrants are welcomed to this country each year, and they become productive citizens. The suspects were apparently Islamic with sympathies for the Chechen insurgents of the Russian Federation. As killers, they are an anomaly among our Islamic citizens.

And what of the murderers of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn.? Film goers in Aurora, Colo.? Citizens who go to hear their Congresswoman speak in Tucson, Ariz.? No, responsible gun owners shouldn’t be punished for the actions of a few. Our well-armed spree killers are an anomaly, say those who hide behind the uncertain language of the Second Amendment.

Well, you can’t have it both ways.

The horror of the Boston Marathon bombing demonstrates the impracticality of The National Rifle Association’s insistence that the answer to gun violence in this country is to fill our schools with armed guards. “School Resource Officers,” that’s what the pro-gun folks euphemistically call them, like they’re librarians or career counselors. What will we do for all of the other mass targets presented by society? Do we line all 26.2 miles of the Boston marathon route with armed guards? Do we assign armed guards to our movie theaters? To our supermarket parking lots on a sunny Saturday morning?

All of this ran through my head in a half-second, as I debated whether to share it with the boys in the junk store. In the next half-second, I thought about a simple, “Fuck you.” Instead, I abruptly turned and walked back to the front of the store, where the owner was leaning on his glass counter filled with junk. Now I thought about saying, “You’ll never see me in here again.” But I just saved my breath and walked out the door.

Founding Fathers, welcome to the 21st century

The Founding Fathers not only owned slaves, but were computer illiterate.

The Founding Fathers not only owned slaves, but were computer illiterate.

The 21st century has been tough on our Republican friends. This week has been particularly unnerving. The world’s most-famous Marine, Gomer Pyle, married his longtime boyfriend. Female soldiers were granted a privilege formerly reserved for men, engaging in hand-to-hand combat.

And now, we’re finally having that gun discussion that, as a nation, we need. And what a conversation, indeed!

  • Gayle Trotter, a senior fellow at the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, said this to Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence: “An assault weapon in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon. And the peace of mind she has … knowing she has a scary-looking gun gives her more courage when she’s fighting hardened violent criminals.” Trotter is a lobbyist, and a tax attorney by trade. I’m not sure why a person with such credentials would be testifying before Congress as an expert on guns. But I ain’t messin’ with her babies.
  • South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham had this to say: “There could be a situation where a mother runs out of bullets because of something we do here. Six bullets in the hands of a woman trying to defend her children might not be enough.”
  • Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander said this during an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday: I think video games is a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people.”

Is this really the greatest country in the world, as self-proclaimed patriots of the far right love to bray? A country where the only people who look like Bruce Willis in a Die Hard flick can walk the streets with some assurance that they won’t be bothered?

National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre testified Wednesday as well. He’s famously known for insisting on armed guards in all schools, claiming “the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” But LaPierre had no answer for Mark Kelly, the astronaut husband of Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords, shot in the head, never to be the same woman again. Kelly pointed out what many people have forgotten about that awful morning in Tucson two years ago, when six people were killed and 13 wounded. There was a good guy with a gun. He pointed that gun at one of the brave guys who had tackled and disarmed the shooter. The good guy with the gun, Kelly reminded the Senators, “admits that he came within about a half a second of shooting the man … and nearly killing him.”

Wednesday’s hearing on gun violence has brought out the crazy. But this is nothing new, is it? We’ve been hearing this kind of talk for a while, now. The difference being, when Mitt Romney told a room full of rich people that he didn’t care about 47 percent of Americans because they’d never vote for him, he wasn’t holding a gun to our heads. All we had to do was vote for the other guy.

This is the 21st century, but conservatives never tire of proclaiming that they want to take back the county. Back to the 19th century. They refuse to vote for legislation that would assure women get equal pay as men for doing the same job. They deny women the right to have control of their own lives and bodies – rights confirmed by the Supreme Court – by introducing laws that force the closing of abortion clinics. They introduce legislation in this country of immigrants that treats new immigrants to this country with suspicion and disrespect. They insist school boards that do not include in their curriculums the teaching of articles of faith – creationism, Bible stories – are attacking their religious freedoms, but they refuse to concede that those same religious freedoms should be granted to people who share the beliefs of American Muslims, or Hindus, or Buddhists.

The NRA claims that its aim to protect the rights of gun owners, but its intransigent positions on gun-control proposals that even NRA members agree are good ideas – like background checks – reveal the NRA to be merely a lobbyist for the billion-dollar-a-year gun industry. Like any business, the makers of  guns and bullets do not want to see their customer base reduced. The National Shooting Sports Foundation web site suggests the gun industry creates jobs. Yes, for paramedics, emergency-room personnel and morticians.

This kind of thinking wants to take the country back even further, to the 18th century. When the Founding Fathers walked the Earth. Conservatives falsely claim that old fellas like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, in their wisdom, created a Judeo-Christian nation. They falsely claim that the Second Amendment allows 21st-century man to walk around his neighborhood armed like an extra from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. But the Second Amendment does no such thing. The Founding Fathers were smart men, but they were creating ideas for an 18th-century world, not a 21st-century world. Many of them owned slaves, and their women could not vote. They couldn’t envision a world with nuclear bombs and the Internet, or a time when we would be able to alter the planet’s climate through our own arrogance.

America was a tiny, upstart nation in 1790, when the first U.S. census counted just 3.9 million people. The Founding Fathers saw the need for militias because the young country couldn’t afford to keep a standing army. They hid behind trees to shoot at Redcoats, never imagining the day would come when wars could be fought with pilotless drone aircraft dropping bombs on people who we can’t look in the eye, don’t understand, and aren’t even sure are a threat to us.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson did not write the Constitution or the Bill of Rights mindful of future Americans casually acquiring personal arsenals that could almost single-handedly destroy George Washington’s Continental Army.

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