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More American Madness

by on August 07, 2019 4:30 AM

The Democrats are blaming Trump for inciting murder in the name of white nationalism, as well they should be, but if you watched the debates last week you might have noticed that gun control was hardly even a topic.

The debates took place before the shootings in El Paso and Dayton – but after the shootings in Gilroy. Only two and three days after. 

Was it that “only” three people died in Gilroy, which made it relatively minor, as mass shootings go? Does it take 22 deaths at the hands of a twisted fanatic to rouse our politicians to yet another call to action. Or does it have to be 22 plus 9, El Paso plus Dayton, back to back?  

The Dems’ protracted wrangling over health insurance looks even sillier now than it did at the time. But then, so much about those debates rankles, beginning with their prematurity. Sensible people know it’s way too early for these eager beavers to be crisscrossing the country in search of the perfect sob story to weave into their stump speech. 

Alas, I am not one of those people. 

I watch the debates for the same reason I watched the O.J. Simpson trial, hoping for the one astonishing moment amid all the blather. In the case of debates, it’s the moment that sinks a promising candidacy or better, propels a second-tier candidate into serious contention.

Which brings me to my second complaint about the debates, which is really more about the coverage of the debates than the debates themselves. Several commentators were irritated by the presence of the snowball’s-chance candidates. They wanted the Ryans, Delaneys and 

Hickenloopers to melt away so they could watch Biden, Sanders, Warren and Harris duke it out. They cite pitiful poll numbers as their rationale – why include candidates no one is interested in? 

What they fail to see is that a fresh face cannot draw public attention without media attention. Too often we see the news media deciding whom to take seriously and whom to ignore – a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one. For far too long in 2016, for example, the media, having decided that Hillary Clinton was a sure bet, dismissed a certain silver-haired sourpuss from Vermont as being too far out of the mainstream to stand a chance. (Lo and behold, those too-far-out ideas are getting more mainstream by the day.) 

True, a debate among 10 debaters is bound to be cumbersome and it’s ridiculous to try to slice and dice policy differences when the moderator is barking at you to yield the floor after 30 seconds.

Which brings me to my third complaint, which is the sports-like packaging of the whole affair, from the music, to the graphics, to the portentous announcement of the names of the combatants, to the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (though I’m tempted to start a write-in campaign for Dee Dee Bridgewater).

I realize I’m fulminating about the debates one week after the fact, which makes this column old, old news, especially in light of the El Paso and Dayton shootings, except the shootings are a reminder that we move on all too quickly – that the gun worshippers count on us to move on quickly, however many people die at the hands of a lunatic with an automatic weapon. 

Surely this time, everyone said after Newtown in 2012. 

Surely this time, everyone said after Parkland in 2018. 

Surely this time, everyone is saying now.

Don’t hold your breath – not with Trump and his enablers telling us that guns don’t kill people, video games and social media kill people.  

Which brings me to Pennsylvania’s and Penn State’s very own Rick Santorum, washed up since 2006 and the author of one inane pronouncement after another, but still, incredibly, being offered a platform to opine on the great issues of the day. 

True to form, the former senator’s response to the El Paso massacre is that there were too many “soft targets,” meaning, too many defenseless people. The solution, as it always is with the gun worshippers, is not fewer armed citizens, but more.

In the past week, for a variety of unrelated reasons, I have watched “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino’s new film loosely based on the Manson murders; “Mississippi Burning,” a 1988 film loosely based on the investigation of the murders of civil rights workers in the ‘60s; and the famous clip from the Senate hearings of 1954 where a weary and mournful lawyer Joseph Welch uttered his immortal rebuke to Sen. Joseph McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

The three historical moments – rampaging cultists, rampaging Klansmen, rampaging anti-Commie hunters — remind us that America isn’t going mad as we speak. Decency’s been in short supply right along.

Doesn’t that make you feel better?

Didn’t think so.


A collection of Russell Frank's columns, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place for commentary in the 2019 Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter Best in Journalism contest. The winning columns: The Women’s March: Notes from New York, It’s Time to Change the Script and Mixed Messages at Bellefonte High. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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