On the day after one of the biggest mea culpas in sports, the Oprah interview with Lance Armstrong, the efforts to delegitimize President Obama in his second term have increased their velocity and are becoming more extreme and desperate. The efforts are also bigger and more ridiculous. And sad and tragic.
As the empty chair staged at the Republican convention quickly became a set piece to symbolize lynching and empty chairs were roped and swung from trees, so from the tragedy of Newtown, a legion of “truthers” have taken snippets of video and blasted the internet with lies. But look beyond the unfounded proofs that are asserted as facts. What the leaps of judgement and flights of make-believe reveal is a distress, a emotionally fraying. Its deep anger and helplessness has nothing to do with Newtown or the government—or the falsehoods it strenuously push.
It takes several deep breaths to get past the conclusions that are passing for facts about Newtown. It takes deep reflection to understand the attraction of this insanity in the comment streams. It leaves a country wondering whether it can survive as a civil society when hate and ideology seem to grow without constraint, grabbing our sorrow into its arcade.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) released a computer app for ages four and up that simulates an indoor practice range and allows players to shoot a digital rifle (an M9) at targets that are human coffins. Aiming paints the target with a bulls-eye. When targeted and hit, the casket falls to the ground, flat. For ninety-nine cents, the app upgrades the firing weapon. Does this promote responsible gun ownership and safety? Is it encouraging the use of safe firearm technologies, including micro-processed owner recognition? The NRA says yes. Their free “one touch” app provides safety information and other updates.
Does the app warn youngsters about the dangers of gun accidents in language they can read or understand? No, but Apple's iTunes lists it as available to four-year-olds, since it is only shooting at coffins and not human action figures, and therefore is not deemed violent. Does it require supervision? No. Yet it creates the NRA version of the video games the NRA argues are responsible for gun violence in the first place. Now the NRA has added to the culture it claims makes killing an attractive macho fantasy with game of its own—for four-year-olds—by reinforcing the thrill for children as young as four of pulling the trigger and watching coffins fall. Again. And Again. It scores every hit.
The newest National Rifle Association ad, out today, calls the President an “Elitist Hypocrite.” That description is a direct personal attack. It also uses his two children as a part of the attack. They have armed coverage, the ad says. Why shouldn't the rest of America's children have armed protection?
Can the same level of training and professionalism be guaranteed for all of America's children? In the form of teachers, principals, volunteers, and security armed, with no prior experience, nominal training, and no common standard? Or will it vary, as do educational results? That variance is a life and death risk to our children.
But to the point: do other American kids receive death threats every day? Yes, the President's adorable girls receive a stream of unpublicized threats. Do other kids get their names associated with the darkest, sickest acts that humans can commit against each other? When given the opportunity for taking the high ground and leading a national stand-down, the NRA instead issued more slime, called attention to the President's children, adding the kind of inflammatory labels they believe to be partly responsible for the rise in random violence! Their ad targets the President with no real facts, just as spree killers with no real ties target those they want to take out. And the ad ignores and fails to answer the big question: will banning assault rifles reduce the threat for all children, everywhere?
So the NRA ignores the level of threat faced by the President's family. It ignores that more guns means more opportunities for their misuse. And the NRA ignores that its own ads and apps celebrate and push what it claims to deplore, making the NRA hypocrites and liars, and elitists who value guns over saving lives.
The NRA ad exhibits the same blind fury that shooters do. Its words have the same purpose as bullets.
Newtown has become a source of myths of disbelief. Not disbelief in the shock and pain of the horror, but a denial of the horror; myths that turn the tragedy into connivance. What's interesting is no society can sustain itself on negatives, can govern itself as outlaws, can sustain a war against civil authority. Long-term conflicts in Africa's western, central and eastern regions show clearly the scars of sustained wrong-doing, both political and armed. Hunger, poverty, illness, violence, helplessness, despair, assassination, and loss of family and community lead to a desparate life of fear and want. But America is unique in trying to build a consensus on myths of disbelief.
What do so many disbelieve? The root is Barack Obama is President. That he won. Their fury at his second term has redoubled; it's a redux of their worst nightmare.
To effectively deny his power and position—even his wholeness as a father and husband—his effectiveness as a leader or even his having won reelection, new threats and labels and events are bound together and reworked to support disbelief. This state of disbelief becomes their zone of performance, the kind that athletes speak about. But in the zone of disbelief, the peaks of performance are built on lies.
We are watching performance peaks now about Newtown. Its stories of conspiracies, magically extracted from assumptions and conclusions that don't add up. If an elaborate real-time, real-life conspiracy were in play that day, if it were possible to arrange it and pull it off, wouldn't it seem improbable that someone would forget to change a dress, a detail that television generally gets right by having dressers assigned?
So our largest tragedy is reassigned as our greatest hoax—so its weight pulls down the government and the leader at the head.
I've seen this only once to this degree in history. It was in a small news item in an issue of an 1865 Charleston Courier on microfiche. It cited that, leaving Savannah, Union generals ordered 5,000 enslaved mothers to drown their children before being permitted to follow the troops; the Army had no provision for children and babies. The article reported children killed by mothers too simple and dim to understand moral rage, ordered by terrible men without honor who disregarded the lives of slaves.
Later I found the item, like Newtown's myth, grew out of a real incident. At Ebenezer Creek, near Savannah, 5,000 “contraband” (the name for African-Americans as spoils of war without citizenship or place) were killed when the Union general Jefferson Davis (his name!) ordered a pontoon bridge removed before the refugee train crossed. Trapped on the bank of a flood-swollen black water creek which locals say still echoes in the rain with their screams and cries, fathers, mothers and children were cut down by sword and pistol and rifle, trampled under horses, in a bloodlust of killing that made the tannin-stained black water cypress creek run red.
Union accounts observed some mothers, as an act of courage and defiance, clutched their children to their breasts and drowned themselves rather than being slaughtered for sport like dogs. By the time the news reached Charleston, it was rewritten to protect the Confederate role. The unthinkable truth is both Union and Confederate leaders knew what lay next when the bridge was removed.
The “truthers” want to make Newtown Barack's bridge removed. Of greater concern to them is to show Barack is without honor, a scheming hypocrite, who would kill innocents to carry out the first step of his socialist revolution by faking a massacre to inflame passions so he can disarm citizens. They argue he put in play a conspiracy; planned and staged an assault, elicited local authorities, parents, media teams and even neighbors as “crisis actors.” One Florida professor has lent his voice to deconstructing the events to show what he terms inconsistent elements that point to a potential conspiracy. The “truthers,” like blunt objects, are trying to reject Barack by accepting and advancing conspiracies.
Our differences often do lead to paradoxes, to unanswered questions assoicated with the hard moral and political choices that lead forward. Paradoxes abound in society and allow for contradictory goals to be pursued. We agree “thou shall not kill,” but send drones and troops in preemptive strikes to hills and homes in distant places to kill enemies defined by association. Paradoxes are also at the center of many of our conflicts. We (the collective “we”) say The State has no religion, but we argue the Christian Bible has a single definition of marriage to which the state must adhere. We want to provide for equal opportunities for minorities, but does affirmative action limit others? We cherish children; we offer reproductive choice. It is a healthy tension, especially when it limits the extremes.
But paradox, the dual dimensions of truth, the qualitative dialectic that Marx claims is at work in society, the balancing of opposing elements that the I Ching expounds, does not permit a rewriting of great issues to reflect a phantasmagoria of extremes or a one-sided myth. Events can't be separated from their truth; but sadly, conspiracy myths are now a part of our national truth. Their paradox is they are threatening to overrun what they truly cover up. They claim they have discovered cover-ups and hidden agendas. But in plain sight, their claims cover up and muddle the profound depth of our love, our acceptance of Barack, our sorrow for children dying on our streets and in our schools; the fact that sometimes our tears are glue to bind us by a shared feeling that keeps the circle unbroken; that we are not stupid or dupes.
What the conspiracy theorists, the “truthers,” mainly paper over is their profound rabid, hatred of Barack. It drives their revelations. They revel in its negative space. They are set to destroy every sustaining idea of him. Their outrage has no shame. They are willing to despair our dead children, our grieving families and loving parents, our caring neighbors, to heap him with scorn and blame.