As the days start to get shorter and the blue paint starts to wear off, it’s a good time to reflect on some of the recent developments in this particularly strange year.
You may not have paid much attention, but on Thursday citizens in Britain will vote on whether or not to stay in the European Community. You might well shrug and say that Brexit, as it has come to be known, “will have no effect on me and what’s the big deal anyway.” In an increasingly interdependent world, you really don’t have the luxury of that position. Already world economic markets are reacting negatively to the mere possibility of Britain disengaging from Europe and what that might mean for the future stability of the Continent.
If the British voters decide to leave Europe, there will be an extended period of instability as the complex details are negotiated and as other countries reconsider their own future in Europe. Unless the vote is extremely close, you’re likely to know the outcome by late Thursday as the impact starts to wash up on our shores.
There’s another piece to the Brexit story worth considering. Those most in favor of leaving Europe bear a striking resemblance in age, education level and political outlook to Donald Trump’s supporters. Both groups want to return to a past that never was, to a perceived golden age where everyone looked and sounded exactly like they do, when the economy was robust and immigrants were nowhere to be seen. In other words, these groups want to pull the covers over their heads and whistle a happy tune.
In the United States, meanwhile, guns are back in the news. In the aftermath of the massacre in Orlando, the debate over how to respond to mass murders has been temporarily reignited. What broke out first was a discussion about the intentions of the shooter. To the question of whether he was motivated by terrorist goals or by homophobia, the answer is probably yes. Not long before his inevitable death, Omar Mateen pledged allegiance to ISIS. However, the target that he picked was a gay nightclub that was well-known to him. Whether his own sexual orientation was an issue has also been raised.
We’ll probably never sort out motive to everyone’s satisfaction. There is only one thing we know for certain. Matinee was able to slaughter 49 innocent victims only because he had a military-style killing machine that was designed exactly for that purpose.
To those who argue that access to guns isn’t the real issue, there is a moral obligation to suggest other ways in which tragedies like Orlando can be avoided. No one is arguing for perfect solutions, only for lessened risk. Could the FBI have stopped Mateen? Agents didn’t think they had enough evidence, a judgment call which will always apply. Would better mental health treatment in this country help? Perhaps, although legislators certainly haven’t been very willing to provide the funds needed. Would keeping all Muslims out of the country, as Donald Trump has suggested, be the magic solution? Mateen was born in this country. Beside, there is no evidence that Muslims in this country are any less patriotic than any other group. To say otherwise is racism, of which there is a good bit around right now.
Meanwhile, despite strong public support for common sense gun regulations, our political system is unwilling to respond. As usual, the United States Senate did its part by rejecting four rather modest proposals that only received a vote in the first place because of a filibuster by Connecticut Senate Chris Murphy.
When hopes are pinned on a measure so limited as restricting people on the “terrorist watch list” from getting guns, the bar really has been set incredibly low. Yet, even that measure was much too high for 53 senators who saw the greater threat to this country in the possibility that some people might have been put on that list incorrectly.
Interestingly, in the same week, the United States Supreme Court refused to overturn a lower court ruling that Connecticut’s far reaching gun law is indeed constitutional. Yet, for the NRA and its rented and purchased members of Congress, an absolutist interpretation of the Second Amendment seems to be the only civil right that matters. Actually, no other provision in the Bill of Rights has been treated as an absolute, but that doesn’t stop supporters from making ridiculous claims.
At this point, nothing will change with the present composition of Congress. The best hope is a Donald Trump-led electoral disaster for Republicans in the fall that results in a dramatic shift in membership in the House and the Senate. Hillary Clinton’s strong support for gun regulations with a Democratically-controlled Congress should be powerful incentive for those who are appalled by the ongoing violence to get out and vote and support candidates with similar views.
Finally, I want to note a dilemma that Donald Trump has created for himself. The New York Times reports that Hillary Clinton at present has $42 million in her campaign war chest while Trump has $1.3 million. Both, as anyone with an email account realizes, are actively fundraising, but he has not been doing very well.
When Trump supporters are asked why they back him, a frequent response is that he is not beholden to anyone for money since he is so rich. It’s an assertion that he made over and over again during the nomination process. Does he run the risk of becoming just another politician asking for special interest money? Or does he open up a fortune that he claims is $10 billion and actually finance his own campaign?
If you were looking for a classic example of someone being hoisted on his own petard, this would be it. Trump is having all sorts of other problems with his campaign right now, but not being able to compete with Clinton in spending on media, staff and organization may prove to be the final straw. Moreover, after months of relatively uncritical and incredibly extensive coverage by the media, the press is starting to examine and reveal much more about Trump’s claims as well as his qualifications and temperament. He may be sailing into a perfect storm and it couldn’t happen to a more deserving person.