That’s a question without a satisfying answer. But as so many in America grieve and grapple with their anger, it’s striking that a chorus of White men are among the loudest and most visible voices exposing the fundamental crisis of American democracy, for all the world to see. There is something particularly significant about the fact that three high-profile White men, all leaders in different fields, are speaking out about the underlying crisis that allowed the horrors in Uvalde and elsewhere to continue unabated. So much of contemporary American politics seems to pit people of color on one side and a declining White majority on the other. And yet Steve Kerr, Matthew McConaughey and Beto O’Rourke all serve as courageous models for a progressive White male identity that challenges systems of oppression, speaks truth to power and confronts the divisions of our current moment by publicly highlighting the gap between the nation’s professed values and a more bitter reality that allows nineteen children to be killed in such grotesque fashion.
The seemingly rote nature of the news conference before O’Rourke’s intervention struck a profoundly sharp contrast with the officials’ reactions to the interruption. Patrick called O’Rourke “an embarrassment.” US Sen. Ted Cruz told him to “sit down,” while Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin shouted profanities at him. The anger and vitriol officials directed at O’Rourke was noteworthy, but even more shocking than that was the lack of anger shown during the proceedings about the reason they were all there in the first place.
Kerr, McConaughey and O’Rourke are all trying to direct Americans’ attention toward the way in which our nation’s democratic atrophy is costing the lives of our people, including children, our most very precious resource.
Make no mistake, this is about guns. But this is also about much more than guns.
This is the death of democracy via a thousand cuts.
So where do we go from here?
The Uvalde massacre will not end the partisan warfare that engulfs the country, but it highlights the depth of our political divisions with a moral clarity that is too often missing from a political world that is too often portrayed as sport, complete with winners and losers of the latest news cycle.
There are real people affected by public policy, legislative and legal decisions and the narratives we share to rationalize the unspeakable.
When children can be mercilessly slaughtered in school and the majority’s political will to take constructive action is stymied by a small group of politicians, donors and special interests, we cannot expect our democracy to survive. We cannot endure political business as usual.
That question needs to be answered by Americans from all backgrounds, especially those who have experienced the horrifying pain of losing a loved one to gun violence. Two years after a painful moment of reckoning that seemed to promise the hope of democratic renewal for a nation scarred by a pandemic, massive economic crisis and racial divisions, we have regressed into familiar quarrels, recriminations and bad-faith arguments about our current crisis. We are long past the time for eloquent words and need to focus on deeds that might, in some small way, offer a measure of peace for the families of these lost children and offer a future where tragedies such as Uvalde are indeed unthinkable.