The United States has never had real democracy, it is true.
But democracy has always been a dream that pulls us forward.
A country where people bring guns to town-hall meetings has given up on democracy.
When threats and intimidation are allowed, democracy founders.
Every year I watch American politics, I see something unbelievable, whether it’s warrantless wiretaps, or torture, or political firings of US attorneys, or…etc…
But I find myself agreeing with Chris Matthews when he says we’ve never seen anything quite like this in our modern politics, though, I would add, the confluence of guns and politics is a large part of our history of white racism.
I think this current moment teaches us something about the depth of white racism. If this display of guns around presidential speeches has never happened before, how does that relate to the fact that we have also never had an African American president before? This attempt at intimidation also teaches us about right-wing "politics" and the Authoritarian Conservative stream in our culture (to use John Dean’s term).
I dream that one day love, democracy and nonviolence will thrive in our hearts and relations. The shattering history of political murder in the US gives us all the more reason to embrace compassion and reconciliation. Our future depends on it.
About forty years ago, on April 7, 1968, Nina Simone gave a concert just three nights after the assassination of Martin Luther King. Simone sang a song written by her bass player in the wake of King’s murder called, "Why (The King of Love is Dead)". Stopping in the middle the song, Simone addressed the audience and spoke of her heartache and despair. "Do you realize how many we have lost? Then it really gets down to reality, doesn’t it? Not a performance. Not microphones and all that crap. But really something else." With her mournful voice breaking into sobs, Simone added, "We can’t afford anymore losses. Oh no. Oh my God. They’re shooting us down one by one." At the end of her impromptu speech, just before starting to sing again, Simone repeated, "We can’t afford any more losses."
Less than two months later, Bobby Kennedy was killed.
The assassinations of 1968 broke the nation’s heart, stole our hope, and shattered our soul. Our country has not yet recovered. Nor have we recovered from the killing of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
In the shadow of this palpable history, bringing a gun to an event with our current president is especially vile and callous. It is anti-democratic. The assassin’s bullet pierces every heart, attacking the very dream of democracy. The shadow of the gun casts a pall over all of us.
Some have predicted potential calamities in the upcoming years between 2010 and 2012. I pray that political violence is not among the challenges ahead.
Freedom from threats of violence is our right. Let us claim it, and safeguard our elected leaders, our democracy and our future.
We can’t afford any more losses.