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“This Moment Was Arresting”: President Obama’s Tear A Starkly Human Thing

He didn’t bawl.

His voice only roughened for a moment and he dabbed at a couple tears that straggled down his cheek. As displays of emotion go, it wasn’t all that much. But it was, of course, more than enough.

Inevitably, President Obama’s tears became the takeaway from last week’s White House speech on gun violence. They came as he recalled the 2012 massacre of six educators and 20 young children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“Every time I think about those kids,” said the president, tears shining on his cheek, “it gets me mad.”

One grows used to thinking of politics as a craft practiced mostly by people who are only technically human. One grows used to their cynical manipulations and insincere triangulations, to their poll-tested smiles, and focus-grouped quips. Which is why this moment was arresting. The president wept and it was a starkly human thing.

Or at least, that’s surely how most of us saw it. It is a sign of how angry and hateful our politics have become that some conservatives refused to accept the moment at face value.

“I would check that podium for a raw onion,” sneered Andrea Tantaros of Fox “News.”

“He’s putting something in his eyes to create the fascist tears,” wrote John Nolte of Breitbart.

“(hashtag)Crocodile Tears” tweeted actor James Woods.

One hardly knows how to respond. There isn’t even anger. There is only embarrassment for them, only amazement that some people are so bad at being, well … people.

But the sense of disconnectedness, of the action being wholly at odds with some people’s interpretation thereof, went far beyond the president’s tears. To compare what Obama actually said as he seeks to rein in the nation’s runaway gun violence with the way it was afterward construed by his political opposites is to feel as if one has fallen down the rabbit hole into an alternate reality where people drink trees and smell music and the idea that words have fixed meaning is about as real as the Tooth Fairy.

“I believe in the Second Amendment … that guarantees the right to bear arms,” said the president.

Which House Speaker Paul Ryan interpreted as: “From day one, the president has never respected the right to safe and legal gun ownership that our nation has valued since its founding.”

Obama took a handful of modest actions, including: an executive order clarifying that anyone who makes a living selling guns is required to conduct background checks on buyers; hiring more personnel to process background checks; pushing for improved gun safety technology and tracking of stolen firearms.

Which Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump processed as: “Pretty soon, you won’t be able to get guns.”

One nation, two realities, one of them populated by the NRA and its GOP henchmen, by extremists who don’t just own guns or like guns, but who sanctify and worship guns and so regard even the most humble effort to check their destructive power as blasphemy against their god.

In the other reality live the rest of us, heartsick and frustrated that our country has come to this: Mass shootings are commonplace and we cannot muster the political will to do anything about it. So nothing happens; nothing changes. Bullets fly, the gun lobby prattles on, and in an endless loop, we mourn mothers, fathers, sisters and sons in San Bernardino, Aurora, Ft. Hood, Tucson, Charleston and, yes, Newtown, where 20 first-graders — little children — were gunned down, slaughtered.

And people are disbelieving that the president cried? It is not amazing that someone might ponder this carnage and want to weep. No, what’s amazing is that some of us ponder it and do not.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, January 10, 2016

January 12, 2016 Posted by | Gun Deaths, Gun Violence, National Rifle Association, Sandy Hook, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Pamela Geller Is No Rosa Parks”: Trying To Cash In On The Moral Authority Of The Movement While Scrapping Its Moral Foundations

After armed gunmen attacked a Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, last week, event organizer Pamela Geller went on Fox News to explain the moral righteousness of her cause. Responding to critics like Donald Trump, who accused her of “taunting” Muslims, she asked, “What would he have said about Rosa Parks? Rosa Parks should never have gone to the front of the bus. She’s taunting people.”

Nor was Geller alone in seeing the civil rights parallel. John Nolte, writing for Breitbart, contended, “Anyone who knows anything about history understands that tactically and morally, Geller’s provocative Muhammad Cartoon Contest was no different than Dr. Martin Luther King’s landmark march from Selma to Montgomery.”

They’re both wrong, in a particularly pernicious way. By drawing a parallel between Geller’s anti-Islamic events and the civil rights movement’s anti-Jim Crow protests, they are trying to cash in on the moral authority of the movement while scrapping its moral foundations.

There is a surface-level similarity between the two movements, one Geller and Nolte hope no one probes too deeply. Civil rights activists in the 1950s and 1960s knew that if they violated the laws and norms of the Jim Crow South, white Southerners would react with spectacular violence. Putting that violence on display was the point. Jim Crow laws gave Southern racial violence the veneer of a civilized legal code. The protests showed the rest of the world the ever-present threat of violence upon which that legal code was built.

Geller, too, meant to provoke violence with her Muhammad cartoon event. The question is, to what end? We already know that violent extremists are violent and extreme. If we want to see how extremists respond to people who draw Muhammad, we only need look at recent events in Paris and Copenhagen. The point for Geller and her cohort is to demonstrate that the West is at war with Islam – and ultimately to devote more resources to that war.

In other words, Geller hopes to use the violence she provokes to justify violence in return. And that’s where the civil rights analogy utterly fails. The radical potential of the early civil rights movement grew out of its moral commitment to nonviolence. And not just nonviolent action – King called upon activists to be nonviolent in word and thought as well. The reason the movement has such moral authority in America is because it was built on this deeply held belief in the transformative power of love-based politics and resistance.

Geller’s movement has none of that. She and those in her camp seek not a world with more peace but one with more war. Given that, it is especially repugnant that they call upon the names of Parks and King, trading on their courage and sacrifice while undermining the values of love and peacefulness that makes their work worth emulating.

 

By: Nicole Hemmer, Historian of Modern American Politics and Media; U. S. News and World Report, May 12, 2015

May 15, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Muslims, Pamela Geller | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

   

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