Friday, June 24, 2016

In Orlando's wake, we're losing our way

This is the first entry I’ve written for this blog in almost six months. The year 2016 has so far been—pardon the expression—a political shitstorm of nearly dazzling proportions. With one major party hijacked by a racist, sexist, xenophobic authoritarian as its presidential nominee, with the other party barely staving off an analogous populist uprising against its own out-of-touch standard bearer, and with the death of a Supreme Court Justice conceivably putting all three branches of government in play come November, things have felt as if they are spinning out of control. The low, vile brand of politics that has come to dominate the scene under Donald Trump’s stewardship has only made me more reluctant than I already would be to wade into what is such a depressing arena. As a libertarian with no home in either party and a growing fear of what is to come, I’m not even sure where I stand right now. And so, as I observed earlier, I’ve had nothing to say for half a year.

And what a terrible moment it is in which I feel compelled to write again. I could go to great lengths attempting to write about the horror that occurred in an Orlando nightclub 12 days ago. But how could I ever find the right words? I have a soul, which is about all anyone should need to feel her heart ache for the victims of such base violence. Omar Mateen’s actions are, quite simply, hatred in its most visceral and animalistic form. And I very literally cannot imagine the grief felt by our nation’s LGBT community, who are all victims of this tragedy. So, as I said, I won’t spend any more time attempting to do so. There is no need for me to explain what it is to have a broken heart to so many who are already heartbroken.

What I want to write about today is how vitally important it is for us, as Americans, to not let our toxic and polarized political climate infect our response to this massacre. Granted, this is manifestly difficult to do. When the hottest of hot button issues—terrorism, homophobia, and guns—all collide in such a terrible and grisly way, it’s impossible not to discuss it in political terms. But there’s no need to do what Donald Trump has done, and take to Twitter and tell the world that you “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” Nor, for that matter, is it particularly constructive to follow the lead of so many liberals and blame Republicans right here at home for the carnage wrought by a man who called 911 to pledge allegiance to ISIS. Omar Mateen, a deranged and bigoted man who seems to have had many issues—an apparent affection for the Islamic State’s hateful brand of Islam among them—is not and should not be a prop used by a presidential nominee to say “I told you so,” or a cudgel with which adherents of a particular ideology can demonize their rivals.

Yes, Republicans are most certainly hypocrites for expressing their sympathies for a group of people they have frequently scorned and ignored. But Democrats are making just as big a mistake in ignoring the very real specter of radical Islam in what happened in that nightclub. The American political establishment is refusing steadfastly to remove the blinders of partisanship and bias and admit that this crime was an act of both radical Islamic and radical homophobic terror. And it’s worth noting that those two philosophies are quite compatible. But everyone, left and right, is too busy pointing fingers to realize the deficits of their own ideologies.
That brings me to the third polarizing subject caught up in this tangled mess—guns. I find it very troubling that so many people (and yes, I’m calling out Democrats in particular here) are rallying behind a legislative “fix” to this issue that involves denying American citizens the basic protection of due process. No mass shooting will ever occur that doesn’t prompt a discussion about gun control, but the Senate’s most recent push for so-called “no fly, no buy” legislation is horribly misguided and shows we have learned nothing from the knee-jerk foolishness of the Bush era. Just as Republicans rushed to curtail civil liberties via the Patriot Act in response to 9/11, many Democrats (and quite a few Republicans, as evidenced by Sen. Susan Collins’ bipartisan gun bill), are willing to go a similar route in the wake of Orlando. These proposals—Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s amendment that would bar gun sales to anyone on the government’s terrorist watch list and Sen. Collins’ proposal that would do the same for those on the no-fly list—are not only dangerous in their scope, but also of dubious constitutionality.

The 5th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the federal government from depriving any citizen of “life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” And denying someone the right to purchase a firearm based on something like the no-fly list goes directly against that principle. The no-fly list maintains virtually no pretense of due process—people are added to the list based on broad, vague criteria, receive no notice that they are on the list, and have no standardized means of redress if they believe they have been wrongfully added to it. It is an arbitrary, blunt tool that easily can and has led to false positives and for which our government faces zero accountability. Even the ACLU has come out in opposition to both Sen. Feinstein’s and Sen. Collins’ bills, and they do a fine job of explaining why. This, mind you, from an organization that believes “that the right to own and use guns is not absolute or free from government regulation.”

If some within our government (and our public) are inclined to respond to Orlando with a call for gun control measures, then that is their prerogative. There are many perfectly reasonable policy angles from which to approach this threat. The utmost care must be taken, however, to ensure that any policy prescription we champion be rooted in the bedrock principles of liberty and transparency that make our country great. We cannot fall into the age-old trap of sacrificing our freedoms for a false sense of security. And we absolutely must not let our debate over these policies devolve into the infantile finger-pointing and political stunts that have dominated this election season. What happened in Orlando was sadly familiar, and we would be wise to remember that the senseless hate that was put on display that day is just as much akin to what we saw in Charleston as it is to what we saw in San Bernadino. I don’t pretend to have any idea how we can combat such cancerous radicalization, but I do know one thing for sure: neither looking to place blame on bogeymen across the political aisle or at the feet of an entire religion is going to get us there. We all need to stop trying to fit this tragic tale into our own preconceived narratives about what is wrong with this country and realize that maybe, just maybe, this problem isn’t as simple as we all want it to be. 

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Why do we do this to ourselves?