Der Blick in die Kristallkugel geht weiter: Unser „USA-Korrespondent“, der Autor und „Edgar”-Preisträger Thomas Adcock schaut auf die Entwicklung zentraler Aspekte und Themen der amerikanischen Politik und Gesellschaft im Jahr 2013. Setzt sich die Spaltung des Landes weiter fort? Wie entwickelt sich der Finanzsektor? Kommt es tatsächlich zu einer wirkungsvollen Reform der Waffengesetze und der Immigrationspolitik? Lesen Sie Teil 2 der Prognosen und Hintergründe zu aktuellen Themen der amerikanischen Gegenwart (zu Teil 1).
IMAGES in the American New Year. Top row, from top left: lunatic Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, obese radio propagandist Rush Limbaugh, blowhard faux billionaire Donald Trump. Middle row, from left: gun fetishist Wayne La Pierre, champion of immigrant rights, climate change victim, hatemonger James Dobson. Bottom row (from left): a plea for civility, Huey P. Newton, MQ-9 predator drone.
America in 2013: Toward a ‘More Perfect’ Union?
IV. Bigots & Bullets
Given the violent history of race relations in the United States, it is unsurprising that bigots and guns go together like red necks and white socks. There are the occasional ironies, however, such as:
Question: Who pioneered modern-day American gun fetishism—and simultaneously inspired the first modern-day gun control laws?
Answer: The man who said, in his heyday, “The gun is where it’s at!” and “Anyone without guns is a slave.”
Question: Who said that?
Answer: Huey P. Newton (1942-1989), Marxist co-founder of the Black Panther Party, which he served as its heavily armed “defense minister.” (Mr. Newton’s co-founder, Bobby Seale, described his troubled, brilliant, and highly temperamental comrade as “the baddest motherfucker in the world.”)
Born in rural Louisiana to an African American sharecropper family, Mr. Newton worked his way through college as a burglar. He attended law school in San Francisco for the purpose of becoming a more accomplished thief, he once said, after which he earned a Ph.D. in history at the University of California, Santa Cruz. From party inception in 1966, the Panthers put the fear of God into conservative white Republican officials in California—including a faded film actor and newly elected governor named Ronald Reagan (1911-2004).
As governor, Mr. Reagan saw to the passage of tough new state legislation that swiftly ended what Mr. Newton and twenty-nine other Panthers did one sunny day in Sacramento. Clad in military fatigues, combat boots, berets, dark glasses, and ammunition belts, Mr. Newton and his posse marched through the streets toward the state capital building with loaded .357 Magnum revolvers, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45-caliber pistols. Law school had informed Mr. Newton that so long as their guns remained visible, and not brandished in a threatening manner, the Panthers would be in perfect compliance with the law as they marched along scaring the bejeezus out of everyone.
Fast forward to the present:
• Gun control legislation—of Governor Reagan vintage—is now routinely, strenuously, and successfully opposed by the N.R.A., whose most enthusiastic members are scary-looking white Tea Party goons fond of marching in public with dark glasses, combat boots, rifles, and 9 mm Glock pistols holstered below their bulging bellies. Usually in paramilitary drag, the Tea Partiers are likewise fond of sporting placards depicting the president and his family as watermelon-eating apes.
• Ironically, Mr. Reagan’s success in banning scary-looking Black Panthers from armed parades did not prevent the N.R.A. from endorsing the ex-Hollywood actor for president in 1980. On March 30, 1981, Mr. Reagan survived an assassination attempt at the hands of a crazed young man obsessed with a Hollywood actress he wished to impress by gunning down the president with a German-made Röhm RG-14 .22 caliber blue steel revolver he purchased in a Texas pawnshop for $47 [€35]. Mr. Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady, suffered wounds in the attack that paralyzed him for life; he is namesake of the Brady Center for the Prevention of Gun Violence.
• Despite weaponry kept at Black Panther headquarters in Oakland—an arsenal the N.R.A. could admire: hundreds of rifles, revolvers, machine guns, explosives, and grenade launchers—Huey Newtown was slain in 1989 on the west side of the city by a pistol-packing drug dealer.
When his home in Montgomery, Alabama, was firebombed in 1956, the black clergyman and civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. applied for a permit to carry a concealed pistol for self-protection—in light of the bombing, and near-daily threats on his life by the Ku Klux Klan. Montgomery police denied application, even though they routinely granted carry permits to white applicants with no documentation of physical threat.
On April 4, 1968, Reverend King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, by James Earl Ray. The year before, Mr. Ray escaped from a Missouri prison where he’d been locked up after his latest armed robbery conviction. On the eve of murdering Reverend King—with an American-made Remington Model 760 pump action .30-06 shotgun, legally purchased in Birmingham, Alabama, where white buyers were not required to provide information about their felony records—Mr. Ray attended a political rally in Memphis for the independent presidential candidacy of Alabama Governor George Corley Wallace (1919-1998), a white racist who would himself be gravely wounded in 1972 when a gunman confronted him during a campaign stop in Laurel, Maryland.
Two months after Reverend King’s murder, the Democratic presidential candidacy of U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy ended at a Los Angeles hotel. This time, the assassin was Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, a hotel dishwasher upset by Mr. Kennedy’s support of Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War between that country and Arab forces in Egypt, Syria, and his home country of Jordan. Mr. Sirhan used a mail order .22-caliber revolver, legally purchased from the Iver Johnson Company of Massachusetts, manufacturer of guns and bicycles.
Five years earlier, the senator’s brother, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in Texas by Lee Harvey Oswald. Soon after he was arrested by Dallas police and jailed in that city, Mr. Oswald was shot and killed by the owner of a striptease lounge. Among Mr. Oswald’s personal effects, police found an address book with the home telephone number of George Lincoln Rockwell (1918-1967), head of the Virginia-based National Socialist White Peoples Party. Mr. Rockwell, die amerikanische Nazi-Führer, was shot to death in 1966 by a disgruntled cartoonist for the party organ, Storm Trooper Magazine.
With the late 1970s came the fully ecumenical phase of American gun mania. A decades-long, slow-motion massacre of blacks and Latinos in poor city neighborhoods—involving cheap handguns almost exclusively—opened to small town battlefronts where victims were almost exclusively white.
As journalist Adam Winkler wrote in the September 2011 issue of Atlantic Magazine: “[G]un control laws of the 1960s, designed to restrict the use of guns by urban black leftist radicals, fueled the rise of the present-day gun rights movement—one that, in an ironic reversal, is predominantly white, rural, and politically conservative.”
Two developments spurred the social shift:
• Military-style semi-automatic assault rifles—with flash suppressors, night-vision scopes, tripods, and high-capacity magazines capable of firing up to a hundred bullets before the need of reloading—became available to practically anyone with a grudge and at least $500 [€376]. In its 2011 annual report to investors, the Smith & Wesson gun manufacturing company said annual American sales of “modern sporting rifles,” the industry euphemism for semi-automatic weapons engineered for mass slaughter, totaled $489 million [€367 million].
• Founded in 1871 by veterans of the U.S. Civil disturbed by the poor marksmanship of Union troops compared to Southern rebels, the N.R.A. was organized to provide gun safety tips for hunters and—believe it or not—the enactment of gun control laws in the interest of public safety. These purposes, and these alone, continued through the nineteenth and most of the twentieth centuries.
But in 1977, everything changed. A squat, bald-headed man named Harlon Carter led a putsch of N.R.A. leadership and forged an organization that limped along financially with membership dues payments into a gold mine: a political lobby in service to gun manufacturers. Fear of crime—and wholly imagined government tyranny—was Mr. Carter’s favored tool for increasing gun sales, which quickly surged and surged and surged. The N.R.A. received its pimp share of bigger and bigger profits, using the filthy lucre to purchase politicians willing to represent money over constituencies—and see to aborting any hint of gun control legislation.
In 1991, the N.R.A. hired an experienced Congressional staff aide named Wayne LaPierre to be its new executive vice president and chief spokesman for a now stridently right-wing organization. In 1995, Mr. LaPierre finally hit his rhetorical stride. That was the year when Timothy McVeigh, gun devotee and delusional government hater, planted a bomb in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building Oklahoma City, killing a hundred sixty-eight government employees and U.S. law enforcement officers and nineteen children. Days before the bombing, Mr. LaPierre described government agents as “jack-booted thugs” in “Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms.”
Owning lawmakers of both the Republican and Democratic variety has paid off handsomely for the N.R.A. Of particular value to the gun lobby were lifetime appointments to the federal judiciary, presidential nominations subject to lawmakers’ consent. The current U.S. Supreme Court is arguably the most conservative bench of contemporary times, with Justice Antonin Scalia arguably the most conservative jurist in all U.S. history.
In 2008, Justice Scalia authored the majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, a landmark ruling by which the high court declared that government cannot ever completely disarm individual citizens—a clarification of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which reads, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” For years, gun control advocates stressed the “well regulated militia” underpinning; in 1977, the N.R.A. began insisting that the amendment allowed individuals to amass all the firepower their personal exchequers could handle—as defense against crime and jack-booted G-men.
Naturally, Mr. LaPierre and others claimed the Supreme Court victory as the crowning achievement in their drive to repeal virtually all gun control law, such as it is. And for a while, it seemed as if massive rollback was achievable. The 1994 ten-year ban on semi-automatic weapons and high-velocity magazines adopted by a majority Democratic Congress during the Democratic presidency of Bill Clinton was not renewed in 2004, when N.R.A.-backed Republicans took the White House and gained control in both houses of Congress.
More importantly to the N.R.A., sales of all sorts of guns skyrocketed; consequently, the lobby group’s coffers overflowed. All was going quite nicely, never mind the periodic massacres—not even the assault rifle rampage in Arizona that nearly killed Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.
Then came the morning of December 14, 2012, when a mentally ill young man in Newtown, Connecticut, dressed himself in black—in the storm trooper fashion referenced by Mr. LaPierre—and shot his sleeping mother in the face with her own legally registered Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle equipped with a thirty-round magazine. Adam Lanza pumped .223 caliber bullets into his mother’s body, the kind of bullets that liquefy human organs.
He then jumped into his mother’s car and drove it five miles to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he mowed down another twenty-six people with liquefying bullets: twenty kindergarten children, and their teachers. Like Mrs. Lanza, the faces of the dead schoolchildren were unrecognizable.
The national revulsion—and shame—was immediate. President Obama was often in tears, torn between his duty to say something approaching comfort and knowing what he had to do next, at a bare minimum: restore and strengthen the assault weapons ban of 1994, which so happens to have been authored by Vice President Joe Biden, at the time a Democratic senator from Delaware.
The president called on Mr. Biden to draw up a list of recommended legislation, along with executive actions that could be taken independent of Congress—and to deliver that list on Tuesday, January 15, which so happens to be the date Martin Luther King Jr. was born. Mr. Biden came through on Monday.
On Wednesday, January 16, Mr. Obama did the right thing. He told the nation that, among other strong gun control measures, he would fight the Congress “with everything I’ve got” for a renewed and strengthened ban on weapons designed for human massacre.
Meanwhile, Mr. LaPierre stands by the violent heat of his public statement in the wake of Newtown: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Mr. LaPierre must surely notice that few people are speaking to him any more, and that the N.R.A. has a new competitor in pimpery—an unknown quantity by the name of Larry Ward, organizer of last Saturday’s “Gun Appreciation Day,” whereby he urged Americans to “go to your local gun store, gun range or gun show with your Constitution, American flags and your ‘Hands off my Guns!’ sign to send a loud and clear message to Congress and President Obama.”
In the run-up to the big day, Mr. Ward appeared on national television with a novel theory: “I think Martin Luther King Jr. would agree with me, if he were alive today, that if African Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from Day One of the country’s founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history.”
This time, the national revulsion had to do with Mr. Ward’s patent stupidity.
Followers of Messrs. Ward and LaPierre keep stupidity alive. They continue to campaign for more and bigger weapons in more and more places as the surefire way (please pardon the expression) of protecting oneself and one’s family from armed maniacs in a nation of 315 million people and almost as many guns, a nation that vastly outstrips the world in annual gun deaths. More guns, so it goes, means more safety.
Were Huey Newton alive, he might beg to differ. Huey Newton had an arsenal.
PREDICTION: The Newtown massacre is America’s tipping point; this time, we will do the decent thing. As I write, millions of dollars pour into a foundation established by Gabby Giffords that promises to eclipse the N.R.A. as a Washington power broker. In a matter of months, assault weapons no militia nor any hunter needs, will be banned. And the sky will remain in place.
V. National Security vs. Wall Street Insecurity
I dearly wish I could dispute the dour sentiments of Mr. Goode.
We the People rejected a load of right-wing extremism during last November’s election, and we shall continue to do so until cooler heads take charge of the Republican establishment. But according to Mr. Goode, “Our democracy, or what’s left of it, has been handed over to finance capitalism.”
He further contends that Wall Street banks and insurance conglomerates “too big to fail” have become “too big to prosecute,” no matter that their greedy shenanigans caused the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Wall Street conspired to use our deposited funds to engage in wildly leveraged investment schemes that produced obscenely salaries and bonus packages for elite manipulators—but virtually zero commonwealth. We have seen this scenario before: New York’s stock market crash of 1929, caused by wildly leveraged investment schemes, resulted in worldwide economic depression and a near destruction of America’s middle class.
“But we have actually surpassed the wealth/income gap” of that period, Mr. Goode told me. “And this extraordinary shift of money and power—to the elites—has been the result of official policy initiative from both Democrats and Republicans.”
The prosperity of a broad middle class, confident that government will ensure economic justice, has as much to do with national security as the ferocious weaponry contained in those thousand-plus military installations throughout the world, as previously mentioned by Mr. Goode.
In the 1980s, the American middle class was threatened by record bankruptcies of institutions that held the great bulk of their home mortgages—savings & loan associations. When the dust settled, Mr. Goode recollected, well more than a thousand prosecutions were brought; most ended with the convictions of fiduciaries.
“But there have been no serious prosecutions under Obama,” he noted. “The big commercial banks have admitted massive fraud, but they get to simply pay a fine, albeit a large one.”
The latest revelation of fraud involved the London-based multinational bank HSBC. “It could have been barred from doing business in the U.S., or had its assets seized for drug money laundering,” Mr. Goode said, “but once again [the administration] opted for a fine rather than jail.”
There is one bright note in an otherwise dim picture: the victory last November of Elizabeth Warren in her campaign for a Democratic seat in the U.S. Senate. Her campaign against Republican incumbent Scott Brown, dubbed “Wall Street’s favorite senator” by the plutocratic Forbes magazine, was an exceptionally high-profile contest, second only to the presidential race.
Ms. Warren, a Harvard Law School professor who helped create the long-needed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington, delivered a thumping defeat for Mr. Brown. Topping her list of campaign promises, Ms. Warren seeks reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. Congress at that time, responding to Wall Street recklessness and fraud, separated the parlous speculative securities industry from commercial banks. Economic catastrophe was kept at bay for sixty-six years.
Then in 1999, Glass-Steagall was repealed under President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. Mr. Clinton said the law’s restrictions had grown “inappropriate.” With repeal, the identical brands of recklessness and fraud that birthed the Great Depression inevitably brought on the worldwide recession begun in 2008.
PREDICTION: Sadly, Mr. Goode is correct: the Obama administration is unlikely to imprison rich and sleazy Wall Streeters. However, the vanishing middle class he mentions means more people have less to lose, in the material sense, and much to gain in demanding economic democracy—and the sorts of Wall Street regulation reform that will be advanced this year by the capable Elizabeth Warren.
VI. Immigration – ¡Reformar Ahora!
Now comes the easy part: Republicans have little choice but to coöperate with President Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress in reforming immigration policy for a land of immigrants, variously arrived as we are: voluntarily, indentured, or shackled in chains aboard slave ships from Africa. (We immigrants then stole this country from its original inhabitants.)
My reasons for optimism in this area:
• The current batch of Congressional Republicans is viewed favorably by nine percent of the American electorate, according to a January study by the North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling. The study breakdown of statistics indicates that Republicans are less popular than head lice, colonoscopies, traffic jams, and cockroaches. (To be fair, Republicans outpolled Fidel Castro, the Kardashians, and gonorrhea.)
• Even Republicans, widely regarded as having the intellectual depth of paper towels, will at some point this year learn about demographic change in the United States, and realpolitik. Surely then they will put an end to intransigence as political philosophy, and stop insulting the nation’s largest minority group—the ever more populous and powerful voting bloc most concerned with contentious matters of immigration law: Latinos.
In last November’s presidential contest, Latinos (those voting, and those prevented from doing so by Republican state election officials) evidenced a clear disgust with the party of ethnic insult. Disgust was crystallized when Mitt Romney voiced his solution for ridding the U.S. of some 12 million undocumented workers, overwhelmingly of Latin American heritage: make life so miserable for the “illegals,” Mr. Romney opined, that they will “self-deport.”
Willard Mitt Romney displays no finer a brain than those of his dullard partisan confrères. All fail to grasp two things: 1) human beings are not illegal; and 2) reunification of family entities accounts for fully half of all U.S. immigration epochs, a human impulse that today affects Americans who speak English with “funny accents,” as Republicans say.
By the way, some Republican civilians are frustrated by the cerebral capacity of Mr. Romney and his ilk. Former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough, now working as a highly rated television talk show host, aired his own exasperation with the hundreds of insensitive and willfully uniformed remarks mouthed last year by so many of his former colleagues in elective office.
“I’m just tired of the Republican Party being the Stupid Party,” said Mr. Scarborough during an August broadcast over the MSNBC network. “Stupid people saying stupid things, and scaring off independent voters and swing voters.”
In the immigration context, today’s stupid remarks—Republicans having devolved from mere ignorance—are largely directed at Mexicans and Central Americans determined to escape poverty and hunger for the gamble of a better life in El Norte. If that means fording the Rio Grande, a waterway stretching two thousand miles (3.2 thousand kilometers) along the U.S.-Mexico border, so be it. The chance of drowning must be measured against starvation, and the sureness of poverty’s disease and death.
The determined of yesteryear—Irish, Slavic, German, Chinese, and diasporic Jews—arrived in marginally more comfort. Those who survived long ocean voyages in disease-ridden ships, that is. Upon arrival, the established immigrants (English and Dutch) offered little beyond slander. They tagged the newcomers as hunkies (Slavs), Huns (Germans), chinks (Chinese), wops (Italians), and Christ killers (Jews).
The Irish (mackerel snappers) were considered nonwhite, somehow genetically related to jigaboos (descendants of African slaves). In fine American tradition, the mackerel snappers and jigaboos spent a number of decades at each other’s throats, often literally.
All these tribes of defamed immigrants had in common the curse of poverty—the universal fear, as the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw explained it; the universal crime, perhaps the only crime.
The Republican presidential standard bearer of 2008 was a crotchety Arizonan named John McCain. He made much of Rio Grande border violation during his failure to win the White House. To the delight of racists from coast to coast, Mr. McCain claimed in TV advertisements that a wave of “home invasions and murders” were committed by the Spanish-speaking desperate, and called for gigantic federal expenditures to build a “danged fence” designed for fatal electrification.
The “national conversation,” as our corporate news media prefers calling calumny versus temperate discourse regarding immigrants and immigration policy, is reliably blind to the matter of social caste. Educated immigrants with professional skills—from comfortable places in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe—are welcome. Penniless strivers—from today’s los pueblos; from yesteryear’s die Dörfer, i villagi, a falvak, na sráidbhailte, and shtetls—are to be feared.
And never mind the words inscribed upon the pedestal that supports the “Lady with the Light,” the “Great Beacon Unto the World”—the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Perhaps unknown to Republicans, the words were penned in 1883 by the American poet Emma Lazarus:
Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
It would behoove the Republicans of Congress—gathered in rural retreat from Washington this past weekend to ponder why it is they are despised by Latinos, among America’s minorities soon to become the collective majority—to conduct themselves with mercy and rationality, for once; to seek the sunshine of a better history.
This is what the president logically wants by way of comprehensive immigration reform: a path to citizenship for 12 million undocumented workers; strengthening of airport, harbor, and border security; stiffer penalties for employers who exploit immigrant labor; guest worker provisions; and, most importantly, formalization of the DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) was signed into temporary law last year by executive order of Mr. Obama. It grants conditional legal residency to the children of undocumented workers who demonstrate good moral character and educational achievement, with a route to full U.S. citizenship. Introduced as a bill in Congress, the president soon saw there was no chance of its passage in the face of near uniform Republican opposition. The president’s order will expire in time; in the name of efficiency, if not fairness, it needs to be made permanent in federal statutory law.
“I am somewhat hopeful for a pragmatic immigration policy,” said my friend Mr. Shelton. “The Republican Party has realized that its jingoistic, anti-immigrant philosophy is up against the hard reality of changing demographics.”
But he added, “With the likes of Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, of Cuban heritage, Republicans will try to dupe Hispanics and others that they are a ‘big tent’ party.”
PREDICTION: Mr. Obama and the Democrats will get what they want in the reasonable, pragmatic immigration policy they seek. Republicans, as a whole, are likely not suicidal. Those who are risk being voted out of office less than two years hence. They will be reminded of this potential, on a daily basis, by Republicans interested in institutional survival. It is that easy.
I should like to add to this latest and lengthy disquisition, as best I’m able:
Frohes neues Jahr an euch, liebe Leser. Und Dankeschön für Ihre Aufmerksamkeit auf diesen Bereich.
Copyright © 2012 by Thomas Adcock
THOMAS ADCOCK is a novelist and journalist based in New York City. Winner of the prestigious Edgar Allan Poe Award, given by Mystery Writers of America, his books and articles have been published worldwide. Writing as Tom Dey, he is currently completing a new novel titled “Lovers & Corpses.” Mehr zu Thomas Adcock hier und hier.