Today is the official Flag Day of the United States, but while there are still fifty stars emblazoned on the banner, this country is anything but unified right now.
The horrific terrorist attack that killed almost 50 nightclub patrons and police officers in Orlando this week – the biggest mass shooting on a long list of such episodes in American history – could have been a moment of solemn and dignified national embrace.
But both sides of the culture wars have simply dug into their trenches, using this atrocity to quickly justify their respective agendas and move on to their regular talking points.
Cable news, social media and talkback radio – as well as shopping malls and water coolers no doubt – have played host to an even-more-heated-than-usual blame game in the past 48 hours, led by the predictably partisan politicians and pundits.
On the left side of the ring, progressives have sought to swiftly position this as nothing more than another case of “gun violence” proving that firearms are too easily obtainable and that assault weapons should be banned. One Connecticut Democrat even refused to take part in a moment of silence for victims in Congress, essentially claiming that loud, angry ranting is the only appropriate response.
Meanwhile on the right, this tragedy is immediately positioned as a coordinated attack by the global Jihadist enemy, reigniting calls for a ban on Muslim immigration and causing Trump to issue a very distasteful “told you so” on Twitter. The way some are reporting it you would think the Ayatollah Khomeini himself ordered the massacre.
Others see this as the latest manifestation of an often under-reported culture of gay hate crimes, and others still an example of the plight of the mentally ill.
The full facts of the case will not be known for some time, but likely there are elements of truth in all these responses. Not that you would know it from the commentary of the so-called experts and leaders, who seem to think that only one of these hypotheses can be plausible, the others dead wrong.
Given the magnitude of the tragedy, you would think this would be an occasion for conservatives to concede that perhaps a nightclub is not an appropriate place for a AR-15-style firearm or that people on FBI watch-lists might reasonably face some extra scrutiny when shopping for deadly weapons. Instead, they cling to the same old Second Amendment crib notes like a kid whose water pistol is being confiscated.
Equally, you would think that some LGBT rights supporters and left-wing activists would at least now admit there might actually be some problems with Islamist ideology (i.e. it is deadly and evil). Instead, they ludicrously claim the terrorist’s religion is completely irrelevant and the innumerable cases of Jihad-inspired mass murder are all just a silly coincidence.
Whatever your views on Muslims and madmen, gays and guns, if there were ever a common ground to be offered to the warring political factions surely this is it. Surely we can acknowledge that the reasons behind these sorts of abhorrent hate crimes are complex and probably multi-faceted. Surely we can agree that the pithy soundbites of politicians might not be sufficient in the face of such wanton loss of life.
Yes, there have been vigils and prayers and outpourings of support, and likely most Americans are also frustrated by the fray. But overwhelmingly the reactions, especially by elected officials (or those seeking to become one), have been caustic, bitter and intensely partisan.
There is still a chance that in the aftermath of the anger, politics will give way to peace and some semblance of national unity may emerge, as it did after 9-11.
But given the election is in full swing, and there is an increasingly hysterical 24-hour news cycle to feed, I wouldn’t hold your breath.
Published on ‘Flag Day’, 14 June 2016