Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Uvalde Parents Are About To Learn Just How Little the American People Care About Them

A shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas has killed nearly two dozen people, including nineteen children.

I grieve for the parents and families of those who were killed. They are going through a tragedy I cannot even begin to fathom. But as awful as things are right now, I cannot imagine what the survivors will have to endure starting about a week or a month from now.

Because that is when it will be hammered home just how little the American people care about them.

I want us to really understand this point. We love to talk about tragedies bringing out the best in the American people. We love heartwarming stories about blood being donated and volunteers flooding hospitals and homes being opened up. I don't want to discount any of those things. But we never talk about, and we should talk about, how tragedies like this bring out the absolute worst in the American people -- and here I'm not talking about the shooter. I'm talking about us, all of us, as a collective polity, who in a democratic society is tasked with making a collective response to catastrophes like these and has consistently collectively decided to shrug and carry on as if nothing happened.

It is human nature to shout, holler, cry out when we are hurt or scared. The more grievous the injury, the louder the scream. Why? To attract attention. Deeply rooted in our psyche is a fundamental belief that if others become aware of our hurt, they will help us.

The level of grief and pain the Uvalde parents are going through is unimaginable to me. Experiencing it, and knowing that others know you're experiencing it, naturally breeds the assumption that others will try to help you. How could they not? How could they be impervious to such raw, acute anguish? How could they just ignore the cries?

Imagine if you were shot on a public street. You cry out; people see your distress. Imagine if they do nothing. They just keep going about their business. Perhaps a few shoot you a sympathetic glance as they carry on with their errands. You beg for help -- maybe your leg can be saved if you get to a hospital quick enough. Nobody does anything. You are left alone to fester in agony -- seeing with your very eyes people who you know know how hurt you are and are consciously electing to do nothing about it.

And yet -- we know from far too much experience that ignoring is exactly what will happen to the Uvalde parents. We all are witnesses to their anguish, we all hear their cries for help. They know we hear them, and we know they know we hear them. Even still, there will be no serious efforts to respond to this catastrophe or ensure it does not happen again; same as there were no such efforts for the catastrophe before this, or the one before that. In a few days, the American people will have moved on. In a few months, they will make choices at the ballot box that could be responsive to the pain of the Uvalde parents, but most likely will not be. We could choose to elect politicians who would enact policies that might stop tragedies like this, but we won't -- stopping CRT in schools or maximizing our tax breaks will be far higher priorities. And so our politicians will continue to not pass meaningful gun control measures, and our judicial overlords will continue to pick away at the few that are enacted in slavish fealty to a maximalist interpretation of the Second Amendment. Nothing will change. The Uvalde parents will have been utterly abandoned to their grief. They will know, in their bones, that Americans simply do not care.

I've been struck, when reading about the "anti-CRT" panic, how often the complaint of the activist-rabble rousers sounds in the register of avoiding "guilt". "I don't want my kid to feel guilty!" I absolutely do not believe anyone should feel guilty for who they are. But we absolutely can justly be made to feel guilty for the choices we make, or fail to make. Our collective decision to turn away from scores of grieving parents, to not take any meaningful action to try to ameliorate their pain or at the very least change course so the next tragedy does not occur, is indeed a choice, and one we should feel very guilty about.

Maybe that's the right approach. Fear that our children might be next doesn't motivate us; nor does justice and retribution for the last batch of victims. Perhaps being forced to sit with the guilt that our choices represent abandoning our fellows in their moments of greatest need, to really stew in our own callousness and confront our abject indifference to the searing pain around us -- maybe that will be enough to motivate a change in behavior. I'm doubtful. But maybe.

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