On mass shootings and neoliberalism

In response to yesterday’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida:

In another time, or another country, one mass shooting, much less one targeting children, would provoke sweeping legislation sponsoring large-scale gun buybacks and mental health programs for the entire population. Instead we all feel powerless to effect change because nothing about Florida is new, and nothing can affect the NRA or reach pro-gun lawmakers.

I’ve been thinking about why we’re left feeling so powerless and helpless to stop mass shootings, and yes, of course the NRA and GOP have literal blood on their hands. But I also think the Democratic Party bears some responsibility.

We all know the NRA doesn’t advocate for gun owners – it’s a manufacturers’ lobby, protecting a very lucrative industry of death. In a functioning political economy, we’d have a major party broadly advocating against the interests of the wealthy, on behalf of the majority of the population. In a functioning political economy, the outrage and heartbreak we feel in response to a mass shooting would be properly understood as the direct result of morbid profiteering, and the majority of the country that wants reasonably strict gun law reform would already be mobilized & aware of the need for direct political and material action. In a functioning political economy a single mass shooting would be met appropriately with horror and a sweeping electoral mandate to Do Something Now.

Instead we have a relatively hapless Democratic Party committed to maintaining a broken political coalition joining the urbane wealthy with the desperate, growing working class (and shrinking lower middle class). As a party, the Democrats have repeatedly chosen this coalition over the past 20 years, continuously eschewing meaningful class consciousness, mobilization, and direct action for technocratic tinkering and reification of the unsustainable status quo. The party hops from one “handsome rising star” to the next in the hopes of finding deliverance from the perfidy of the GOP, all for naught, because the party also works incredibly hard to avoid talking about precisely what makes the GOP so goddamn evil. To identify the cause of the GOP’s evil would encourage the poor to resent the wealthy, yes even the urbane wealthy.

Crucially, this strategy just isn’t working for the Democrats. They’ve been shedding thousands of seats at the state and local levels for decades. The GOP is not far from having enough unilateral control over state governments to force unspeakably evil constitutional amendments through. And they’re willing to do it. The Democrats’ unwillingness to engage in true class mobilization and coalition building is going to get us all killed.

That feeling of helplessness we all have right now is not so dissimilar from the helplessness we feel when schools shutter as a result of funding cuts, or when SNAP gets cut, or when our local library can’t afford to hire enough staff. It’s the relentless, unstoppable logic of capital and the market, wriggling its way into our brains and preventing us from imagining an alternative to austerity. But we don’t have a resource shortage problem, we have a resource allocation problem.

We can, in fact, just take money from the rich and give it to the poor. If we can make that a political reality, we make it easier to mobilize very specifically against the ghouls in the NRA. But we need our supposed representatives to take the goddamn gloves off, or we need to find a way to force them to.

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