Jared Yates Sexton is an associate professor at Georgia Southern University. He is the author of The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage.
America is in the grips of an epidemic.
In the midst of years of debilitating paranoia, an unspeakable fear of Islamic terrorism since September 11, 2001, a xenophobic distrust of immigrants manifested by political propaganda, we have missed the problem right in front of us. Fox News has dedicated countless hours to theoretical nightmares, race wars and the horror of replacement, selling viewers their worst anxieties back to them, all the while peddling gold, weapons and doomsday provisions in case economic or racial strife might turn bloody.
They were right to worry, but they pointed the finger at the wrong culprit. The problem isn’t with minorities, nor immigrants who seek better lives for their children. The problem is male white supremacists.
These men have taken up semi-automatic weapons, waded into public places and racked up body counts while taking their anger out on the body proper of the United States. Their crimes are nauseatingly routine now. Their backgrounds nearly identical. Their racist, nationalistic screeds left behind in their murderous wake predictable.
It is an epidemic aided by the vast and inescapably twisted political propaganda that is aimed at mobilizing an aggrieved base of white voters, but this messaging has particularly struck a murderous chord with disturbed, young white men who are taught, from a very early age, that any encroachment on their wants and inherent privilege must be answered with violence.
This is fueled by the Republican Party, stoked by their propaganda wings in cable news, radio airwaves and in websites both mainstream and on the fringes. It is an epidemic fostered by and triggered by Donald Trump, the president of the United States of America.
This epidemic is blatant, and yet, the sickness continues undiagnosed. When the next inevitable massacre is committed and a community grieves, the networks will frame it as a singular tragedy and blame the latest lone nut. We’ll say, “my god, how could this happen,” while our impotent politicians copy and paste their public statements from the last tragedy, from the tragedy before that, from the tragedy before that.
These so-called leaders will never move on anything approaching action, whether it’s banning military-grade weapons on the streets, background checks that actually work, mental health services to ease the tide, or anything approaching something that would actually save lives, because they are cowards beholden to the lobbyists of the weapons industry and beholden to a political strategy that, simply put, kills Americans.
The saddest reality is that we as a people won’t confront the truth either - because to connect the dots means we admit the epidemic exists, and it has for hundreds of years.
We don’t want to say the words. We don’t want to admit that America has festered with white supremacy for more than 240 years. We can’t confront the fact that, before it was mass shootings, it was mass lynchings. We don’t want to confront the fact that there is a direct line to be drawn from the murders in El Paso, Tex., on Saturday to the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 by white supremacist Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people. We can’t confront that our laws, our customs and our actions are riddled through with this epidemic and have secured, for generations, a rigid and toxic racial hierarchy.
But make no mistake, what we face is an epidemic that threatens the very foundation of free society. Every politician and gun salesman who hides behind support of the Second Amendment likes to beat their chest and trumpet the idea of freedom, but what gets lost in the defence is that America is founded on the idea of a free society, a place where Americans should be able to live lives in which they are secure to move about, think any thought they want, say anything they want and realize the concept of relative safety. Every day that this epidemic goes unaddressed, every day that stepping into a public place amounts to risking your life, another shred of actual freedom, of a free society, slips away, possibly to never return.
The choice is no choice at all. We must confront this epidemic by confronting ourselves and our shameful legacy. That dot is there to be connected, and god help us if this epidemic continues and continues to grow, especially in an era where the president himself seems to be giving the perpetrators comfort and inspiration. There is an epidemic that must named and must be addressed or else we risk losing everything.
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