Omar El Akkad’s latest novel, What Strange Paradise, won the Giller Prize.
Over the years, like a jazz musician forced against his will to play the same number again and again, Ted Cruz has developed variations in style, a few small tricks to keep the song from sounding rehearsed.
The Texas Senator and gun industry sock-puppet has had to issue numerous statements on various acts of mass murder since he was elected in 2013 – little Twitter missives about how heartbroken or appalled he is that the weapons whose lobbyists and defenders line his election campaign’s pockets might be used, God forbid, for their intended purpose.
Initially, like so many of his Republican peers, Mr. Cruz relied on the tried and true and utterly meaningless expression of “thoughts and prayers” to the families of the newly killed. But in time, even by his standards, the phrase started to sound too trite. So he began “lifting up in prayer” all those whose loved ones were murdered – their bodies sometimes so mangled as to necessitate DNA identification – by the guns for which he is paid to cheerlead. But even that expression eventually seemed insufficient, in part because a lot of people find Mr. Cruz deeply unlikeable. So now, his go-to phrase also incorporates his wife: “Heidi and I are lifting up in prayer” whomever it is that has just been sacrificed at the altar of gun industry profits.
One hopes, at the very least, the load to be lifted this week – 21 murdered human beings, 19 of them children, in Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex. – is heavy, and that Heidi and Ted and the entire congregation of piety-clad Republicans feel every ounce of it. And although every shred of past evidence suggests otherwise, one hopes too that the millions of dollars these people receive to smother the most basic impulses of a conscience are not quite enough to offset the knowledge that the industry to which they have pledged allegiance has now once more facilitated the killing of children in a manner and on a scale so grotesque as to be largely unmatched in any other halfway-functioning society on earth.
Everything to follow in this paragraph is so obvious that it pains to write it, but is nonetheless necessary to state because the national standstill on curbing gun violence in the United States is defined by one party’s complete rejection of reality: More people are shot to death in this country than almost anywhere else because there are more privately owned guns in this country than almost anywhere else. The gun industry, via its lobby group, the National Rifle Association, frames tools of killing as an integral component of American identity and personal freedom but in truth this is a business and the only thing that matters is profit. High-powered assault rifles are especially profitable and so it is in the industry’s best interest to sell as many of them as possible, regardless whatever carnage such weapons might precipitate. Any regulation that stands in the way of sales, no matter how benign, is an impediment to profit, and must be eradicated. To do this work of eradication, the firearm lobby pays off a dog-loyal cabal of Republican lawmakers, who must stand in front of the cameras time and again, before the blood has dried, and parrot the fiction that the only solution to gun violence is more guns.
Nineteen children are dead.
Instead of the most basic and necessary reforms, Republicans are forced to propose remedies so absurd as to veer toward performance art – arming teachers; limiting school-buildings to a single doorway; teaching kids to snitch better. Like every other element of right-wing ideology in the U.S., what might have been laughable or fringe a few years ago is now mainstream doctrine.
Nineteen children are dead.
Simply by process of political elimination in a two-party system, the job of doing anything about this parade of death falls on the shoulders of a Democratic Party whose centrist leadership has always been more afraid of alienating hypothetical Red-state voters than pushing for meaningful change. In the polite, country-club environment of mainstream American politics, this means there are things that simply cannot be said – that the Second Amendment is an archaic sentence-length memorandum proposed by a man who could not possibly have conceived of it being used to justify the sale of AR-15 rifles; that any party whose allegiance to its corporate benefactors tolerates unlimited slaughter is not fit to govern at any level; that it is in the direct financial and electoral interest of one of the nation’s two major political entities to just let the murder continue.
Nineteen children are dead.
The first line of psychic defence in times of endless calamity is forgetting, and in a few weeks much of this country will have forgotten about these kids and their two teachers and all the survivors and grieving families and lives irreparably wrecked. Maybe some new political scandal will arrive to eat up airtime, or some other long-standing pillar of American democracy will crack and lean – or, most likely, there will be another act of mass murder somewhere else in the country, and Heidi and Ted will once again be called on to flex their lifting muscles and with great reverence help guide a new cohort of dead children upward. God knows they have the experience.
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