Tag Archives: nativism

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The Sentimental Appeal of Live Rounds

                                            Death of Tecumseh, Part of the Frieze in the US Capitol Rotunda

The man with a gun is a familiar American stereotype. Guns are enshrined in our history, art, and even laudatory self-definitions.

A lot of our friends around the world must wonder why we Americans are so willing to tolerate the murder of innocents brought down by private arsenals of weapons. Many warn their citizens about the risk of getting shot while visiting the United States. The nation is awash in guns that would never be used for authentic hunting. Yet, we continue to invoke a “personal freedom” and a misreading of the badly-written Second Amendment to mitigate our own cognitive dissonance. As we like to point out, our national history was secured by people willing to look down the barrel of a rifle.

More than most nations, the U.S. has been defined by lethal firearms kept by ordinary citizens: muskets in the revolutionary war, rifles during the western expansion that ostensibly “tamed” the prairies and its native populations, and military arms from the “arsenal of democracy” that now serve a useful purpose in Ukraine. But as sure as darkness follows day, we must add the private armories of citizens frightened of sharing the culture with those of a different hue. Virulent nativism is again rampant in the United States, and legally purchased pistols and automatic weapons regularly show up in the hands of recluses in Buffalo, Pittsburgh or Las Vegas, most festering with conspiracy fears.

As a child of the west, it was my birthright to have a toy six shooter by the age of 6 and a BB gun soon after. By the time I was in the Scouts, I and my peers were routinely sent to the shooting range for lessons with the NRA on how to handle a rifle. Even Disney reminded us that every homestead needed the protection of a good man like Davy Crockett, who could shoot straight and protect lands that needed to be “settled.”  The cycle for many young men is now completed with gun shows, shooter games and live or filmed war reenactments. Those without the benefit of the communication skills that come with social intelligence are especially primed to game their way to the idea of a  quick “solution” to perceived grievances.

Too many take comfort in the American catechism of the “right to bear arms.”

The man with a gun is a familiar American stereotype. Guns are enshrined in our history, art, and even laudatory stories we tell about ourselves. We can see it in the monumental frieze ringing the Capitol Rotunda (above), in all of the video cowboys of the 50s and 60s and modern versions of the same genre. The film character Alec Baldwin was portraying in the ill-fated Rust aimed for show but killed for real. That accident repels, but—given the American narrative—never quite enough to unseat the attractions of yet another story about the wild west.

If we could think of our society as a person, we might imagine it as suffering from an incurable addiction to mostly sentimental narratives stitched around a misunderstood foundational document. This addiction is fed by stories of shooters and redeeming enforcers, but none of the fiction can match the horror of 211 American mass shootings so far this year.1 So, we mourn the children and adults bleeding out on the floors of schools, stores, and churches.  And we muster anger at the rare, lethal and deranged Americans that see a gun as a tool of self-expression. The bad guys in other modern societies like Norway or the U.K. are mostly captured by unarmed police. But in our stand-your-ground culture, criminals–and those among us who anticipate that they might be their victims–are armed to the teeth. The local bait shop in our affluent nearby town of 500 not only sells fishing supplies, also Glocks and ammo as well.

Addictions are notoriously difficult to break. And in our media we continue to celebrate the history and lore that is constructed about the nation’s many violent conflicts. They have become a buffer against accepting that our addiction to the bullet is any more serious than other human frailties. Even against the wishes of many Americans, we don’t seem to have the political will to disarm. So our recidivism is guaranteed.

A large segment of the political class has learned to look away, or to recite the familiar litany of prayers for the innocents on one day, while some return to stoked-up racial fears the next. Even though too many have lost their birthright freedom to live, most of the rest of us still take comfort in the tired catechism of the “real” freedom in the “right to bear arms.”

Most cultures would not tolerate a policy or cultural routine that enables the massacre of its citizens. But it seems that we have our reasons.

1 Gun Violence Archive, https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports/mass-shooting, Accessed May 18, 2022.

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The Appeal of Being Inside A Fence

Brexit seems like a self-inflicted wound. It turned legitimate grievances about questionable regulation into a grotesque  overreaction.

The recent departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union is a good time to ponder the now common impulse around the world to offer voters the candy of cultural segregation. Brexit was about many things: everything from the price of butter in the shops to tighter controls on who can visit and stay within the United Kingdom. Donald Trump’s southern wall is a cruder manifestation of the same impulse, as were the recent chants of “USA! USA!” from thugs in the halls of the Capitol.

Around the world nationalism is having its moment against internationalism. This resurgence has hobbled the work and play of many who rightly sense that their futures depend on engaging others across political borders that are out of date by hundreds of years.

Until this year, residents of the U.K. had an open ticket to explore an incredibly diverse part of the world.


The idea of forming a kind of United States of Europe was one of the real international achievements of the Twentieth Century, tossed aside by expensively-educated Tories looking for an easy way to mollify restless voters. It was a modern marvel to witness France, Britain and Germany working together to open borders and minds. And so many benefited, especially younger Brits and their continental counterparts who understood that it was now their birthright to explore a range of traditions and languages only a train ride away. It wasn’t just businesspersons who woke up in Britain and met clients for lunch in Paris. Swedes and Scots, Northern Irelanders and Greeks, English and Austrians traveled a vast and open region encompassing 28 countries. Up to the end of 2020, U.K. residents had greater opportunities to go to college, work, and to explore an incredibly diverse part of the world. Musicians could do the same, accepting a gig in an Italian club or French theater with a minimum of paperwork. Visas and work permits were relics of the last world war and a more suspicious age.

Britons will need to relearn the rules of foreign travel in ways that many still inside the EU will not. Most European youth and some cross-border workers on the continent have escaped the effects of Brexit. But a British student or musician is now more confined to their shrinking home country, which has triggered new pleas for independence in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Scotland especially benefited as an equal trading partner with other nations in the EU.

It is surely no coincidence that Britain’s most beloved orchestra conductor, Liverpool native Simon Rattle, just announced that he is seeking German citizenship and will abandon his post with the London Symphony Orchestra. Rattle has made his point: as a musician he wants no part of a English provincialism.

It is reassuring that Joe Biden generally takes a dim view of Britain’s attempt to go big on patriotism and think small as an island. Biden’s internationalist instincts represent at least a momentary pushback against the separatism that fueled Brexit. But he will have his hands full with a withered GOP that still panders to a base of aging white Americans wishing for a monoculture that never was.

In the end, I seriously doubt that Britons are going to feel any better about their politics, save for those who viewed the rest of the world as much “too foreign” to visit.  There are some signs that buyer’s remorse may already be setting in. But if they are still able to warm to the new status quo, they will come to resemble the travel agent I once met near Birmingham in the center of England. Even in middle age she had yet to find her way to Scotland just a few hundred miles away.