AMERICA LURCHES TOWARD ITS CHECKERED PAST
If you live in Texas, are unemployed and own a handgun, you are in luck. The Texas Republican governor, his stooges, and the Texas Republican-controlled legislature have stepped up to the plate for you.
On September 1, 2021, Texans were gifted with a new law essentially banning abortions in the state, but with a twist sure to be embraced by the unemployed. Anyone who wants to pick up a quick $10,000 bounty is now a key component of the Texas anti-abortion team. And just to make sure that the team is well-protected in the often-dangerous world of bounty hunting, on that same day, Texans with a handgun became free to carry that gun openly without a license, permit, or training. This means that as that bounty hunter is snooping around trying to locate abortion-supporting miscreants to cash in on the bounty, he/she can have a handgun at the ready if confronted by an angry boyfriend about to head out with his pregnant girlfriend to seek an abortion.*
This is, of course, another in a growing list of “only in America” moments. The nation is piling up an impressive list of “accomplishments” on its regressive road to a simpler world in which White guys made all the decisions and many of the rest of the White guys and gals loved the way it worked for them. For context, it should be remembered that some Americans used to lynch other Americans for perceived cultural insensitivity. So, while this new rule of law step backward might look like a creative attempt at re-imagining policing, it is instead a return to an even more tribal time when those who perceived themselves wronged took care of things themselves.
To be sure, there are undoubtedly a few other recognized constitutional rights, beyond a woman’s right to choose, that might be ripe for vigilante exploitation. How about that Second Amendment right to bear arms? As with abortion rights, gun rights are controversial in America, rest on a still disputed legal foundation, and have passionate activist supporters and opponents. If left to my choice, no individual would be able to own a gun of any kind without certification of gun safety training, a full background check, a specific-use license, and a locked gun case for storage at home. No assault weapons or high-capacity magazines would be allowed in private hands.
Because of America’s love affair with guns and the fifty-state solution to even constitutionally-protected rights, there are fifty different state governmental responses to the nation’s gun carnage. Again, as with abortion rights, some states are permissive while others are more restrictive, leaving some elements of the gun control package suggested above as the law in some states.
So while armed Texans are hunting down abortionists and those who aid them, legally armed New Yorkers could be hunting down all those illegal assault weapons for a hefty bounty per weapon. Wouldn’t this be fun. Your neighbor has a slew of guns, purchased without a background check, no licenses, and no gun case. Hop on it, sue in your local court, and take a shot at collecting that hefty bounty.**
This enriched law enforcement concept would not have to be limited to the constitutional realm. How about recycling? For those of you with neighbors who never recycle despite local recycling mandates, this could be yet another fertile ground for vigilante “justice.” And this time, all you have to do is pretend you are walking your dog while actually noting the absence of recycling bins on recycling day. As an added bonus, you get to feel good about yourself because you are helping to save the planet.
In addition to a new urgency for a return to vigilante justice, a significant element of the populace also seems committed to limiting the right to vote of some of their legally-entitled fellow citizens. Since free and fair elections are seen by all freedom-loving people as a core element of the democratic process, narrowing the definition of “free” and “fair” is a great way to start a fundamental march backward.
This idea isn’t new in America; it is just newly-minted in Republican-led states where old ideas get new life. If you have too many people of color taking advantage of present voting laws to achieve electoral gains, you have to change the rules or this will keep happening. Enter a dizzying array of new voter suppression laws.
For those who are true “freedom lovers,” there seems to be a singularly American nostalgic longing for measles, mumps, polio and even smallpox. Remember those days of yore when god alone decided who ended up in an iron lung? Now, a whole new universe of willfully ignorant freedom lovers is roaming the land and killing their fellow citizens.
This phenomenon appears to generate from a frontier mentality that resisting the government was the only honorable way for real men to live. “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death,” “Live Free or Die,” and the like have polluted America’s democratic discourse since the time of the nation’s birth. With a gun in one hand and a beer in the other, resisting the intrusion of organized authority has now become the sick mantra of those who don’t care if your liberty is invaded by the coronavirus, mumps or measles.
Yet this fundamentally anti-liberty message escapes most of its adherents. Freedom and liberty should be viewed as a collective expression, not a dogma that elevates the welfare of the individual over the freedom and liberty of others. On this note, it would be entertaining to engage some of these “resistance” fighters in a discussion about the absurdity of opposing life-giving vaccines while promoting "right to life" bounties for those who interfere with a woman’s freedom to choose.
In the months ahead, there will be rancorous debate in America about abortion, about gun control, about protecting the right to vote, about the wisdom of recycling, and about vaccine mandates. It will be a confrontation of ideas, with one side looking to project an America that actually lives up to its self-serving narrative and the other side seeking a return to an America blinded to its failures.
Resistance to public health mandates, resistance to universal access to meaningful healthcare, and resistance to access to the affordable child care, pre-K learning and community college that are central to thriving families will be the hallmark of those trapped in their reverence for the past. To see more, keep an eye on the immigration debate as America’s southern border continues to be an unwelcoming barrier and Afghani refugees flood unwelcoming communities. Those who give voice to that noxious anti-immigrant message also give voice to the realities of America’s past.
Think finally about the notion that for the first time most of us can remember, America may be committed to avoiding declared or de facto wars on the soil of other nations.*** Sadly, it is continuing to fight a war with itself on its own soil.