The disinhibition of the extremist in the new America

If you haven’t seen this video (specifically the first forty-or-so seconds), then you’ve been cave-dwelling since mid-week—for which I envy you. The rest of us have been exposed to it numerous times, and in truth we don’t need to see it again—except we do.

We need to see a man in a Trump hat showing up at the scene of the massacre at Santa Fe High School with a sidearm on his hip and a five-foot flagstaff resting on his shoulder—the new America of Old Glory and guns—and we need to see it until it looks normal; because if it ever does, then we have to repeat over and over, this is not normal.

This man, this attitude, this pseudo-patriotism—this is not normal.

After Newtown, Parkland, and all the others, we may be forgiven for wanting to concede. Remember the president’s meeting with the Parkland survivors and family members of the dead? Remember his excoriation of Congress for being fearful of the NRA? Then fast forward to May 4 and the president’s pep talk to that same organization, a speech filled with lies and half-truths, but whose gist (if there ever is such a thing when this automaton speaks) can best be epitomized by this: “Your Second Amendment rights are under siege, but they will never, ever be under siege as long as I’m your president.” (Ten days later, after the shooting at Santa Fe High School this past week, Trump said we all have to work together to ensure student safety. Yeah, “all” except the NRA.)

It’s interesting that Trump used the phrase “under siege” to describe gun activity in America. After all, a siege is a military operation in which an enemy surrounds a town or building or fortress with the aim of starving the people inside and forcing a surrender. This is far from what is happening to gun owners, but very much like what has happened in our schools, our workplaces, our nightclubs, and our churches.

But back to the man with the sidearm and the Trump hat. Whether he’s shell-shocked by the morning’s events, tone-deaf to the recent history of the country, or simply out of his mind, there in quintessence is the answer to the questions of how did we get here? Who voted for Trump? Who continues to support him?

On Bill Maher’s weekly Real Time this past Friday, one of his guests, journalist and activist Dan Savage, used a word I hadn’t heard before: disinhibit. He was describing the new boldness of the radical right: the racism of the white supremacists, the misogyny of the Incel movement, the xenophobia of the Nativists. These people, he said, once found lurking in the shadows or hidden in seamy chatrooms, have been disinhibited by a president who dog-whistles their repugnant beliefs. And often lives them.

Unfortunately, we hear the sounds too, and though we’d like to ignore them, we can’t afford to. Our silence would only serve to disinhibit them further; and when the next mass shooting occurs and another lunatic jingoist appears wrapped in a flag and toting an AR-15, will we even take notice?

In what might normally be considered the coup de grâce, Trump has “re-activated” his gun safety commission and is expected to meet with members next week. But “normally” no longer prevails: there is no final blow, no last straw for Trump. Every misstep, every folly, every indignity is mere prologue.

We can’t be silent.

This is not normal.



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