After months of dithering in a campaign as aimless as its Keroucian prologue, Beto O’Rourke had an interesting thought that’s also kind of true: “America is f—ed up” for tolerating mass shootings.
He’s not wrong, but his indignant posturing is misplaced. Last week, Beto gave a rather f—ed up answer to a question about abortion. Asked by a young man whether his life had value the day before he was born, Beto had this cheery response:
This is a decision that neither you, nor I, nor the United States government should be making. That’s a decision for the woman to make. We want her to have the best possible access to care and to a medical provider.
Got that, punk? You’re alive because of the good graces of The Woman and The Doctor, an inscrutable provider of Medical Care. Be thankful that they didn’t kill you.
Then, this week, Beto had this to say:
The rhetoric that we’ve used—the thoughts and prayers that you just referred to—it has done nothing to stop the epidemic of gun violence to protect our kids, our families, our fellow Americans in public places—at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, where 22 were killed, in Sutherland Springs—in a church.
“So yes, this is f—ed up,” the former Texas congressman went on. “If we don’t call it out for what it is, if we’re not able to speak clearly, if we’re not able to act decisively, then we will continue to have this kind of bloodshed in America, and I cannot accept that.”
But where does Beto presume to derive the moral vision to “speak clearly” and “act decisively?” Is it from the same moral universe where killing a child is “care?”
A Shallow Dialogue
Politics is always somehow related to morality, since the object of politics is justice or discerning the difference between right and wrong, and then building a social order in accordance with that understanding. Yet calls to “do something” fail to register the deeply moral roots of a problem like mass shootings. Why is it that modern people always consider them failures of policy, rather than of ethics?
Why is it the government’s fault for failing to take guns away from crazy people, and not an ethical failure on the part of the perpetrators, and of society generally, to raise virtuous and healthy citizens?
Can there be no connection between Beto O’Rourke’s deeply selfish, morally irresponsible response to the young man’s question about abortion, and the callous and evil mentality of mass shooters?
O’Rourke gives conservatives grief for offering “thoughts and prayers,” but that’s more thoughtful than begging the state to disenfranchise Americans for the sins of a few depraved monsters.
Liberals have no interest in talking about deeper causal factors in play, because to entertain them would distract from the more immediate political goal of winning votes by keeping the citizenry in a state of helplessness and fear.
The equally myopic invocation of “mental illness” as a catchall for cultural, moral, and institutional failure is still vague, but at least it’s closer to the mark. Clearly, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong with society when getting gunned down at random is a distinct fear in the minds of Americans. Why don’t we talk about that, instead of making guns more difficult to access for millions of people who have done nothing wrong?
But this is a conversation the Left is unwilling to have. You mean something seems to have gone wrong with the country that can’t be blamed on Trump, whites, the Founding Fathers, or even more historically remote colonialists? Who has time to talk about that?
There is something profoundly infantilizing and degrading about the left’s approach to gun violence. Rather than reflect on the deeper causes of this postmodern scourge, which might help lead the way to a more virtuous citizenry capable of self-government, the Left is quick to relinquish liberty for superficial solutions.
Democracy Without Virtue
This is the coward’s approach to democracy. Beto grasps at America’s moral blindness, its false conceits and its fecklessness in failing to confront deep social ills. But where does Beto presume, in a universe where killing a baby until the day of birth is permissible—maybe even positively necessary to secure an unlimited orbit for personal choice—to derive the moral authority to condemn mass killing? The Left is full of passionate intensity, passion without moral sight.
O’Rourke, who has spent more time than most candidates apologizing for his ancestors, is a particularly fitting vessel for the Left’s superficial, deeply hypocritical moral posturing. The Left has a morality, but it revolves entirely around the Manichean, primeval struggle between bigotry and wokeness, which is imagined to have proceeded in dialectical stages towards inexorable perfection. If there is any deeper cause of violence, it is the swirling, primordial energies of hatred and prejudice, which belong, always, to certain Bad People that everyone are supposed to hate.
The moral one-dimensionality of leftism is ill-equipped to handle the deeply moral responsibilities of republican self-government. It sounds like Beto is encouraging meditation on virtue, when in reality he’s suggesting prefabricated policy fixes that require the least inconvenience to the people, while leaving safely intact the assumption that America has progressed, morally and culturally, over the past several decades.
Without a deeper moral vision, we end up with the inarticulate, impotent hand-wringing of “do something!” We end up with citizens begging to be disenfranchised, rather than seeking to investigate, and reform, what has gone badly wrong in our society.
Politics without moral vision aims not at justice, but its opposite. A people without virtue descend sooner or later into despair, and from there, into tyranny—first of the soul, and then of governments. The Left’s gun policy has the textbook ingredient of tyranny: passion without moral vision to correct it. Such a recipe seeks to degrade, rather than ennoble, enslave rather than liberate.
A Retreat from Justice
Beto O’Rourke thinks it’s not anyone’s business to weigh in on abortion except a mother and “doctor” (and given his views on healthcare, the “doctor” is really the State). Indeed, why should people bother with petty trifles like the most important moral questions concerning life and death, when a group of nine people in black robes decided all of this for them some forty years ago?
The moral libertarianism of the Left, which has slowly but surely become the “id” of the time and has precipitated a retreat from justice, making virtuous, responsible government effectively impossible. The morally libertarian mentality of the Left could be summarized in the phrase, “Don’t like abortion? Then don’t have one.”
Indeed. Don’t like murder? Then don’t kill people. So simple! If only we could get murderers to see reason on this issue.
Decades of this indifferent, lazy mentality have eroded the role of morality in politics. In 2019, politics is no longer about the deepest questions of justice, which are imagined long ago to have been decided, but making right the great wrong of History, where all humankind’s sins are said to lie. Perhaps it’s easier to confront the sins of the past than it is those of our present? As a corollary, citizens have retreated from their neighbors and from the rigors of self- government and political community.
How else to explain the new, disturbing regularity, even banality, of an act so profoundly childish and evil as killing random strangers out of frustration with one’s own life? The causes are complex and could take up numberless op-ed pages. But it’s not the kind of thing that people used to fear. The evil of mass shooters is a reflection of the soul of this historical place, in this historical time.
Cliché as it may sound, their evil is a reflection of the society that produced them. The common trait of all mass shooters is a profound loneliness coupled with pathological narcissism, a belief that one’s ego is the whole world and that one’s problems are always the fault of everyone but oneself. Can there be no connection between O’Rourke’s deeply selfish, morally irresponsible response to the young man’s question about abortion, and the callous and evil mentality of mass shooters?
Beto O’Rourke is half-right. If we’re not able to speak clearly about what has gone wrong in this country, then the violence will never stop. With the shallow policy bromides of people like O’Routke controlling the dialogue, however, such clarity will never happen.