Wednesday, February 21, 2018

HELP WANTED: Country (some assembly required), seeks meteor expert

It’s getting tough to avoid the conclusion that America is teetering on the End Times of one thing and tipping over into the Beginning of something else. We’re in a new age of dinosaurs and our meteor has already entered the upper atmosphere.

But don’t be alarmed; we’ve been in close scrapes like this before and we’re still here. When America has had to adapt or die in the past, we’ve always chosen to adapt. (Maybe next week I’ll write a column on seat belts.)

When I was a kid, for example, everybody smoked cigarettes. Everybody. My Mom smoked lady-marketed cigarettes (Winston) and my Dad smoked Tareyton—a man’s cigarette! You knew it was a man’s cigarette because every ad featured a smiling model, male or female, with black-eye make-up, and the proud slogan “I’d rather fight than switch!”

Wherever I went when I was a kid, everybody smoked and smoked and smoked. In airplanes, public buses, restaurant kitchens, doctors’ offices… in period movies now it’s played for laughs because of the absurdity of some of the images. Like the overweight, slouching doctor taking a long drag off his cigarette, exhaling thoughtfully, then turning to face his patient and tell him, “I’m sorry, Mr. Caruthers, it’s cancer.”

Funny thing about smokers in real life though, they were dying off. In droves; in exponentially higher numbers than non-smokers, especially non-smokers who didn’t live in a household with a smoker. These numbers got out to the public and became impossible for any reasonable person to ignore. Society took steps.

Enabled by a supportive public, Big Government stepped in and erected such stiff tariffs and impediments to the marketing of cigarettes that over the course of my lifetime, cigarette smoking has gone from being as common as people updating their social media status, to a lifestyle choice made by die-hard enthusiasts and a few hopelessly-addicted fiends who’ve been trying to quit at least once a year since they were teenagers and Joe Kool was a cartoon camel.

And why not? Smoking is still their right. It always has been.

But it’s also everybody else’s right to not be exposed to the harmful byproduct of their lifestyle, second-hand smoke. Society agreed on that, too, and Things Changed. Smoking-related deaths now compared to when I was a kid? Almost negligible. Nobody I know thinks fewer preventable deaths is a bad thing. Cigarettes are still legal, but the number of cigarette-related deaths per year has plummeted as cigarettes have become more of a niche industry.

In 50 years. Starting with incremental government regulation.

Oh, you see through me! This isn’t about smoking at all, is it?

I sent my kid off to school last Thursday with an uncomfortably long hug. I’ll bet I’m not the only one, either.

Every time one of these mass shootings is perpetrated (don’t tell me they ‘occur’), the official response from the Right-Wing is trotted out: Thoughts and prayers & This isn’t the time for politics, people are grieving. It’s as predictable as the fact that there will be a next mass shooting.

I live in Conservative Country. The folks out here love their kids, throw charity auctions, they’ll give you the shirt off their back. But they’ve been raised on a diet of Fox News, the Christian Broadcasting Network and talk radio punditry their whole lives. Their whole lives they’ve had one specific, market-driven, deliberate falsehood drilled into their heads: The Liberals are coming to take your guns. All their friends were raised exposed to the same influences, so they mostly agree on politics, or at least gun politics. And this is still the Wild West, it’s literally always been gun country.

The point is, the subject isn’t up for civil conversation out here. Most non-gun owners I know are ‘in the closet.’ And our state is representative of wide swaths of the country. Gun-enthusiasm today has become as workaday as the pall of cigarette exhaust was 50 years ago. It’s a lifestyle choice, enshrined by the Constitution, a document otherwise filled with more-precisely worded propositions.

So we are left with ‘thoughts and prayers’ and ‘this isn’t the time’ as the number of mass shootings skyrockets. Every other piece you read on the subject will provide you with the appalling numbers with which you are probably already familiar.

So I come to you today with a proposal.

“Thoughts and prayers?” By all means, keep them coming. I believe The Force responds accordingly to outpourings of good or evil intent.

“This isn’t the time?” Let’s say ‘okay.’ It probably isn’t, just out of respect for the families grieving. For goodness’ sake, we can wait for them to bury their dead before we turn the tragedy into the political donneybrook everyone knows it will be.

So since we all agree this isn’t the time for a ‘conversation,’ legislatively, about guns in America, how about here in the immediate aftermath, we set a time- and date-certain for that conversation instead?

Get it on the legislative calendar with a bullet, if you’ll pardon the expression. Make the legislative date escape-proof. That way, the political brawl necessary to follow will finally be able to begin. And by then, the families of the victims will be trying, somehow, to rebuild shattered lives, presumably not tuning in to Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity.

An excellent time for a ‘conversation,’ long-overdue, about some incremental legislation on guns. Prompted by the latest American tragedy, but examined in the aftermath of the aftermath, when—in theory—cooler heads may prevail.

Only 100 years ago, women did not have the right to vote. That sounds crazy to us today. They sound like dinosaurs to us, and only 100 years ago.

I want my grandkids to look back in a century and say, “…and oh my God, everybody owned guns!” No way, will say another, incredulous. “It’s true!” the first will assert, eyes wide. “And it was totally legal! I’ll show you a holo-projection!

And they’ll laugh at our generation and call us dinosaurs. And hopefully, they will be correct.