Why the 2nd Amendment might just save America from itself.
A moment of radical astonishment awaits you when you google ‘President of the United States of America’, the same radical astonishment Heidegger reserved for the intangible marvel one finds in existence, or Sartre, for staring at his hands too long. The firewall of cognitive dissonance crumbles and there, facing you on the screen, are the hanging jowls, blond coif and sun-bed panda eyes of a bombastic billionaire boiling in insecure accomplishment. It’s a feeling akin to finding that the conniving yet ambiguous anti-hero in a hit Netflix series has, in a season finale, murdered a local mayor and taken the reins of power – not in the fictional district of the show, but in your own hometown. In that instant, the truth that this is not some strange mockumentary appears so absurd that the very categories of fact and fiction fizzle and fuse in your mind to form a Baudrillardian Hyperreality. The news becomes a kind of caustic entertainment, satire stumbles into an early redundancy, the dying band of 60s folk singers regain relevance, and the world order that those born after 1979 have taken for granted mercilessly crumbles. The confused absurdity is further augmented by the fledgling administration’s cringing attempts to break any attachment to old-world ‘facts’ – thus giving them licence to construct the truth as it suits them. It takes a strong coffee, a mindless conversation, and 10 minutes browsing memes to escape the clutches of a Trump-induced existential crisis.
Yet the matter that scares people shitless on a dark night is not what the fuck is going on? But rather, how much should we fear the Donald? And, moreover, what can we do? The commentaries one finds echoing around our social media bubbles are apocalyptic to the extent that they could have been plucked clean from the Book of Revelations. Indeed, the vexation has bubbled to such heights that some have taken to surmounting the bent Perspex walls of their cyber chambers and stumbling into direct action in droves that far outnumber the most-attended under-attended inauguration in presidential history. Lacking organised leadership and the cultural current of a feverishly creative artistic wave, the energy of direct action against the presidency seems to be petering out, yet the fears that fed the resistance have not subsided. Quite the opposite, it appears the candidate that people took either seriously or literally, but not both, is acting dangerously close to his script. Beyond the hapless parading of unfashionable ideas that spark the moral approval of his sedentary fan base, there appear to be manoeuvres taking shape that suggest far more grandiose plans for personal power at play; shady business deals will no doubt help his personal wealth, turning popular opinion against the press and the judiciary will close doors for accountability, antipathy to international organisations from the UN through to NATO threatens legitimacy, the spectre of torture weakens insurrection, and berating the electoral system could spell an undermining of the very foundations of American democracy.
So should we all make plans to hide out in our fallout shelters? Preparing to rebuild society on the radiated ruins of a chemical war, and re-float our currency using the incidental shrapnel that tore apart our homes? Should we expect the future of humanity to be nothing more than a ‘made-in-China’ boot heel forever crushing the windpipe of the working man and woman? To this I hesitate to furnish an ounce of optimism. American democracy, in all its stuttering and stagnant glory, is designed to prevent the train from hurtling of the rails. The quasi-religious regard for the constitution, and its paralleled protective guardians, the supreme court – along with countless federal and state checks and balances – act as a heap of sandbags to impede the charge of a wannabe tyrant such as Trump. Specifically, the sanctity of the first 10 amendments (indeed, probably more sacred to evangelical US citizens that the 10 commandments etched on a stone tablet handed down to Moses in Exodus) enshrines the freedom of the individual against a potentially repressive government. Tyranny is alien to US soil, it is something to be imposed on Latin American nations, not consumed at home. Certainly, the system has historically failed to protect people it was yet to bring under its wing as ‘human’ – the depraved state of historic race relations being one of many cases in point – however, it is yet to march the other way into dehumanising the established rights of American citizens. Moreover, F.D. Roosevelt aside, a president is yet to outstay their constitutional welcome. A safe bet would be that a Mussolini-style bravado takeover is effectively impossible in the USA. The early signs suggest that the wheels of this defence mechanism are creaking into action; with Trump’s travel ban already being blocked in the courts. Nonetheless, the Trump administration will likely be the postmodern bright-orange electric cheese puff acid test to discover whether the fortress holds firm.
In an ironic twist of fate, our assurance may well rest in America’s Freudian obsession with guns. That’s not to suggest for a second that the solution to the Trump question lies in a JFK style knock-off, Trump has insured himself against assassination through the appointment of his equally detestable VP, Mike Pence. Rather, the unfathomable desire of Americans to hold onto their phallic playthings in the face of reason, school shootings, and an outdated interpretation of the founding fathers’ desire for a peoples’ militia; demonstrates the regard with which even the most absurd elements of the early constitution are held. If every massacre from Sandy Hook to San Bernardino can’t enact an iota of positive change, then what hope does Trump have of tearing up the democratic order?
Naturally, Trump’s bumble into obsolescence cannot be taken for granted. We should not rest on our laurels and shout “roll on 2020, roll on Elizabeth Warren”. Yet the institutions in place to stall a catastrophe may go some way towards explaining the plastic smile plastered over Obama’s face as he cruises the Caribbean with Richard Branson. All the same, public outcry needs to be manifest, civil disobedience organised, the free-press supported, victim’s groups funded, and a 21st century answer to Bob Dylan found. Yet for now we can set aside the aching angst of a changing world and quell our fear of going to hell in a handbasket; at least by the miniature hand of Donald J. Trump.