Don’t Tread On Me

 

In Gender Shrapnel, I highlight the ways in which harassment accumulates without our noticing the steps along the way.  I talk about how we absorb harassment for weeks, months, maybe years, and then experience high-consciousness, or “last-straw” moments.  During these last-straw moments, we look back and string together all the harassment events and all the symbols that accompany them.  We put it all together, we synthesize and analyze and, yet, we can go through this cycle repeated times.  Our resilience allows us to take the blow and carry on, kind of like forgetting the pain of childbirth or setting aside trauma.

This month’s “blue wave” in Virginia, which, for the first time in 26 years, boasts Democratic control of all sectors of state government (WAMU; The Atlantic; Salon; The Washington Post) has happened in the White House’s backyard. Serving as a possible bellwether for other state elections and the 2020 national elections, Virginia has thumbed its collective nose at the President and the prostrate GOP. These weeks since November 5th have brought blue euphoria and, I believe, red revenge.  We are on the node of built-up harassment and resultant resilience.  November has been the month of impeachment hearings, clear-as-day proof that Trump ordered Giuliani to negotiate to hold back hundreds of millions of state-approved aid to serve Trump and his reelection aspirations for 2020, and noble testimony from respected and respectful state officials like Fiona Hill and Marie Yovanovitch.  November has signaled our national divisions.

November has reminded me that we Democrats should be at a last-straw moment.  We should have had enough, more than enough, by now.  Each careful little step, each overly cautious accusation in the face of real harm, each mostly uncelebrated victory.  Barack Obama was belittled and threatened and attacked, and the GOP chose to undermine every common-good initiative of his platform. Hillary Clinton was harassed and trolled and threatened, blamed for all that Trump was actually engaging in at the time, told repeatedly and menacingly that she’d be locked up, and then, in essence, she was. These messages and actions told Democrats that we were too black and too woman and too caring of our neighbors and countrypeople, that we too should be locked up.  We were told not to tread, not to tread at all, because there is punishment for stepping out of line in a white, male, cis, hetero supremacist nation.

Don’t tread on me.  That’s what about one-sixth of the license plates in my state tell me.  The license plates peer out from the back of giant trucks that take up more than half the road and more than a single parking spot.  The giant trucks tread on everything, everywhere they go, imperiously declaring their greater size and might.  The Don’t Tread On Me trucks roll through the streets like tanks, claiming their right to everything, their willingness to fight, for their God-given right, to dictate and rule.  They are not asking to foment and share in democratic principles.

“Don’t tread on me” is the motto of the Gadsden Flag, described in this The New Yorker piece as “a favorite among Tea Party enthusiasts, Second Amendment zealots—really anyone who gets riled up by the idea of government overreach.”  The great irony here is that Tea Party enthusiasts have paved the way for ultimate Trump control of the GOP, and Second Amendment zealots allow for the gigantic NRA lobby to have a major hand in government rule.  “Don’t tread on me” ethos actually has brought major government overreach.  Tariffs on China, withheld aid for Ukraine, immigration policy, prohibitions on women’s bodily autonomy, and ever more limited rights for the LGBTQ community all come to mind as particularly heavy-handed government control.

Here in Virginia, red counties are pushing for so-called “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolutions, through which counties pledge to defy any new common-sense gun legislation coming out of Richmond in 2020.  This past Monday night in Rockbridge County, dozens and dozens of people lobbied the Board of Supervisors for just such a resolution.  I feel tread upon, and I think that is the desired effect.  We Virginia progressives are supposed to feel punished for a resounding November victory.

The Virginia Tech campus massacre happened in 2007. In 2017, Charlottesville witnessed a group of armed people overtake its downtown and kill a peaceful protester, while white supremacists marched and chanted, “You will not replace us.” The Virginia Beach shooting took place in May of this year. “You will not replace us” is another way of saying “don’t tread on me,” especially when the Second Amendment arms people to the teeth and allows them to increase their own threatening footprint.

On this day in this month of November in this state of Virginia, I want us to let go of “don’t tread on me” threats and the “you will not replace us” chants.  I want us to prioritize how we can walk together, tread together, towards common-sense gun legislation, stronger education reforms, and greater civil rights for all.

Guns

The United States loves its guns.  The country loves its guns so much that it is willing to sacrifice seven children and teens on an average day, 96 United States citizens a day, and 13,000 lives a year. (*See this Everytown site for more statistics, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  See this 2016 article from The New York Times.  See also this site for up-to-the-minute reporting on gun deaths in the U.S.).  The data tell us, too, that 50 women a month are shot to death by intimate partners and that black men are 13 times more likely to be killed by gun violence than white men.

Is gun violence a disease?  Which other organizations are tasked with stemming the tide of violent crime, and especially violent crime committed in our schools?  Why do we now think it is normal or acceptable for our children and their school teachers and staff to experience violence in schools and to have to prepare themselves for violence through repeated lockdown drills?  What the hell is wrong with us?  Why are we such cannibals? (*See this Gender Shrapnel Blog post, especially Act 5, about the shame of it all.)

None of what I am writing today is news.  We all know it, and we all know it to be true.  We are catering every day to the hypermasculinist NRA lobby, which has infiltrated every level of government and affected the safety and/or sense of safety in every one of our schools.  We know it.

I was going to write this week’s post about gender-based violence on the national and international stages, and I still am.  This is because what is becoming a type of gun genocide in the United States stems from an ever-more-dangerous toxic masculinity fomented through our government representatives, television shows and movies, commercials, and video games.  This inculcation of violence influences mass shootings and supposedly behind-closed-doors incidents of domestic violence.  It tells men to reject all attributes and feelings coded as “feminine” and to embrace ultra-power and dominance.  (*See this 2013 summary of an article about print images in advertisements that promote hyper-masculinity.)  Time Magazine in 2014 reported that 98% of mass murderers are male, attributing the statistics to many phenomena along the age-old gender binary: cultivation of men as hunters and warriors; men’s protection of their status in a group; influence of violent media; etcetera.  It is no accident that we use the metaphor of “guns” for highly developed muscles.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) adds to this toxic mix by encouraging gun sales, discouraging anything that impedes gun sales, and thereby openly motivating gun violence.  I was reluctant to visit the NRA website and give it any more traffic than it already gets, but it behooves us to know what this billion-dollar lobbying organization is up to.  The website informs us that NRA-TV is alive and well, promoting television shows about guns and gun violence.  Trending on its blog right now is the proud announcement that the AR-15 is the most popular gun being sold right now.  Remember that this is the gun purchased and used to kill dozens of people in recent mass shootings in the United States.  The website also lets you know (to me, menacingly) that, “The NRA is closer than you think,” as it provides maps and directions to local stores and shooting ranges.  It features the story of an “armed citizen [who] protects his family,” making me wonder if the armed citizen’s children ever go to school and if they are protected there.  A photograph of two beautiful lions invites “American hunters” to shoot them.  And don’t miss the pitch to young people: “The NRA has been actively involved in promoting the shooting sports to youth since 1903. We wish to ensure the future of the shooting sports by providing proper tools and resources to America’s young people.”  In other words, “we hope to promote gun sales to kids as young as five or six who can accidentally shoot each other.  If they survive that, then they can shoot others when they get a little older.  Don’t miss out!”

I just visited the NRA online store and am feeling more than sick to my stomach.  It’s all about “protecting freedoms,” “not being tread on,” and weapons, weapons, weapons.  What is this war?  It is Wayne Lapierre’s fear of himself, of not being enough.  It is Wayne Lapierre’s followers agreeing that not being enough can be compensated by owning a gun.  It is the United States afraid to confront its own deeply-rooted, ever-growing pornographic affair with its guns.  You don’t have to be a literary critic to understand what the gun compensates for, and you don’t have to dig too deep to worry about how we cater to this.

Guns have no other purpose than to kill.  Let’s remember that.

OpenSecrets.org shares information about NRA contributions to candidates, elected officials, and party committees. (*Here are the statistics from 2016.)  As far as I can tell from the list, all of these candidates, government officials, and political parties are Republican.  Every last one.  This is not at all surprising, but it should allow us to become more draconian in our condemnation of the GOP.  For those of us living in Virginia, let’s remember that Ben Cline, who has declared his intention to run for Bob Goodlatte’s House of Representatives seat for the 6th District, has an A+ rating from the NRA.  Ben declares this proudly on his “pro-life” website.  (*See Gender Shrapnel Blog posts on Ben Cline here and here.)  As Voluble blogger Robin Alperstein has said, GOP candidates want to get re-elected and therefore respond to vociferous voters, many of whom promote the gun lobby.  The best way to defeat them is to increase contact with our representatives to encourage smart gun regulations.  Gabby Giffords’ Law Center is an excellent place to get information for this kind of massive effort, so necessary for 2018 midterm elections.

I promised I would talk about gender-based violence, and I already have, in part.  Gun violence is gender-based violence from the start.  Gun violence requires that we understand toxic masculinity and reverse it, just as it requires deep change in public policy surrounding the First, Second, and Fourth Amendments. (*See related Gender Shrapnel blog posts here [free speech], here [Charlottesville], and here [stop-and-frisk].)

The GOP’s massive and perverse power has placed our own country at war with itself.  This civil war relates in no small part to our Groping Old President, whose decades-long anti-women actions and comments extend to his support for other violent misogynists who wield great power.  Let us not forget that the White House delayed a full week in condemning multiple reports of Rob Porter’s violent acts against not one, but two, wives.  (*See Dana Milbank’s take-down in The Washington Post of the all-too-conveniently evolving White House stance on domestic violence.)  The Groping Old President (assaulter-in-chief) also “boasts of a great relationship” with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose most recent recommendation to shut down female rebels was to “shoot them in the vagina.”

State-imposed misogyny and state-indulged gun violence are not news.  None of this is.  We have got to get on this now, yesterday, 30 years ago.