GUN CONTROL - Ready, aim, fire: "I believe in Jesus, guns and babies." So declares Kandiss Taylor, GOP candidate for governor of Georgia, in a campaign ad.
Or how about: "I'm Eric Greitens, Navy SEAL, and today, we're going RINO-hunting." This is not about killing rhinoceroses. "RINO" stands for Republican in Name Only—you know, anti-Trumpers. Greitens, former governor of Missouri, who resigned in the wake of a sexual abuse allegation, is now running for the Senate—running fully armed and dangerous as hell, at least according to his little TV ad, which features him and a bunch of guys dressed up in camouflage outfits, fully armed, kicking someone's door open, tossing in a smoke bomb.
Ta da! Greitens walks into the empty house with his rifle and tells the viewer: "Join the MAGA crew, get a RINO hunting permit. There's no bagging limit, no tagging limit, and it doesn't expire until we save our country."
And then of course we have a frowning Marjorie Taylor Greene, looking like James Bond, clutching an assault rifle in an ad for her congressional run. Next to armed Marjorie is a picture of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib: "hate America leftists want to take this country down." Marjorie will save us! What could be simpler?
"We need strong conservative Christians to go on the offense against these socialists who want to rip our country apart," Greene's ad informs us. She looks ready to take her gun into a shopping mall or maybe an elementary school.
Last month the New York Times ran a story headlined "In More Than 100 GOP Midterm Ads This Year: Guns, Guns, Guns." Snarky men and women toss slogans at us, sometimes, a la Kandiss Taylor, mixing homicide (excuse me, self-defense) with religion and/or cuddly newborns. Josh Mandel, in the GOP Senate primary in Ohio, declared himself: "Pro-God, pro-gun, pro-Trump." In the Arkansas Senate primary, Jake Bequette reached out to his would-be constituents with: "Babies, borders, bullets."
This is the Second Amendment in full-on action: Republicans running for office gleefully pretending to defend the country from . . . whoever. Only a good guy with a gun can stop a politician with a big mouth. A literal civil war is fomenting, or so it seems, and Jan. 6 was just a practice run. How did the Republican Party get so unhinged? Easy as it is to blame Donald Trump, I blame something far more deeply entrenched. Call it armed patriotism. We wage war on anything and everything: America is the shining light of global belligerence and animosity, with our trillion dollar annual, and ever-expanding, military budget.
As Norman Solomon points out: "The mindset of U.S. mass media and mainstream politics has become so militarized that such realities are routinely not accorded a second thought, or any thought at all. Meanwhile, the Pentagon budget keeps ballooning year after year . . .
"To heighten the routine deception, we've been drilled into calling the nation's military budget a 'defense' budget."
The Trump-era Republicans are, you might say, the first mainstream political party to break through the bipartisan political correctness that has hardened over the last half century or so, fusing a toned-down version of the '60s (civil rights and women's rights and, oh my God, gay rights) with ongoing, unquestioned militarism. The Trumpers, of course, are fine with the militarism. Their guns are aimed at the progressive agenda still hovering in the political margins, as well as at the non-Trump Republicans.
From the point of view of the American tradition of racism, the new GOP seems to have claimed the best of both worlds. White nationalism hasn't simply rearmed, it has reclaimed a mainstream respectability, giving Republican candidates the opportunity to pull Hollywood energy into their campaign ads. Eric Greitens' RINO-hunting ad, for instance, had over a million views within three hours of being posted on Twitter. Yeah, there was plenty of negative response, but so what? In the simplistic world of us vs. them, there's no such thing as bad publicity. Guns sell a political candidate as readily as they sell a movie plot.
Is a pro-gun-control ad, replete with bipartisan compromises, going to corral a million views of Twitter?
But then there's Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, a proponent of gun sanity, whose 17-year-old son was murdered (by a man with a gun) in 2012. She talks about learning the news of your child's death, "when the agony will not let you breathe. . . . You cry out to God in your grief.
"This is the moment. It may be the only moment we have. We are facing the challenge of our lifetime. And this is the issue of our era and we must summon the courage to do what is right, the courage to protect our kids. And the courage—my God, we have to have the courage—to protect America."
I hope to see McBath's words spread beyond gun control to militarism itself: to the $8 trillion spent, to the near-million people killed directly and to the unknown, far larger number of people killed indirectly—by disease, starvation, displacement—by this country's last twenty years of war.
My God, we have to have the courage . . . to protect every child on this planet.
(Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Koehler has been the recipient of multiple awards for writing and journalism from organizations including the National Newspaper Association, Suburban Newspapers of America, and the Chicago Headline Club. He’s a regular contributor to such high-profile websites as Common Dreams and the Huffington Post. This article was featured in Common Dreams.)