We are a nation at war.

Like it or not, a war is being waged within the United States. It has many faces and names, but boiled down to its essence, it is red versus blue, not unlike the gray versus blue of the Civil War. And not unlike the Civil War, people are dying.

Though many smaller issues are tossed about, two main issues are killing people, and those are the battles over vaccines and guns. I hope you’ll read this long post in its entirety to see one woman’s viewpoint on these major issues.

Via Shutterstock

That vaccine

Last week, I read a report about how vaccine appointments are sitting empty in Southern states, while up in my neck of the woods, it has taken forever for us to get our vaccines. More such reports have come out over the last month, which highlight the fear and ignorance that are preventing us from getting back to normal in this country. People who are poor, are under-educated, or who listen to certain “news” groups, are afraid of the vaccine. On a personal level, I have read responses to the posts of friends who have gotten the vaccine: “No, I’m not getting it. They’re using us as lab rats”, “I’m not getting Biden’s vaccine!” A friend told me yesterday that she has head this: “They’re putting microchips in the vaccine.” No evidence. Just rumor. And many of the rumors are coming out of fringe groups like QAnon.

It’s hard to argue with people when they are stuck in a place of fear. The thing they should fear is a deadly virus. Instead, the thing they fear is a political agenda that doesn’t exist. They’re being played by the fringe groups who like to foster fear and chaos. A lot of the fear and chaos was born out of the “fair and balanced” reporting of Fox News or blowhards such as the late Rush Limbaugh. (Arguably, you can trace the fear back through a longer lineage, to baby Bush and his hatred of the Middle East, fear of AIDS patients, the Moral Majority, and McCarthyism. There is always an Other to fear.) People who live in that atmosphere of fear and chaos are easily fooled and easily manipulated.

Some of the people who responded to my friend’s Facebook post live in a small town where I went to high school for two years and where much of my family still lives. The ICU in their local hospital is very small — just 3 or 4 beds. It has been filled to the brim with COVID-19 patients for many months and the ER staff often tells people not to come to the hospital unless you are having trouble breathing or have signs of a blood clot. In this town, my cousin-in-law lost her leg and went through multiple surgeries and long stretches in the hospital. No one will update me on her current condition because I’m that damned liberal cousin in the city. We fell out over politics, which I just hate, and there is no visible bridge to reconciliation. Even when faced with facts, that COVID-19 kills and maims, these people are more afraid of the vaccine for no logical reason. They fear the so-called liberal agenda.

In Atlanta, my former mother-in-law has suffered a major stroke. She was sent to a facility that deals with stroke patients. Hers is not, we don’t think, COVID-19 related, but she is one of the people that listens to the conspiracy theorists so she hasn’t been under any medical care. For 25 years now, she has refused to take medication or insulin for her Type II diabetes because she doesn’t trust doctors. She has always been mentally unstable, for as long as I’ve known her, but she has a high school education and should know better. Surely she didn’t fight the smallpox or polio vaccines, because she was from a generation that saw people maimed or killed by now-preventable childhood diseases. From what I’ve been told, her blood sugar has regularly been running in the 900s. She’s blind in one eye and only has partial sight in the other. Her arteries have hardened from the constant imbalance in her body, and now the stroke has compromised her brain and her life. These are the real consequences of fear. It’s amazing she has lasted to 77, and she is still raging against the doctors. She refused the first time they ordered an MRI with contrast, but now it sounds like she finally might comply. The doctors must be so frustrated and tired from dealing with people like her who refuse to participate in prevention or health maintenance, even in a crisis. Doctors are trained to save lives, but the patient has to want to be saved. I could go on and on about the dysfunction in that family, but I won’t except to say that it escalated when their patriarch died in 1987, just after meeting our 3-month old son. I won’t blame all of this on mental illness either. I don’t know if my former MIL is mentally ill. I think she is just so indoctrinated in the fear and ignorance spread by people like Limbaugh that she can’t think her way out of it. It is literally killing her.

When my husband and I split up just after our daughter died, he asked me once if I’d be there for him when he buried his mother. I reiterated this week that I would be. He replied sadly that he didn’t know if he’d be welcome at her funeral when it comes. His two brothers and his sister are just as indoctrinated in the crazy, and his brother’s wife is the biggest nut job of them all. That isn’t a very intellectual statement, but it is true. She came into the family crazy and has only gotten worse. They all think Paul is stupid for believing in science and intellectualism. He looks at them in disgust and shakes his head at their ignorance. There is no bridge.

I truly fear for the people who are afraid of the vaccine. I wish there were some way to convince them that we all want the same thing–to live through this virus and to get back to our normal way of living. I wish I could convince them that the thing to fear is a virus that doesn’t care if you’re red or blue.

Those Guns

The other talking point of the red is that the blue want to take their guns. It’s all about that Second Amendment to them. I include the Second Amendment in its entirety here before I state the case.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/United_States_of_America_1992

The beauty of the Constitution is that it is not nailed down and spelled out for us in black and white. It is open to legal interpretation based on the prevailing state of our union. That gives it flexibility and keeps it a living document. If we break down the Second Amendment, we see that it only provides for a “well regulated Militia”, which we do not have or need in general. If one were to think of a well regulated Militia, one might think of the National Guard, which secures our “free State”. But it also provides for people “to keep and bear Arms” without infringement by the government. Now. This does not guarantee that people can keep and bear semi-automatic or automatic weapons and stockpiles of ammunition for those weapons. It doesn’t exclude them, but in the last few decades, we’ve seen men (yes, men, because we have yet to see a woman do this) carry out mass murders with these weapons. They are not good for hunting, unless you want to destroy the meat you might otherwise eat, and they aren’t good for much else except killing many people very fast.

Background checks for gun purchasers are imperfect. Although we now have a Universal Background check law in place, a significant loophole has allowed up to 22% of gun purchasers to obtain firearms without a background check. If you buy your weapons from a person or company that does not have a federal dealer’s license, you don’t have to pass a background check. Furthermore, not all states have adopted the universal background check. Here is a summary of the types of people who cannot purchase firearms under the universal background check:

  • Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
  • Is under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
  • Is a fugitive from justice;
  • who, being an alien—(A)is illegally or unlawfully in the United States; or
  • (B)except as provided in subsection (y)(2), has been admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa (as that term is defined in section 101(a)(26) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(26)));
  • Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
  • Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution;
  • Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
  • Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced U.S. citizenship;
  • Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner;
  • Has been convicted in any court of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence”, a defined term in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(33)[15]

Now, I happen to think that’s a good set. Although my son has tried to convince me to buy and learn to use a weapon, or to at least learn to use his Mossberg shotgun, I keep telling him that with my history of anxiety and depression, I don’t feel safe handling firearms. My favorite writer, Hemingway, placed his forehead against his shotgun and pulled the trigger with his toe. My closest cousin, Melba, supposedly sat on the floor of her bedroom, put the shotgun to her chest and pulled the trigger with her toe. Though I have no doubt she was depressed over her failing marriage, she weighed less than 100 pounds and was rather scared of guns. But that’s a story for another time. A friend’s daughter was shot to death by her husband, who then shot himself.

Some mass murderers are caught and are committed to forensic hospitals where the inmates are labeled criminally insane. They are kept in locked wards and treated for the remainder of their lives in most cases. A thorough and complete background check would have prevented them from getting their hands on their weapons of choice legally, if they were already known to have a serious mental illness. Yes, there is still a black market for guns, but given the steps necessary to get your hands on one of those weapons, I submit to you that a person who is just feeling a little nuts is not going to go through those steps. You might disagree with me on that, but I will argue the point. We can’t keep guns out of every potential mass murderer’s hand, but we can certainly do a better job of trying to.

A fictionalized account of the Atlanta Olympic Park bombing that aired recently as part of the Netflix series Manhunt shows how Eric Rudolph fooled a backwoods militia in the Nantahala wilderness of North Carolina. The account isn’t that far from the truth. The militia was armed to the teeth, and Rudolph convinced them that they were on the same side — against the U.S. government. Now, most of the men involved in the militia could have gotten their guns legally under the background check law. If they felt they were protecting their ideals and their homes, no one was stopping them. Yes, Rudolph made bombs. He didn’t use firearms, but stay with me here. Rudolph is a sociopath. We know that now, but even he would probably have been able to obtain firearms legally under the the universal background check laws. He was discharged from the Army after being found using marijuana, but there is nothing I could find on whether that was a dishonorable discharge (which would have precluded him from passing the background check had it been in place at the time). He was and maybe still is a member of the Christian Identity movement, which believes that only white people of Northern European descent are capable of being “saved”. It’s a movement that has many faces and names. Many argue that Rudolph isn’t really a member of that movement but co-opted them to provide some sort of “reason” for his killings.

These are the groups that have been emboldened by the far right. The Second Amendment has been twisted to their often-uneducated interpretation and purposes. No one is coming for the handgun in your nightstand. No one is coming for your hunting rifles. I once had a long conversation with my friend, Ed, about hunting. I’m an animal lover who couldn’t bear to kill one of God’s creatures unless it were about to kill me. He, on the other hand, regularly hunted. We got into the conversation because he was going to take part in a controlled kill of the local deer population. When I protested, he said, “We’ve driven away their natural predators with our McMansions and freeways. If we don’t control the population, we’ll see more of them killed and maimed on the freeways, and we’ll see more people hurt in these accidents.” He was right. He gave a good, sound argument. His possession of firearms had nothing to do with wanting to hurt anyone. But in the end, after a long battle with pain, depression, and the hardness of living, he killed himself. I don’t know if he used one of his guns, because I would never ask his wife that, but I found myself mourning the fact that he had guns at the ready, as well as mourning my dear friend.

Summary

Yes, I am a liberal. I vote blue, most of the time. I vote for and fight for the issues I care about. I was born into and grew up in a Southern family of Christians. But at that time (pre-1980), churches were not involved in politics or in telling people how to think. They started to shift that way after Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority started to get traction. The first time my father really hit me, I mean knocked me on my butt, was when I said that Anita Bryant should mind her own business. She was crusading against the gays. At that time, I was a young teenager who did not yet identify as gay. I had had an ongoing thing with a childhood friend of mine from church, but neither of us labeled it. We were just lonely kids. We never even kissed, but we looked and we touched. We were very close. I never would have let myself come out to my father, but he already had me labeled as a lesbian despite the posters of the Bay City Rollers, David Cassidy, and so many other pop stars on my bedroom walls. Turns out he was right. I do still like men, too, but I don’t think about having sex with them. I like them, but I like them as friends.

People on the red side are afraid of someone taking their guns. Really, if they did have their guns taken from them, how would it change who they are or what they do in their daily lives? But the real agenda of the red side is to take away my right to be who I am. THAT, my friends, would change my life to the point where it would be hard to live. To take away my right to love whomever I love goes right to the heart of who I am and how I exist in the world. Had I been able to live with being heterosexual, I would still be with my husband. I love him still. But his wife gives him something I could not. With me, sex became perfunctory and difficult. Sometimes I cried. It was painful to me both physically and spiritually. It went against my grain. If you are “straight”, try to put yourself in my place. Imagine that the “norm” was to be in a same-sex relationship, and yet you are still who you are. You want the opposite sex because you feel physically and emotionally closer to them and more attracted to them. It would hurt you in all manner of ways. You might even consider killing yourself because you couldn’t fit in. Welcome to my world.

So yes, it’s hard to imagine that the country is being ripped apart in part because of weapons and lies about an agenda that doesn’t exist, when the real agenda is on the other side. You want people like me to disappear. And you want to obfuscate the facts, to keep people malleable and ignorant so you can continue to project the evil you do onto the Other, the person like me. I don’t care if you have your legally obtained firearms. I do care if you’re finding ways to circumvent the background check so that you can murder innocent people.

In closing, I’ll say this. We can and should all come back together as a nation. I love this country and the people in it. The people of the South are my people. I miss my family. I miss friends I’ve lost along the way. I don’t know how to fight the fear in which some people are gripped, but listening and trying to reason out facts versus propaganda is a good start. I’m listening. I’m reading. I want to hear you, but you have to present a reasonable argument. It’s hard to take you seriously when you are parroting the voices of those who are making buckets of money off of your fear and ignorance. Think for yourself.

Namaste, Jude

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