The massacre in Orlando, with its record number of dead, leaves us afraid that nothing more can be said, except that another one is coming.
Americans feel trapped in a recurring nightmare, mired in confusion with no chance of the kind of enlightenment that has led us before, as it inevitably does, out of dark places.
Sometimes confusion has evaporated by taking a look at ourselves, as the cartoon Pogo did in 1970, celebrating the first Earth Day: “We have met the enemy and he is us,” Pogo said, surveying the toxic dump that Florida’s Okefenokee Swamp had become. He meant of course that all of us, not only corporations, share responsibility for trashing the planet. Today we still have pollution but there has been tremendous progress and practices common in 1970 are unthinkable.
Barack Obama reflected our discouragement in his speech Sunday, no doubt remembering his stinging defeat in 2013 in getting the Manchin-Toomey gun reforms passed after the equally surreal Sandy Hook tragedy — record-breaking in its time for the number of people killed, mostly children.
But is a cathartic understanding possible — one that leads us out of the dark and not just traipsing behind some insurgent idiot who “tells it like it is” while telling us nothing useful or even true? My answer is that, yes, enlightenment is possible.
The December shooting in San Bernardino was the one that firmed my resolve to make sense of things. At first, I suspected a rise in extremism — people inflamed by issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, “too much government” or ancient religious feuds.
But analysis made me discard the role of hot-button issues because, while few attackers have been women, blacks, children or seniors, otherwise they are as diverse as the U.S. population — white-bread students, military types, conspiracy theorists, Asians, Latinos and Muslims — too diverse to be motivated by one contentious issue. Even their victims are diverse: occasionally black, LGBT or of some religious persuasion, but more often random, just people who happen to be in a theater.
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