The awful grace of God

EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

BY ART CULLEN

Beto O’Rourke injected an outburst of moral clarity into the body politic last weekend in the wake of mass shootings in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. The former congressman, now a Democratic presidential candidate, declared that President Trump incites violence with his racism and hate speech. Connect the dots, he urged, as is obvious in the El Paso shooter’s manifesto and social media posts filled with rage for immigrants.

Yes, O’Rourke told a reporter, President Trump is a “white supremacist.” And yes, we need sensible gun reform. O’Rourke continued in earnest after having visited a woman in a hospital room who was shot at that Walmart and asked to see him. He said:

“… But it is also something that is much larger than this president and persisted here before his administration. It’s up to all of us to put an end to this racism and make sure that we don’t just tolerate our differences, but as we’ve shown here in El Paso, we embrace them as the very source of our strength and our success.”

He was furious and true. Other Democrats tried to follow his lead and said much the same thing. Sen. Elizabeth Warren publicly thanked him and offered her solidarity with all those in fear and suffering. He struck a nerve.

So, yes, three quarters of Americans (and Iowans) want sensible gun laws with background checks, bans on cop-killer bullets and high-capacity magazines, and on and on and on. But the Senate majority has not allowed any of that to happen. It will take another election.

Yet, O’Rourke said, we have to go farther. We have to acknowledge what drives the rage as domestic terrorism is routine crime news.

Steve King drives it, partially. He called Mexican teens drug runners and gays hellbound long before Donald Trump fancied himself president of the Gilded Age of resentment. King has an opponent, and many of us believe it will take a direct intervention by the Lord Himself to unseat him. JD Scholten of Sioux City, a Democrat, hopes his grandma is praying hard.

“It’s on each and every one of us,” O’Rourke said.

The blood is on our hands when we tolerate and support candidates who spread hate. When we laugh or sneer at King and Trump dehumanizing poor people we create the moral vacuum. When we say it’s okay to shoot immigrants in the Panhandle and laugh about it, as the President did, it is no joke. It is on us when we accept that gun violence is a way to settle disputes, or that black people in Chicago dying in the streets is not our problem. It is our problem.

O’Rourke, fresh from witnessing the slaughter, told CBS News: “The fact that we will lose nearly 40,000 of our fellow Americans this year and every year until we change course, demands an urgency that has been absolutely lacking from Congress. So let’s follow the lead of those students who are marching for our lives. Let’s follow the lead of those moms who demand action. Let’s follow the lead of those families here in El Paso who I’ve been listening to who demand the kind of change that we need. Congress should come back in session, pass legislation, the president should sign it into law. But then we must also acknowledge that it has to go beyond that. The kind of hatred and open racism that we’re seeing in this country is having not just a corrosive result. It’s a deadly consequence. And we saw that on full display in El Paso yesterday.”

O’Rourke is calling for a moral renewal that begs America to come together around our values of One Nation Under God and the freedom that the Statue of Liberty promises. Barack Obama talked about no red America or blue America but a United States of America. And, Robert F. Kennedy was talking about the same thing in his extemporaneous remarks in the shock of hearing that Martin Luther King had been shot to death:

“For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times.

“My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: ‘In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.”

O’Rourke had the same sort of genuine response that calls each of us to dive into a renewal of our civic spirit and listen to our better angels. That’s a crusade worthy of everyone’s attention.

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