God bless America by Frank Bruni.

"God bless America," our president said, dutifully, after the bloody Sunday in Las Vegas. It's a wish worth repeating. It's an intervention sorely needed in a country seriously lost.

God bless America, where shock over a torrent of bullets that sends dozens more to the morgue doesn't last, if indeed there's shock at all. This kind of violence is no longer exceptional. But we are. No other affluent country can match our massacres or, in the face of them, our paralysis. We stand out boldly in this regard. We lead.

God bless America, awash in self-delusion. House Speaker Paul Ryan responded to the horror in Las Vegas by saying that "what truly defines us" are the acts of heroism we learned of, while the shooting itself "is not who we are." How does he figure that? Las Vegas was one of the worst but hardly the first. And it demands more than the gauzy pieties and press-a-button platitudes that too many politicians spout.

God bless America, where the juxtaposition of two articles published by this section of this newspaper on Monday said it all. The first was pictorial, a calendar that captured all the mass shootings in the United States since June 12, 2016, when gunfire ruptured the party in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. There had been 521 in 477 days. Last March was a curious lull. Just 22 mass shootings then.The second article was by Steve Israel, a former congressman, and its transcendent point was in its terrifying headline: "Nothing Will Change After the Las Vegas Shooting." That's an outrageous forecast. In all likelihood, it's an accurate one, too.

God bless America, where the fact that we can't be 100 percent sure that a given new gun restriction would lessen the dying becomes an excuse not to give it a try, though the stakes couldn't be higher, the sirens couldn't be louder and each new marker surpasses the last.

In Newtown, Conn., in 2012, 26 people perished, 20 of them children. In Orlando four years later, 49 died. And in Las Vegas, the count so far is 59. What's the trip wire for urgency and action? Triple digits?

God bless America, where the Second Amendment seems to be getting a hell of a lot more respect right now than the First. It has become totemic, part of a larger culture war that blinds too many Americans to the amendment's conception in an entirely different era and context, long before the efficient killing machines of today. There's the right to bear arms, sure, but there's also the right to walk into a nightclub or a concert — or to send a child off to school — without a sense of dread that's increasingly and fully warranted. Aren't we entitled to that, too?

God bless America, where a whole class of sellouts, Donald Trump prime among them, lack the character to stand up to the death merchants of the National Rifle Association. At the group's April convention, Trump told them: "You came through big for me, and I am going to come through for you." Tit for tat and forget about the lives potentially sacrificed to the deal. They will be accorded their pro forma moments of silence. They will get the usual candlelight vigils. It will be pretty and it will be almost pointless, because the band will play on.

God bless America, where we've outsourced empathy and righteous anger from the White House to television talk shows and learned to lean on the comedians who host them. On Monday those jokesters seriously channeled our emotions and sounded the appropriate alarms. Politics and entertainment don't merely overlap. In the Trump era, they've traded job descriptions.

God bless America, whose partisan fevers are so corrosive that when the musician Caleb Keeter tweeted that his presence in Las Vegas on Sunday had shown him "how wrong" he was to oppose gun control, critics aplenty assailed the selfishness of the epiphany. How about welcoming a convert to a just cause and using his newfound passion as best we can? Wouldn't that be more constructive?

God bless America, with its sloppy ooze of agenda-driven misinformation. In the hours after the shooting, posts that erroneously identified the shooter and baselessly described him as a Trump-hating liberal or a recent convert to Islam gained serious traction on Google and Facebook, an echo of the fake news in the 2016 presidential election, an example of the conspiracy theories that so many Americans embrace and an illustration of the house of mirrors in which they now stumble around.

"We are working to fix the issue," a spokesman for Facebook told The Times. A spokesman for Google said, "We'll continue to make algorithmic improvements." Pandora cackled. Her box is wide open, and it's called the internet.

God bless America, with our boundless talent and galling complacency. If we summon enough gratitude for the former to banish the latter, we just might find our way forward.

The editorial piece appeared on The New York Times on October 4, 2017.


October 4, 2017

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