Imagine you are a sane Democrat who recognizes that a big reason Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump in November was that she alienated many members of the white working class. In the year since, you have been working on your fellow Democrats to change their message in hopes of wooing these voters back into the fold. Then a gunman opens fire at a Baptist church in Texas, and suddenly progressives are in full deplorable mode, attacking anyone who dares offer . . . prayers.
So does House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.):
It’s disappointing, it’s sad, and this is what you’ll get from the far secular left. People who do not have faith don’t understand faith, I guess I’d have to say. And it is the right thing to do is to pray in moments like this, because you know what? Prayer works. And I know you believe that, and I believe that and when you hear the secular left doing this thing, it’s no wonder you have so much polarization and disunity in this country when people think like that.
He would have us believe that those criticizing his timorous response, his utter capitulation to the National Rifle Association and his stubborn refusal to address not just “mental health” but also guns are godless atheists. That’s cheeky of him, and decidedly un-Christian to question critics’ faith. Actually, many of his critics are deeply religious folks who are appalled that “pro-gun” now takes precedence over “pro-life.” Ryan’s critics are people who understand that prayers are no excuse for refusal to act in responsible ways to address the menace of gun violence — not just mass killings but also the day-to-day suicides and murders across the country.
Imagine how Ryan would react if liberal lawmakers offered “thoughts and prayers” for the unborn, and then voted against every abortion regulation and restriction. One can only imagine how Ryan would respond if liberals offered “thoughts and prayers” for those slaughtered by terrorists, but refused to vote for effective measures to reduce the threat of terrorism.
Republicans pretend — do they pretend, or are they professional victims of “elites” safely within the Fox News bubble? — that Democrats have suddenly developed an objection to prayer. It’s no such thing. Democrats are expressing their fury at the post-mass shooting ritual in which “thoughts and prayers” are supposed to show the pious empathy of those who refuse to take a single step without a hall pass from the NRA.
Even worse is the fatalism of pro-gun lawmakers. “You know, it’s hard to envision a foolproof way to prevent individual outrages by evil people,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared. “I mean, last week in New York you had a person who figured out he could kill people by driving his automobile up on the sidewalks. It’s a very, very challenging thing.” And yet, Sen. McConnell, you do take every reasonable action — including sending young men and women to fight terrorists abroad — to diminish the terrorism threat. In fact, Republicans have devised all sorts of entirely non-responsive measures (e.g. the anti-Muslim travel ban) because they feel compelled to do something about the threat of Islamist terrorism.
Republicans will use any excuse in the book — Not the right time! Disrespectful to the dead! — to avoid having the debate about concrete, reasonable measures to reduce gun violence, including suicides. Now they want to shame critics who would point out their craven hypocrisy. Of course, offer prayers for the victims of gun violence. But also pray that lawmakers discover a sense of moral obligation to break free from the grasp of the gun lobby and to show the same concern and legislative determination that they demonstrate in the war against Islamist terrorism when it comes to mass killings in Las Vegas, Texas and elsewhere.