Glory, Guns, and God

We Democrats have missed the boat on these three important and basic approaches that any future Presidential Democratic candidate would be wise not to ignore. They are ways to better engage the culture war, win more of it in middle America, and still not sacrifice our core values.

Whenever the question involves this nation’s foreign military interventions, (for instance the war in Afghanistan that has lasted longer than any war in our history,) the right successfully frames the argument with the phrase, “Support out troops.” The left has no answer. And in fact, defense spending and foreign military intervention are two areas in which there is and has been very little difference between the two national parties. Former President Obama, after running on the promise of hope and change, escalated the number of troops on the ground in Afghanistan and increased the use of US drone attacks worldwide. And through several different party changes in the White House in the last decades, very little has ever changed in military and defense policies. It is, in effect, an argument we Democrats have conceded. The result is a state of constant war.

The potential is there for a new candidate to stake out new ground and to make a difference. “Too often our leaders have sent Americans into dangerous situations and then have cynically invoked patriotism and support for our troops in order to support these foreign military interventions. True patriotism and true support for our men and women in uniform would be to never send them into harm’s way unless it is absolutely justified.” (This is a quote from Melinda Sherman, the Democratic Presidential candidate in my novel, The First First Gentleman.) Polls have shown that this position is one that is supported by our troops on the ground, and more importantly by their families. For the men and women on the ground in Afghanistan and in Iraq, where the conflicts are something other than a war, there is sense of fatigue from being targets in places where no clear battle lines are drawn and the “wars” have been ostensibly “won.”

Interestingly, President Trump, when he was a candidate, often attacked the policy of America sending troops into questionable wars, and gained support from those who felt this fatigue. His expressed reason now for attacking our allies for not funding the defense and military excursions that we Americans fund is to force them to pay more. But the very clear flip side of this statement is that America simply should not pay so much, in lives and funds, to be the world’s policeman. Or, as Melinda Sherman says in my novel: “The worker who assembles Chevrolets in Kentucky is paying taxes to defend a Germany that the worker who assembles Volkswagens in Dresden does not pay.” Glory and patriotism may be best served by being far more circumspect about the use of American military power, and the appurtenant expense in lives and funds.

Former President Obama went to Newtown, Connecticut, to address the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, and there he called for stringent new gun control laws. Tens of millions of legitimate American gun owners do not ever intend to shoot anyone. They keep their guns for hunting, recreational use, and to protect their homes and families. What those gun owners heard and saw in that speech was two things. They saw a politician trying to pass legislation over the graves of murdered children, and they heard a President who wanted to take away their guns. But the worst part about the insistence upon stringent gun control laws by us urban coastal individuals on the left is that it at least partially removes responsibility from the individual committing the crime. This offends middle America the most.

Or, as Melinda Sherman says in the book, when she equates gun control with an issue we liberals understand, the war on drugs: “It is simply wrong to blame the instrumentality, and this is what is wrong with most gun control laws. They blame the gun. If we blame the instrumentality we are in a sense absolving the individual. We lose sight of individual responsibility, which is the bedrock of our society. If someone does something illegal while using a gun or a drug, do not take the focus away from that individual conduct. Punish it. But punish the conduct. Punish the individual. Do not go looking for blame in some inanimate object. Hold individuals responsible. This is what we lose with most drug laws and most gun control laws.”

If the left has conceded the ground on this individual responsibility and on support for foreign military interventions, we have done at least as much with religion. Simply scan the newspaper or online reports for a comparison of the frequency of these two phrases, “religious right,” and “religious left,” and you will find almost no mention of the latter. Whither the Christian left? One can find in the words of Jesus plenty of justification for active environmental stewardship of the earth, for combating income inequality, for compassion for all those who have the least among us, and for an end to discrimination of any type. And in each faith there is a foundation for Democratic policies. But we liberals prefer to practically proclaim our godless agnosticism and atheism, largely ignoring the fact that the vast majority of Americans are religious.

As the fictional Melinda Sherman says: “Finally, I stand here among you as a woman. In much of the rest of the world, the women are stoned to death for little reason. They are denied property, the right to vote, the right to travel, the right to go about and do according to their individual freedom. In this nation we treat the least among us according to this dictate: that as we do unto them, so we do unto Jesus. Let the world see that in a great nation of many faiths, a woman may lead us. An American woman will not be held back by the historical forces that have oppressed women and which still oppress many women throughout the world. That is it. That is what I see. God bless America.”

The Democrat who speaks from a position of faith, who does not misstep on the issue of individual responsibility, and who says it is not patriotic to risk lives in wars that are not in defense of our land or of our inherent and primary values, will be a different breed of candidate from one we have yet to see. And she will be speaking to the vast majority of Americans who are patriots, own guns, and have religious beliefs. Many of them are Trump voters, Republican voters, and we have ignored them. Worse, we have spited them, for too long. And none of these approaches is counter to the core beliefs of the Democratic Party.

(Gerald Weaver is the author of the novel, The First First Gentleman, August 2016, London Wall Publishing. It is among other things a sly tribute to almost all the novels of Charles Dickens. His critically-acclaimed first novel, Gospel Prism, was published in May 2015. Each of its twelve chapters paraphrases a great work, by Cervantes, Montaigne, Shakespeare, etc. Noted critic Harold Bloom said it was “remarkable” and “charming but disturbing.”)