In the midst of a global pandemic and sweeping stay at home orders, US gun sales and licensing are through the roof. God bless America.
In a country where there are already more guns than people, this is a sign of something extremely disturbing. It is a sign of sickness that over time has been far more lethal than the coronavirus will ever be and it is rooted in something that has plagued this country for far too long: mistrust.
Before we get back to work, we need to actually get back to trust. Within my lifetime, I have witnessed a sharp erosion in basic systems of trust in the United States. One could argue that it is an erosion that began with the election and assassination of John F. Kennedy, or the culmination and broken promises of the US Government from the Civil Rights Movement but the tragedies and dysfunctions of our political and social systems are not actually the symptoms of the erosion, but rather the mechanisms that amplify and carry the erosion. The other key mechanism has been mass media. What we are currently living in is a perfect storm where politics, media and tribalism are driving total suspicion of one another.
A lack of trust is everywhere. The most damning parts of the 2020 impeachment trial came directly out of mistrust for the motivations of the President based on his deeply suspect actions. Resistance to that same impeachment came from mistrust of one political party for another because of an election year and a previous administration; Black Lives Matter came out of mistrust of police and law enforcement based on their repeatedly targeting people of color with lethal response; #MeToo came out of mistrust for men who have too often been given a cultural pass to abuse women. Even the public resurgence of Neo-Nazis and white supremacists came from a racist mistrust for a system that elected a black man as President. And there is much, much more…
“…we cannot win a war against a disease of the body until we win the war on the disease of the heart.”
But most tragic of all, today thousands of American lives have been lost to the coronavirus because our governmental leadership didn’t trust (or didn’t want to be seen as trusting) the information being conveyed to them by qualified medical professionals and the international community. Now, as the system once again fails vulnerable populations with the numbers of black and brown Americans dying in significantly higher proportions than their white counterparts, yet another stage is being set for deeper mistrust.
Some say we are fighting a war against the coronavirus, but before this battlefront emerged, we were deep in the trenches of a war on trust. The problem is that we cannot win a war against a disease of the body until we win the war on the disease of the heart. Putting people back to work in a vulnerable environment in low wage precarious employment is not the solution. Propping up multi-billion-dollar corporations that thrive on the abuse of employees and the rape of the environment is not the solution. While people are literally dying by the thousands, our government is focused on “winning” the economy. What about winning people’s hard earned trust? What about saving lives? The current strategy is a shocking abdication of public duty even if it is no surprise.
Coming out of the 9/11 attacks we learned a new phrase, “War on Terror.” Sadly, the war on terror has translated into a commonplace paranoid world view that wants to see terror and war everywhere. And so we have been told to look at coronavirus as a war. We are told to receive the implosion of the global markets as a “war on the economy.” We are told that people are “fighters” and that they can “win” against the disease. If we are going to claim a place in the world that moves toward peace, that cultivates wholeness in humanity and that seeks justice of any kind, we must shift our focus from this flailing warlike stance and commit 100% of ourselves to reclaiming our humanity and first win the “war” on trust.
And yes, in order to win a war on trust, we will first have to put down the guns and stop thinking of it as a war in the first place.