The ideological crack-up between Left and Right was readily apparent when thousands of students marched against guns – guns that killed 17 Florida students in a violence that would awaken passion in even the most cold blooded. What it means, however, is seemingly less significant than the symbolism. Educators and politicians who should know better encouraged students to engage in protests. Mayor De Blasio in New York said students would not be punished if they left their desks to participate in the rallies.
Surely press notices and most spokesmen congratulated the students on their public consciousness. Yet for anyone observing this event without an ideological lens, you might ask what was going on. Students were demonstrating against guns, and the NRA was generally the target, but what was the legislative goal, a modification in the Second Amendment? Guns can kill, but so can knives. A gun in the hands of St. Francis is not a weapon. Therefore, the gun owner is the critical factor in this equation. All parties agree that a person with mental illness should not have a gun. All parties agree that criminals should not be able to obtain guns. Surely on those matters alone consensus can be achieved. But this is not the real issue.
These demonstrations are actually the full-throated anger of the Left organized in large part by instructors who are manipulating students during this period of grief and rage. Suppose, for the sake of argument instructors were to call for a national rally to protest abortions and the one million fetuses killed each year. Would there be any response?
The ideological lines are drawn. For CNN and the New York Times a decision will be made about which atrocities count. Even if there are a million students rallying in state capitals, they have little to offer, but their passion. Most couldn’t tell you how a gun is assembled or why the Second Amendment was instituted by our Founding Fathers.
These rallies are a reflection of street theater as political expression. When President Trump instituted immigration limits on six war torn Muslim nations, rallies broke out “spontaneously.” At the time the claim was made that this was a blanket racist ban. Nothing was further from the truth, but it did not stop Senator Kirsten Gellibrand from shedding crocodile tears as she lamented the racism of the Trump administration in Battery Park amid an audience of sympathetic souls.
Those hardening ideological positions make it very difficult to engage in civil discourse. Disagreement once resulted in an agreement to disagree. An opponent was known as a foe, an adversary. Now he is called an enemy. Obviously, you treat an enemy very differently from adversary.
Whether the nation’s political life can survive the current culture remains to be seen. At the moment there are very few reasons to be encouraged. The youngsters in front of television cameras are invariably sincere, but are they knowledgeable? Can they take their ideas to the realm where legislation is drafted?
Unfortunately, schools have become a place for ideological indoctrination. The students may be well meaning, but the rallies are not, even if CNN gives them the glow of media affirmation.
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org
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