Well, Joe Biden did the unthinkable. With the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021—and with the determined support of his Senate allies—President Joe Biden passed the most progressive piece of legislation that we have seen in the United States since the 1960s.
The whole thing was completely wrong for our time. Democrats are supposed to compromise and do whatever it takes to pass “bipartisan” legislation. And Joe Biden did call in the Republican leadership.
But after determining that they weren’t serious about negotiation or compromise, President Biden cut them loose. He passed a $1.9 trillion bill which helps the average American family. Americans are getting money in their pockets. Not Wall Street. Average Americans. If Joe Biden accomplishes nothing else, this was a major accomplishment.
It seems that a “new” paradigm as taken hold in Washington, DC: Every day, in one way or another, the media has to be in a frenzy over something. So for a week the media was obsessing about this large tanker stuck in the Suez Canal. Reporters looked at this crisis from multiple different angles. Ships would now have to go around the Horn of Africa. They might possibly encounter pirates. Supply lines would be interrupted. Business would grind to a halt without the commerce going through the Canal. The underlying message seems to be, “Let’s All Panic!”
The other story that mainstream media was trying to get us all worked up about was immigration. Thousands of children are showing up at our southern border without parents. What are we going to do? What can we do? Whose fault is it? Everybody run for the hills, there are a gazillion Brown people at the border!
The media coverage of this ongoing tragedy has been abysmal. Why? Because keeping up the sense of frenzy means that nobody wants to take the time and the effort to put this in context.
Over the last 10 or 15 years, the United States has decided, quietly, that the best way to combat illegal immigration from Latin America is to actually make Latin American countries better places to live—safer and more desirable to stay in. We have poured millions of dollars into the economies of these countries. We tried to help stabilize their governments. We’ve tried to help decrease the random and organized violence in these countries.
For more than a decade, working with local governments, the United States promoted a thoughtful and sensible solution to this chronic and vexing problem. Then, we elected a president who wanted to do everything his way. None of his predecessors was right; he was the only one that was right. Their policies were wrong; only he was never wrong.
As a result, all the bipartisan policies aimed at helping these poor Latin American countries were steadily and systematically dismantled and gutted of funding. As everyone predicted, living conditions worsened, safety diminished, jobs disappeared … and more and more people headed north to our southern border.
So when you see a video of five or six Republican senators in an armed flotilla, please understand that this is political theater. None of the senators—Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Tom Cotton—are to be taken seriously.
Once again, President Joe Biden will fix the problem that was made worse by the previous president, but it will take time. And the media will stay in a frenzy, until they turn their attention to the next crisis-of-the-week.
The history of guns in our country can be traced back to slavery and racism. Guns allowed us to take what we wanted from the American Indians. If we wanted land, we took it; and if that meant killing millions of the native inhabitants—some academics estimate that approximately 20 million people, or 95% of the New World’s population, may have died in the years following the European invasion—well, hey, that was simply the White folks’ “Manifest Destiny.”
But it was the institution of slavery that really solidified our need to own firearms. Way back in 1704, South Carolina was the first state (it was a colony back then) to institute slave patrols. Every able-bodied white male was required to take part in the slave patrols, and every patroller had to own a gun. The specific purpose of the slave patrols was to apprehend runaway slaves, deter large gatherings of slaves, and to quell any uprising of slaves.
The Stono rebellion of 1739 solidified the slave patrols. A literate slave—I know, it sounds like an oxymoron—led a group of about 50 or 100 enslaved people, probably from the central African country of Congo, toward Spanish Florida, where they had promises of freedom. As the slaves made their way through South Carolina toward Florida, they killed more than 20 whites.
The slaves were intercepted by a slave patrol, and the majority of them were captured and killed. The rebellion caused South Carolina to pass the Negro Act of 1740. This law established penalties for slaveholders freeing their slaves—and it also made it illegal for a slaveholder to allow slaves to learn how to read, raise their own food, have money, or assemble in groups. The slave patrols enforced this law.
It is not hard to see how a gun “culture” can develop from this. You own a gun to protect yourself from hoodlums and renegades. But are you really? If we sit down and look at gun violence in the United States, guns are rarely used to fend off robbers stealing your child’s Nintendo Switch. Instead, they’re more often used to kill each other—or ourselves.
As a trauma surgeon, I could tell more tragic stories about gun violence and gun death than most Americans. But the facts on the larger scale are especially gruesome. Every year there are 35,000 to 40,000 gun deaths in the United States; more than half of these are the result of suicide. So many young lives are cut down because guns are easy to own in the United States. And then there are the mass killings (when four or more people die). There was a deeply disturbed young man who seemed to target Asian Americans in Atlanta, Georgia. Days later some young guy who walked into a Colorado supermarket and open fire with his semiautomatic AR 15 killing machine. He killed 10. A week later a young guy shot four people to death and then committed suicide in Maryland.
The problem in the United States is that we always blame someone else. We blame something else. We do psychoanalysis of the shooter and decide that he or she is disturbed (almost always he). He wasn’t loved by his parents and was bullied by his classmates. So … if we can just make parents love a little bit better and make classmates less childish, we could stop the killings.
This is the same kind of circular reasoning that we had with cigarettes in the 1950s and 1960s. There is a huge media frenzy over people falling asleep with cigarettes and the beds catching fire. The innocent victims dying in the flames. We did blame the victims but we also blamed the mattresses for being flammable. It was only years later that we decided the problem wasn’t the mattresses or the sleeping victims—the problem was with cigarettes. The cigarette lobbyists asked us, urged us, told us, to look everywhere else. They hid evidence, suppressed research, and bribed elected officials to save their bottom-line profits.
Today, we have the same problem with the gun lobby. They continue to tell us that guns are not the problem. We now have ample evidence that guns are the problem.
The distraught teenager who sees no way out has easy access to a gun in today’s America—but suppose guns were more difficult to obtain. This teenager could slit his wrists, but that is survivable. I had a patient who was so confused and out of touch that he stabbed himself in the abdomen twice, in the chest twice and slit his wrist. He survived! Another patient jumped off of a third-story parking garage, but he also survived. Putting a gun to your temple and pulling the trigger is not survivable.
Americans should be able to walk into the grocery store, go to the movie theater, or shop at the mall without worrying about being gunned down. But just like putting a gun to your own temple, finding yourself in the path of an angry young man with an AR-15 is also difficult to survive. We must understand that guns are the problem.
The latest voter-suppression law in Georgia doesn’t allow anyone to give food or drink to anyone who is standing in line waiting to vote. The purpose of this law is obvious. Long lines almost never exist in White precincts. Unfortunately, they are frequently encountered in Black precincts. According to several reports, in Atlanta-area counties in November 2020, the average wait time in primarily Black polling places was more than 50 minutes; in primarily White polling places, it was 12 minutes.
The message is clear. Georgia doesn’t want Blacks and Latinos to stand in long lines to vote. It’s not that they want them to have shorter lines; they want Blacks and Latinos to stay home. The message is, “Do not vote!”
(The legislators who passed this law all—to a man and woman—identify themselves as Christians. As a Christian myself, I have to wonder if they’ve ever opened the Bibles they swear their oaths on or hold up (upside down) as proof of their devout faith. More specifically, I wonder if they’ve ever read, or even heard about, Matthew 25:35: For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…)
I believe that all American citizens over the age of 18 should be able to vote. Voting should be easy and painless—it should at least be easier to register and vote than it is to buy a gun.
- Election day should be a holiday.
- There should be nationwide early voting.
- Voting should be allowed on Saturday and Sunday.
- Felons should be able to vote after they’ve served their time.
If you are an American citizen, you should be able to vote. Period.
What about voter fraud? What about it? Every time we truly investigate voter fraud over the last 30 years, we don’t find any. None. It ain’t there.
The conservative Heritage Foundation, which for years has claimed that Democrats, especially minority voters, have committed vast amounts of voter fraud—duplicate votes cast, fraudulent absentee ballots, or other forms—studied five states in which a total of 49,917,586 votes were cast between 2000 and 2019. That’s almost fifty million votes … and the Heritage Foundation found a total of 44 illegal, fraudulent votes.
The most famous actual case, not covered in the Heritage statistics, occurred right here in North Carolina’s 9th congressional district in 2018, where political operatives for the Republican congressional candidate illegally collected absentee ballots. As the Brookings Institution reports, “they were caught and convicted. The election was overturned and a new one held.”
So every time you hear an official or a candidate bloviating about voter fraud, please remember: Forty-four votes. Out of 50 million. Over 20 years.
And the biggest case was fraud by, and on behalf of, White Republicans, not Black Democrats. And they were caught.
Congress needs to pass a comprehensive voting rights bill that will ensure universal voting franchise for all Americans. ALL of us. A bill that will stop the Republicans from stacking the deck. That will end gerrymandering and purges of voting rolls. A bill that will keep elected officials from perpetuating their own power against the will of We the People.
If that means ending the filibuster, then fine. In fact, ending the filibuster would be among the greatest days for democracy and the Constitution that we’ve seen in years.
President Joe Biden has shown us that it is a brand-new day. He has shown us that we can do anything if we do it together.
Oh, that sound you hear? That’s the sound of Republicans quaking in their $2,000-dollar designer boots.