Posted by: David Offutt | August 22, 2019

More Reflections on the Recent Mass Murders (Part 2)

Historian Barbara Tuchman documented how the nations of Europe in August 1914 stumbled into the mass slaughter of World War I and that no one knew how to prevent it.

The guns of August 2019 and the nearly instantaneous collapse of the moral will to do anything to prevent future tragedies of this kind caused me to reflect on a ride I took with an enthusiast of Donald J. Trump. Nearly two years ago, my Nissan mini-van broke down on me on I-530 near exit 3 south of Little Rock, Arkansas.  It was after 5 PM, so I needed to be towed to my home in El Dorado at the bottom of the state – around a two-hour drive. Thus began what seemed like the longest ride of my life.

I should have known I was in trouble the moment I began my transport home. My driver, who seemed to be in his mid to late twenties, started to light up a cigarette, but first he reluctantly asked if I minded. I told him that I preferred he not. I actually presumed that a reputable auto club would not allow its affiliated-drivers to smoke in its vehicles. Second-hand smoke is not just bad for allergies, sinuses, and lungs, but if you are in an enclosed vehicle, you and your clothes end up stinking something fierce. I also feared that we were going to have to make several cigarette stops along the way to feed his nicotine habit. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but he was hyper all the way to El Dorado.

President Donald J. Trump wearing one of his red Make America Great Again (MAGA) caps.

Right off the bat, he wanted to know whether I thought the country was heading in the right direction. I’ve spent a lifetime studying and/or teaching U.S. history, but he didn’t know that, so I wondered why he asked – me in particular – that question. At that time, I was aware that the Electoral College had recently inflicted upon us another minority president within sixteen years of the last one. This one knows nothing about government; is a racist and white nationalist, misogynist, xenophobe, megalomaniac, climate-change denier, anti-environmentalist, demagogue, con-artist, and pathological liar; is an authoritarian with a distaste for the rule of law and with a fondness for other authoritarians; is a plutocrat who favors the other super-rich and corporations over the working class and public servants; has appointed life-time appellate and supreme court justices who will limit equality and voting rights and expand plutocratic rule; came within one vote of sabotaging health care for millions of Americans without having a backup alternative; has placed people in agencies and advisory positions who are his sycophants and who don’t believe that their departments should work for the good of the people and the land; uses his office to promote his personal brand and wealth; and his boorish behavior is certainly not anything we  want our children to see, hear or emulate. Most of this was obvious throughout his campaign and well into his first year in office. So my immediate short answer to his question was: “No, we are definitely not moving in the right direction.”

David Offutt at the Monument of the Immigrant in New Orleans, Louisiana on a windy day in March 2016 – I proudly lived in the French Quarter during the 1980s. (Photo: David Offutt)

He took that ball and ran with it. He thought he agreed with me. “Neither do I, but Trump’s going turn things around.” Before I could clarify my position, he pointed off the highway and said, “I live over that way in a small community. My neighbors don’t like me. They’re always calling the police on me. The cops come and want to know ‘What’s all the shooting about?’ I’m just taking target practice.  Sometimes I’ll have friends over for a few beers, and we’ll all take target practice in my yard. I don’t know what the neighbors keep complaining about. The cops around here have gotten to know me pretty well.  I have over 40 assault rifles. I don’t have them to kill people with.  I just like ‘em. I built them myself.”

He continued, “One time, there were half a dozen deer in my front yard. I stepped outside and shot one of them and went back inside to take a nap. When I woke up, I went outside to deal with the deer.” This guy did not sound like a hunter to me – more of a killer. I was getting very uncomfortable and realized I shouldn’t antagonize him.   “I never leave the state without one of my guns. You know, when I drop you off in El Dorado, I may get a call to go pick up somebody in Louisiana to bring back to Arkansas. I don’t take it because I want kill someone – I just want to protect myself.”  I presumed he was letting me know that he had one of his assault rifles somewhere in the cab with us.

The dedication on the Monument to the Immigrant – New Orleans, unsurprisingly, is a “sanctuary city” (Photo: David Offutt, March 2016)

He added, “I was towing this black woman one time, and I told her I had a gun behind the seat. That scared her to death.  Ha. I was just making it up. You know, she made me stop the truck. She got out and wouldn’t get back in until I got rid of the gun. Ha.”

When we got to the Sheridan bypass, he was reminded of some of his youthful transgressions. (Sheridan is halfway between Little Rock and Fordyce and was a notorious traffic bottleneck on Highway 167 before the 12-mile bypass was completed.) “When they were laying the foundation for this road, I used to come out here late at night in my pickup and race up and down the road bed. I really tore it up. Once, three patrol cars finally corralled me.  Of course, I don’t do things like that anymore.

Detail of the Monument to the Immigrant, New Orleans, Louisiana (Photo: David Offutt, March 2016)

“I used to live in Sheridan,” he continued. “The cops here got to know me pretty well, too.  I got a lot of speeding tickets back then. Of course, I don’t do that anymore.” However, as soon as he said that he added one of his current transgressions: “I love these four-lanes. Late at night, some other trucker and I will race each other until one of us has to veer off. Haven’t been caught yet doing that.”

Then, he changed the subject. “What do you think about sanctuary cities?” Any city that thinks it makes its city safer if immigrants don’t fear incarceration for reporting a crime is fine with me. I also don’t want my local law enforcement officers wasting their time doing someone else’s job – they’re underpaid and overworked already. I’d rather they spend their time protecting me from people like my driver. At this moment, I just wanted to get home safely.  “If the truth be told, I don’t think about them very much. Why do you ask?” I replied.

Map of sanctuary states, counties, and cities – the term “sanctuary” has no legal meaning; however, places designated as such normally do not allow their police or municipal employees to ask anyone about their immigration status.

“They ought to be made to round up all those illegals. We can’t let those immigrants get away with breaking the laws, raping, pushing drugs, committing all sorts of violence. We need to lock those criminals up and get those lawbreakers out of this country.” He was rather emphatic about his perception of immigrants.  I hoped that my neighbors across my street remained in their house when we pulled up to drop off my car in front of my house. They are a large family from Mexico and the husband is a hard worker who owns a construction company, has a large crew, and is always busy, busy, busy.  We arrived well after dark, so fortunately my driver didn’t see them. And I did arrive safely, though.

The recent mass murders in Texas and Ohio, including the anti-Hispanic massacre in El Paso, briefly led to the hope that President Trump and the Republican-led Senate would finally join the national will to support universal background checks and maybe more regulations to improve gun safety in America. Those hopes evaporated after Wayne LaPierre, the emperor of the NRA, reminded the president whom he really works for. But I would feel safer if people like the guy who towed me home on that long, troubling ride didn’t have 40 assault weapons.

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