“We’re not going to fix it.”
That was Tennessee Republican congressman Tim Burchett’s surprisingly honest response when reporters asked him about the recent school shooting in Nashville, a couple hours west of his district. When asked if he was concerned for his own school-age daughter’s safety, Burchett responded no — because she is homeschooled.
“Some people don’t have that option and frankly, some people don’t need to do it. I mean, they don’t have to. It just suited our needs much better,” he continued.
One definition of a gaffe is a politician accidentally telling the truth. In a place with a saner political culture, Burchett’s comments might have qualified. But I suppose it’s only a gaffe if anyone cares. Instead, faced once again with the overwhelming horror of children murdered in their classrooms, the country’s political class shrugs.
We’ve seen this all countless times before. Republicans simply refuse to act. (In fact, they are set to make it even easier to get a hold of guns without any oversight, regulation, or training.) Joe Biden and Democrats claim to be helpless. Self-styled moral authorities exhort them to do better. I am certainly not immune to this cycle of futility. Except for the part about Burchett, this article could have been written by any of a thousand columnists at almost any point in the last twenty years.
Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) on school shootings:
"We're not gonna fix it." pic.twitter.com/yZZCbJleUA
— Brennan Murphy (@brenonade) March 28, 2023
For the rest of the country, the victims’ unspeakable pain is a rerun of the world’s shittiest TV show, where we know everything that’s going to happen even though we can’t remember anything.
Without looking it up, can you remember where the last mass murder to make the news before Nashville took place? How many people died? Any of their names?
It is commonplace now to blame the gun industry for the current state of affairs; or the Republican Party who serves it; or the Democratic Party that has tried nothing and is all out of ideas. And all of that is justified. It’s also true that the country’s lax gun laws, its glorification of violence and militarism, and its pervasive sense of despair is unique among liberal democracies.
But to me, what’s notable about Burchett’s six words is how apt they are — not just when it comes to shootings but to everything. Pick any of the existential or even the merely consequential issues humanity faces that the United States government is in a unique position to ameliorate. For every single issue, the most accurate thing you could say is exactly what Burchett said: we’re not going to fix it.
The only things the Right does with any real enthusiasm are advance the interests of the billionaire class and find new scapegoats to try to explain away why everything keeps getting worse for everyone else. The only thing that really gets most Democrats going, meanwhile, is undermining the few politicians in their ranks who are serious about breaking the country’s grim stalemate.
As for America’s kids, it’s not just the risk of getting murdered at school endangering them. Kids have been dying from suicide, overdose, and homicide of all types in dramatically higher numbers over the last decade and a half. The number of kids hospitalized for suicidal behavior has more than doubled in the last decade.
We can’t look at these tragic facts divorced from the country’s political context. Pick your issue, and we’re not going to fix it: apocalyptic climate change; crushing student debt; depressed real wages at dead-end jobs; draconian welfare requirements that make it very hard for poor parents to spend time with their children; constant cuts to schools and libraries, even as curricula become more overbearing and full of transparent propaganda; a health care system that you can never really be sure will help you, and that can easily bankrupt you even when you have insurance; a law enforcement culture of unaccountable murder; a recent president accused many times of sexual assault and rape with seemingly no impact on his popularity; a corporate and governmental response to a deadly pandemic that swung dramatically back and forth from merely half-hearted to entirely reckless. It must be very difficult to grow up in this environment and believe that anyone with any influence in the world gives a damn about you.
If there is any hope to be had, it is not in the capitalist status quo but in the increasing number of younger people who reject it and support socialism instead. Maybe before things can get better, we have to stop pretending everything is okay.