I am in a particularly acerbic mood this morning about our country and its problems. Part of it is a free issue of Newsmax magazine came in the mail and is sitting on my desk, with a smiling, airbrushed photo of Donald Trump squinting up at me. I can hardly see his eyes. I thumbed through it on the way to the round file, and found nothing but grift, misdirection, and ads for male enhancement supplements.
Another part of it is the almost automatic response of both the left and the right to brawl over yet another tragedy where a sick, angry boy planned and committed mass murder. Over what kind of gun he used or didn’t use. Or if he was a Trump supporter, or his dad was a Trump supporter. Or was he a liberal. I don’t care because none of it matters to a two-year-old who was orphaned by him.
This 22-year-old kid—and he’s a kid—bought five guns in the months before committing mass murder. In the fall of 2019, his family called police after he threatened “to kill everyone” there. According to the AP, the police confiscated 16 knives, a dagger, and a sword, but no guns.
An age limit of 21 would not have stopped this kid from buying guns. In fact, the police could not stop him, because police are already over-tasked in all kinds of areas that isn’t policing. Until Monday, the kid committed no crime. He was, however, allowed to act on his sick plans because his family ceased paying attention.
Perhaps calling the police in 2019 and finding no way to properly deal with a threatening, mentally ill man-child, a misfit, they simply gave up and left him to his own devices. It might have been for their own mental health, or their own safety. But that’s not what this looks like. When the kid was 19, his dad sponsored his application for a gun permit in Illinois.
At the time “there was insufficient basis to establish a clear and present danger” and deny the application, state police said in a statement.
The kid’s father knew there was a clear and present danger, or he should have known. The father wasn’t paying enough attention. Kids go online, to Discord servers, to all kinds of places, and they have their chats, their secret conversations, their online lives. Parents from a different generation don’t know if their kids are being cheered on to radical causes or pushed to commit heinous acts. Parents do know that their kids might be “odd” or subject to rage.
As a nation, we stopped paying attention. On one hand, we blame big media and social media for all our ills, and demand censorship. On the other hand, we engage in our own version of hate speech. Our kids were born into this maelstrom, and we’ve failed to equip them to handle it. We’ve failed to pay attention as kids with too much time on their hands, too many siren songs for their attention, fall into danger.
One thing my co-writer David Thornton and I share is that we’re both trained pilots. He does it for a living, and I used to do it for fun. In pilot training, the most important lesson about flying an airplane is to keep focus. Panic is not allowed, because panic kills. Distraction is also a killer. We learn to aviate, navigate, and communicate, in that order. If you take your attention away from flying, or trust too much in the autopilot, you can literally kill yourself and everyone onboard. Our society has stopped paying attention to parenting and raising the next generation.
It’s obvious. We outsource our kids to schools, teachers, and online services. It’s funny how we think about “back in the day” when parents didn’t care if we kids played all day away from the house, doing whatever, until the sun went down and it was time for dinner. We talk about “tiger moms” and “helicopter” parents who obsess over their kids activities. But some of those parents ignore their kids mental health in favor of just keeping them busy.
And some parents of particularly difficult children give up, and just chalk it up to “my kid is weird.” When there are warning signs, like your teenage son forces you to call the cops because he threatened your life, then you don’t go out and sponsor his gun permit. Or in the case of the Oxford, Michigan school shooter, whose parents are on trial for involuntary manslaughter, they bought him the gun and ignored the school’s warning to seek help.
Decades ago, we used to have sanitariums, mental hospitals, for people who couldn’t function in society. They were unfortunate places where the mentally ill were warehoused, and some who were placed there didn’t deserve to be there. But many did. Instead of fixing the misuse and abuse, Americans simply demanded we close the facilities. And now we need those kinds of places again. Insurance can’t always pay for inpatient treatment for mentally ill kids and teens. The government needs to step up and provide some support for families who have given up on paying attention to their kids.
But the political climate, and the spiritual deadness of too many in church pews, have accustomed us to blame “the other side” for our own problems. We have become distracted, like drivers who text. We have stopped paying attention to what our kids are doing online, and how their personalities are shaped. We have stopped heeding the warning signs of mental illness and rage. We have allowed those kids to march freely to the gun store and buy the elements of destruction.
And when it happens, we panic, forget to focus on solving the problem—or in aviation terms, we forget to fly the airplane. Then it crashes and we all shake our heads and tsk, tsk at the bad pilots.
There’s a bigger problem here than what the political machine and media machine shows us. We have a problem with American kids (and by kids I mean twenty-somethings too). They’ve been overly politicized, overly radicalized, and overly exposed to ideals that drive kids with borderline personality issues into full mental illness.
My cynicism leads me to think that maybe this generation we’ve raised, the ones who are supposed to run the country, don’t deserve the Bill of Rights. They don’t deserve freedom of speech because they lack the civility and respect for humanity to handle “hate speech” and counter it with persuasion instead of invective and threats of violence. They don’t deserve the Second Amendment to defend from government tyranny, because they themselves are tyrants. They don’t deserve the legal protections from intrusion, or the experimentation of federalism in the Tenth Amendment because they want a uniform society, with themselves in charge. That’s the self-empowered, thin-skinned, radicalized generation we’ve raised. My cynicism says let them have tyranny because they deserve it—we deserve it for texting while we should be governing and raising well-adjusted kids.
But there’s hope in me that it’s not too late to begin paying attention again. Maybe there will be enough wake-up calls for parents to get back on their knees—or if they don’t pray, to at least get more involved in their kids online lives. There might be a way for struggling single parents to have tools to help bring their kids back from a life of thuggery or white supremacy.
There might be a way to bring back inpatient, state-run sanitariums to take hard cases, mentally ill homeless people, drug addicts, and kids who threaten the lives of their families and others, and place them away from society, and try to heal them. Some might not get healed, but at least society will not have to bear their problems when they attack the innocent.
We can’t continue telling kids there are no consequences for bad actions unless you go out and murder a half dozen people. We can’t continue giving the mentally ill homeless our streets, and providing them with needles to take drugs. We can’t continue having schools become mental health providers, or police having to deal with every manner of crazy, but not enforcing laws and protecting the public.
We can’t continue when families stop caring about what their kids are doing online, and outsource raising kids to YouTube, Discord, TikTok, and their teachers. Then we complain when those teachers talk about lifestyles we don’t approve of. I don’t particularly care if my kid’s teacher is a transsexual, or binary-whatever alphabet soup. I tell my kids to pray for people who live lifestyles the Bible says are unhealthy and sinful.
That being said, “groomers” come from all walks of life. There is no shortage of women teachers who seduce teenage boys, for instance. If parents are paying attention, we would see it. We would see predatory coaches, trainers, and those who protect them—the Jerry Sanduskys and Larry Nassars of the world if we paid better attention.
Many parents are raising a generation of self-absorbed, auto-piloted kids, who could turn out okay—most do—or they could turn out to be killers. Or they could be abused by someone and nobody is paying attention. Or they could become abusers themselves. This is unsustainable if we don’t stop being so distracted.
Fulton County special grand jury subpoenas Trump associates
Fulton County DA Fani Willis has unleashed her special grand jury to subpoena many in Trump-world’s closest orbit. They’ve subpoenaed seven Trump associates: Rudy Giuliani, Sen. Lindsey Graham, lawyers Jenna Ellis, John Eastman, Jack Pick Deason, Kenneth Cheseboro, and Cleta Ellis.
These are all players in the efforts of the Trump White House to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” over 11,000 votes for Trump. Those votes don’t exist and never existed. The grand jury is looking into the definite possibility that Trump himself knew the votes never existed and was trying to get someone to manufacture them—to rig the election.
There’s more than a roulette wheel chance that Trump will stand trial in Fulton County courthouse for multiple felonies. It’s also possible the feds will take the case away on their privilege to do so. Honestly, I trust Willis more than I trust the DOJ to handle the prosecution. The feds will muck it up.
I’m most worried, though, that there will be violence. Is it really worth prosecuting Trump, or is it just enough to keep him from running in 2024 because of the threat of prosecution? That’s a hard call for me, because I want to see an end, but I don’t want to see a civil war over it.
Your opinion may differ.
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One suggestion of something worthy of Focus: Get involved in your local community and make an effort to meet your neighbors.
If we rely on overworked and inattentive parents (and teachers for school-age kids) to be our first and ONLY trigger for identifying cases where intervention is warranted, our protection against incidents like Highland Park, Uvalde, etc. will only be as good as the attention span of that parent. In the Internet Age, we've gotten VERY good at ignoring the local in favor of focusing on the global, which has the effect of silo'ing ourselves and our ambient attention to our immediate lives and interests. I'd be interested to know on the block that the shooter lived, how many of his neighbors even knew that he existed.
This alienation from the people that physically live around us make it easier to de-humanize those around us, making us more abstract targets for potential shooters. It keeps us from supporting the overworked parents and providing an additional warning layer that might identify people who need help or who might become trouble. It's easier to pull the trigger on Anonymous Older Man I Don't Know than Carl From the Corner Store Who Sold Me Cigarettes Last Week.
There's a meme image that I saved to my desktop, where the upper-half are security cameras, with "New York" and "Texas" captions. The bottom half of the meme is a collage of abuelas (Hispanic grandmothers) looking out their windows, captioned "New Mexico". Aside from the (incorrect) implication of New Mexico being a technologically behind state, it makes the point that the older women in town have a better idea of what's going on than a bunch of cameras. We need more abuelas and other folks looking out for each other both as an additional early warning system as well as an ambient social fabric that draws everyone into it, and it's harder to compartmentalize people as Us (Me and My Online Friends) vs. Them (People I Don't Know or Care About).
To the extent we can make this an Us (Me and My Online Friends) vs. Us (The People Around Me I Know), I think we'll end up much better off. That won't stop all of these tragedies (the Uvalde shooter probably knew many of the people he killed), but it at least gives opportunities to identify and attempt to influence people headed down a dark path earlier than after the ultimate tragedy.
There's a salient point regarding government programs you made: the decisions to shutter rather than reform that which is not working well/efficiently. It's a feature of the "cut government to the bone"/"drown it in the bathtub" approach.
Arguably, that call to the police and the confiscated weapons should have been a flag during the background check. That process need some work.
Regarding prosecuting Trump: avoiding the pain now likely only delays/strengthens the issue, as with Russia's takeover of Crimea and the lack of coordinated response amongst the EU/NATO.