I’ve never previously recommended on my blog that anyone watch an official video from the National Rifle Association / NRA, but I am tonight. Today after school and following an evening school event, I watched the entirety of our 45th President’s recorded address this afternoon at the “NRA-IRL Leadership Forum.” He was the last speaker in the almost 4 hour video, and his remarks begin at exactly 2:57:02. This link will take you directly to the start of his 50 minute speech. Listen carefully to his words.
Unfortunately, the video publishers disabled the YouTube transcription feature, so it’s a bit more time consuming to extract direct quotations, but I will share a few below. I will also share a bit about how these words make me feel, what they encourage me to think, and a related video as well as recent article regarding firearms in the United States which I highly recommend watching and reading. As difficult as it can be to encourage critical thinking and media literacy when it comes to politics in the United States and our ongoing culture war, I believe these actions are essential. I’m convinced representative democracy is under threat in the United States in 2023, as it is in other countries, and one of our most important tasks as citizens and voters is to become and remain well informed about the choices before us.
Let’s begin with a few quotations from our 45th President’s speech today.
“For seven years all of us here today have been engaged in an epic struggle against the corrupt forces and communist manics, and they’re all over the place, that are absolutely trying to destroy our country. They want to take away your guns while throwing open the jailhouse doors and releasing bloodthirsty criminals into your communities. They want to abolish your borders and impoverish your families while spending your money on endless and very, very stupid foreign wars. They want to demonize patriots and persecute Christians while pushing the transgender cult on your children.”NRA (Director). (14 April 2023). 2023 NRA-ILA Leadership Forum. Retrieved April 14, 2023, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKoNaY-obs8
“Under Biden other countries are emptying out their prisons, insane asylums and mental institutions and sending them right here to the USA. Can you imagine prisons and mental institutions are being emptied out?”NRA (Director). (14 April 2023). 2023 NRA-ILA Leadership Forum. Retrieved April 14, 2023, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKoNaY-obs8
“We will also fight to reclaim our freedom. We are going to have freedom in our country. We’re going to be able to walk down the street and buy a loaf of bread, and come back and not be shot. (applause) To defend our Constitution and the rule of law I will give you my word today that I will appoint rock-solid, constitutional conservatives to crush the Communists from our federal bench. They are Communists, many of them.”NRA (Director). (14 April 2023). 2023 NRA-ILA Leadership Forum. Retrieved April 14, 2023, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKoNaY-obs8
I struggle to find the words to concisely describe my feelings as well as thoughts after listening to this 50 minute rant by the current leading Presidential candidate in the Republican party for 2024. So much of what he said today is directly from the playbook of many populist, authoritarian leaders in history around the world who rose to power by:
- Emphasizing fear of rampant crime and criminals
- Demonizing political opponents as Satan / the Devil incarnate, with which there can be no compromise or quarter given
- Fanning the flames of an imminent seizure of all civilian owned firearms
- Accusing opponents of being anti-patriotic, Marxists and Communists
- Fabricating statistics and stories about out-of-control crime and absurdly weak law enforcement
- Blaming immigrants and immigration for economic and cultural decline
- Warning religious citizens of their impending persecution
- Portraying himself as the only leader which can prevent / stave off impending nuclear war and annihilation
- Decrying LGBTQ+ identifying fellow citizens (especially those who identify as transgender) as posing an existential cultural threat which must be stopped and eradicated.
I really wish I was making this up as a work of political fiction, but this is literally a current event today on April 14, 2023. Again, I encourage you to watch the entire 50 minute video, not because I agree with anything the speaker said, but because as citizens and voters in the United States, we need to clearly see the person behind the podium for what he is and what he stands for.
Please: Listen to his words.
Then, put yourself in the place of German voters in the 1932 Presidential Election. This is not hyperbole. This is political reality in the United States of America in 2023 and 2024. We stand at the door of populist facism, and millions of our fellow citizens appear willing to fall in line and cast their vote for a demagogue.
“Demagogue” is an exceptionally appropriate term to think about and reflect on in this moment. According to the English WikiPedia:
A demagogue or rabble-rouser is a political leader in a democracy who gains popularity by arousing the common people against elites, especially through oratory that whips up the passions of crowds, appealing to emotion by scapegoating out-groups, exaggerating dangers to stoke fears, lying for emotional effect, or other rhetoric that tends to drown out reasoned deliberation and encourage fanatical popularity. Demagogues overturn established norms of political conduct, or promise or threaten to do so.Demagogue. (2023). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Demagogue&oldid=1149744744
We undeniably live in a time of rapid, discontinuous, and often disorienting change. The rapid advances in artificial intelligence (including platforms like ChatGPT and MidJourney) have dramatically emphasized this fast-changing environment in the past six months.
However, we thankfully are not living in a nation or world which is facing the kinds of dystopian and hopeless scenarios which our 45th President preached about today to the NRA faithful in Indianapolis. By global standards, we live in an exceptionally free, economically vibrant, and wonderfully innovative as well as diverse nation. In fact, our diversity is one of our biggest strengths, which we need to “lean into” and celebrate now more than ever, rather than demonize and condemn. We live in neighborhoods and communities filled with good people who have (and often exhibit) tremendous capacity for kindness, care, and mutual affection.
We simultaneously, however, live in an information landscape and political moment which is highly fractured, polluted, and polarized. We must not allow populist, fear-proclaiming politicians and demagogues to “control the narrative” in our minds or in our nation.
Firearms have played and continue to play a vital role in the history of our nation and the preservation of law and order in our communities. About twenty years ago, however, the leaders of the National Rifle Association made some decisions which have tragically radicalized millions of citizens in the United States, and harmfully shifted both individual as well as collective senses of identity around guns and specifically tactical firearms.
Former firearms industry executive Ryan Busse’s TEDx talk, “It’s Time For Responsible Gun Owners to Save our Democracy,” is the most sensible and helpful video I’ve ever seen which explains not only the gradual radicalization of the NRA, but also our entire nation via the Republican Party. The talk is 18 minutes long, and I strongly encourage you to watch it either now or to add it to your “watch later” YouTube playlist. It’s extremely important that as citizens and voters, we understand how these radical voices have played and continue to play on conservative fears, and what this means for our democracy as well as collective future.
The other thing I recommend you check out to better understand the path forward for us as a nation politically, specifically when it comes to firearms and guns, is Nicholas Kristof’s July 2014 OpEd, “Our Blind Spot About Guns.” (I’ve provided a “gift link” in case you’re not a NYTimes subscriber.) My summary is: Our political path forward with regard to guns and firearms is analogous to steps we took to curb car-related deaths / fatalities in the early 1920s: Sensible, reasonable regulation rather than banning or seizure.
I’ve generally avoided addressing or highlighting controversial issues which relate to our ongoing “culture war” in the past, both on this blog and on my other social media channels. However, as I continue to work on the “Conspiracies and Culture Wars” media literacy inquiry project, and also strive to remain an informed and active voter as well as citizen, I sense a strong obligation to speak out and share on these issues.
Nothing less than the future of our representative democracy in the United States hangs in the balance.
We need to embrace civil dialog with others. We need to turn a deaf ear to those who attempt to use the playbook of demagogues to take power and radically transform our national government and civic culture.
May God protect and save us from the forces of darkness which seek to fill us with spirits of fear, judgement, condemnation, and anger.
Cross-posted to Medium and my Substack newsletter focusing on media literacy.
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