One of my theories about the classic gangster television series The Sopranos is that creator David Chase recognized an important truth about the structure of TV storytelling. In normal stories, a protagonist is placed in a situation that uniquely challenges his character so that in traveling through the arc of the story he is transformed in comic or tragic ways. But in a TV series, the hero’s character is never really transformed — because otherwise the series would end — and he is doomed to repeat the same actions over and over without surcease. In short, he is in Hell, like the sinners in Dante’s Inferno who must repeat the same actions forever. Or like Tony Soprano.
Nowadays, watching the news, and reading social media, I feel a bit like Tony Soprano myself. A story breaks — a prominent person dies or there’s a mass shooting, for instance — and the exact same reactions appear on news media discussion panels and social media as the last time such a story occurred. Then these reactions fade away as we grow weary of hearing about the event. Then a similar event occurs and we all become embroiled in the exact same conversation. We never learn. We never change. We just do it again and again and again.
So, for instance, Senator John McCain dies. For the record, the man was a heroic patriot with whom I often disagreed. At such a moment, out of respect for those who knew and loved him, with a due awe for that mortal end which reminds me of our shared humanity and with the understanding that he now stands before the perfect Judge who needs no help from me, I find it right and proper to put all political considerations aside and wish the man well on the Great Journey. Either pay tribute, say Rest in Peace, or keep your mouth shut. Nothing else is required.
And this is how we all behave — for about five minutes. By the sixth minute, however, the reactions on the news channels and social networks have turned predictably vicious. Some can’t get out of their own heads long enough to silence their political snarling. Others use their tributes to McCain to make nasty comparisons to the living. Still others start attacking the way some paid their respects. It’s like watching people pull the man’s body apart and beat each other over the head with his limbs.
Likewise with a shooting like the one in Jacksonville, Florida. We get a few minutes of thoughts and prayers (a completely appropriate response to a tragic situation over which you have no control and in which you had no involvement). Then the screaming starts over the Second Amendment. The nation’s media can’t even give the families of the dead one lousy day to grieve in peace before they are at each other’s throats.
Then the screaming fades. The news and social media move on. Until the next time, when it all starts again.
We’re in Hell.
Why? What have we done to find ourselves condemned to this endless cycle of useless rage, like the guy in Dante doomed to gnaw on another man’s head forever? What is our sin?
I think the answer is simply this: we have not spoken honestly about the real issue.
The real issue is this: do we want to preserve American liberty and the constitutional machinery that maintains that liberty — or not?
Any two people who agreed that liberty is the central American good and worth preserving could argue productively. We could compromise on redistribution as long as we both acknowledged how essential private property is to freedom. We could make adjustments in gun control if we both understood that an armed populace is our last defense against tyranny. We could easily confirm Supreme Court justices if we acknowledged that their role was not to make law but to ensure laws are in keeping with the Constitution. We could debate anything as long as we both agreed to our right to speak.
But the moment I know I am talking to a socialist — who believes my work, my time, and thus my life belong to the state — the moment I know I am talking to a leftist — who will not concede my right to self-defense — the moment I know I am talking to a cheat willing to have our founding document rewritten from the bench — the moment I know I’m with a censor who thinks it’s fine to silence me whether on social media or in the news media or through the courts — I will not give one bloody inch. Because, in that case, each concession becomes another step to the eradication of the one political asset I hold most dear: my freedom.
That is where we find ourselves. To my mind, our news media, our academies, the corporate culture of Silicon Valley, and the Democrat Party have all lost the plot of American liberty. They believe in socialism. They believe in a disarmed populace. They believe in ruling through the judiciary. And they believe in censorship of ideas they don’t like.
Under that circumstance, they can catch Donald Trump paying hush money to the entire Rockettes chorus line. They can shed their crocodile tears over every shooting victim on earth. They can whine about Merrick Garland all the want. And they can curse me out and shut me down on every media vehicle they own. I will not surrender to them even a little.
Until we can agree on the One Great Thing — that Americans should be free — we can’t agree on anything. And we are doomed to repeat the same conversations again and again.
We are in Hell.
For more commentary, listen to my podcast Monday through Thursday.