What Can We Learn From the NFL Protests?

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You’ve no doubt heard that former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been on the receiving end of a great deal of bile because of his kneeling protest of racism during the pregame playing of the national anthem — a ritual that now has been taken up by many other professional and school athletes as well. You’ve no doubt heard many people say that these actions are, somehow or other, disrespectful toward the nation, the flag, and veterans.

Fans have turned on Kaepernick and burned his jersey in protest against his protest, and even boycotted NFL games.  They’re willing to accept wife beaters and girlfriend beaters and animal abusers and DUI drivers and druggies and even killers. But silent protesters for civil rights? Not so much.

One little trick that we’ve witnessed quite a bit is comparing Colin Kaepernick and company to Tim Tebow, who was criticized for kneeling in prayer before a football game.  Which is another glaring false equivalence such as you might expect in these situations. There are at least 5 reasons why Colin Kaepernick is not Tim Tebow.

  1. Tebow made a public display of his religiosity. Kaepernick made a public display of his commitment to justice.
  2. Tebow acted on his own behalf. Kaepernick acted on behalf of millions of disadvantaged.
  3. Tebow did something he could have done literally almost anywhere else. Kaepernick did something he could have done only in a very limited number of situations.
  4. Tebow received criticism. Kaepernick received hate mail, death threats and vicious attacks from sleazy politicians and media figures.
  5. Tebow’s action was ultimately good PR that probably boosted his career.  Kaepernick may have sacrificed his career in order to make a statement.

The reactions to the NFL protests have followed essentially 3 lines of (very erroneous) thought, concerning the following topics:

A. The National Anthem Itself

The impression the jingoists would give you is that the song we now call the national anthem was handed down by God Herself, notated on stone tablets.  While “The Star -Spangled Banner” is an old song, its status as national anthem dates back only to 1931, at least officially. (It had been the unofficial anthem for a good half-century before that). Francis Scott Key wrote the words in 1815, long after the Republic was established. And those words were set to the melody of an old drinking song, “Anacreon in Heaven”. A British drinking song, no less.

B. The Tradition of Standing

Nor is the tradition of standing while this little ditty is performed rooted in antiquity. The practice goes back only to about 1891, and was established not so much as a display of patriotism, but as a way of alerting people that the song was being performed.

C. The Tradition of Standing Before Football Games

This also isn’t nearly as timeless or as engraved in stone as some would have you believe. NFL players have always had the option of being on the field for the national anthem, but it has never been required — at least not until 2009, when it became a requirement for televised games only.

The (over)reactions from some sectors of the American public to these protests has been disturbing for many reasons. And it has laid bare some some sobering facts about American society, some problems that urgently need to be addressed. Here are eight of the main ones:

1. There has been far more reaction than reflection.

People who respond with anger or hate toward individuals like Colin Kaepernick seem to be on autopilot. They react in a way that they’ve been programmed to react. And that programming is not accidental. It’s been systematically hammered into them for years by a highly lucrative outrage industry (we’ll talk more about that in a future post).  One might say (though it’s a bit of an oversimplification) that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who reflect and those who react. And there is absolutely no doubt that the reactors are currently controlling American society. The prevailing mode of discourse, if you can call it that, is to react first and do research never.

2. The events have been seized as an opportunity for polarization.

If you follow just about any online discussion of the protests, it’s a good bet that sooner rather than later, you’ll hear someone lament about how them librulz are destroying America with these protests. Reactionaries have been desperate to (inaccurately) portray these acts of civil disobedience as a politically motivated campaign generated exclusively by, and for the benefit of, the Left.

Right-wing punditocrat Dinesh D’Souza took it the tactic to its most boneheaded extremes thus:

The Democratic Left, symbolized by Kaepernick, seeks to portray themselves in resistance to oppression. In this view, Trump represents the party of oppression (bad America) and they represent the party of liberation (good America). Kneeling at games is intended to convey a refusal to go along with American racism and oppression.

Yet historically, this gets things upside down. Who is the actual party of racism and oppression? The Democrats. Who is the actual party that resisted oppression? The Republicans.

Aside from the presumption that Kaepernick somehow “symbolizes the Democratic Left”, D’Souza performs a clever little bait-and-switch here, beginning with “historically” and then slyly switching to “is”. As anyone who did not sleep through ninth-grade civics class knows, the Republican and Democratic parties of today are quite different from what they were “historically” — and a huge part of that difference concerns race relations.

3. The Simplistic View of Patriotism

Reactionaries tend to view patriotism as a matter of displaying all the right symbols and symbolic actions: flying a flag in your yard, wearing a flag lapel pin, and having flag decals (both U.S. and Confederate) on your truck.  Thus, if you don’t engage in all the requisite rituals, like standing during the anthem, holding your hand over your heart and thinking heavenly thoughts, you may be branded as anti-American. True patriotism, however, entails a commitment to candidly addressing the nation’s problems, including racial injustice.

germans

And how ironic that this level-headed lesson on patriotism should come from a country where, not so long ago, patriotism was defined by goose-stepping and swastikas and a disturbing salute.

4. The confusion of personal preference with universal directive

Many people have felt it appropriate to respond to the protests by pointing out that by god, they always stand for the national anthem.  “I stand” has become a popular meme, as if letting people know that you prefer to stand somehow resolves the whole discussion and negates the reasons for staging the protest. But the protest was never about anyone else’s right to stand during the anthem. And there is a vast difference between preferring to stand yourself and believing that everyone else should stand; and a really huge difference between believing that everyone should stand, and believing that everyone should be compelled to stand. That difference is the distinction between a supposedly democratic society like the United States Of America and an authoritarian society like North Korea.

Yet in America in recent years, this mindset has been increasingly manifest. We have a coalition of “values voters” who believe not only that they are the only ones who have values, but that everyone else should be forced to live by their values. Among other things, this has spawned the perennial and staggeringly stupid War On Christmas myth, cooked up because some people take offense at other people having the audacity to be of good cheer in a non-approved manner.

5. The discourse has been dominated and exploited by demagogues.

Reactionaries and hucksters and reactionary hucksters, all the way up the food chain to the White House (“fire the son of a bitch”), scored a touchdown with their audiences. They have been uniformly nasty against not only professional athletes who protest, but also high school and even elementary school students for exercising a constitutional right. (There’s nothing that spells patriotism like trashing a bunch of 8-year-olds, eh?) The opportunistic idiocy of the punditcracy was perhaps best encapsulated by Graham Ledger at OANN (aka the Moonie Network):

these uneducated, partisan, racialist football players are somehow righteous for promoting violent anti-American fascist groups, for turning their backs on the country that gave them their lifestyles, and are displaying so much contempt for we the people… The message is disrespect for this nation, which is making these spoiled babies rich. The message is, the owners in the NFL care more about their petty little politics than they care about us, we, the people. It’s not the anthem or the flag that’s being disrespected here, it’s you. It’s me.

It’s an especially nice touch to re-brand protesters against fascism as fascists themselves.

6. Straw men and red herrings galore

Those who don’t want to hear the protesters’ message have tried to bury them beneath an avalanche of straw men and red herrings, proclaiming that Kaepernick and company are “being disrespectful” , “displaying contempt” and “biting the hand that feeds them”, etc.  In other words, they offer the bizarre claim that protesting against racism is tantamount to protesting against America. And the very fact that so many people accept this absurd false equation is a protruding indication of the real problem: racism has become so deeply and subtly embedded in the fabric of American society that people tacitly accept it as a normal component of America.

It’s also trendy to point out that these athletes are highly paid; and this is often followed by the suggestion that their salaries automatically make them rich brats; and in exchange for this bounty they should just look the other way and keep their mouths shut about injustice.  You’ll get no argument from me on the point of athletes being overpaid; but that’s utterly irrelevant here, since rich Americans are just as entitled to exercise the First Amendment as are poor Americans. And contrary to what the reactionaries would have you believe, these football players are not “whining about how they are being treated”. I have never heard a single one of them claim that he himself has been unfairly targeted by police. Instead, they are speaking up on behalf of more anonymous, ordinary American citizens who have been thus targeted. It’s the famous putting their careers on the line to defend the voiceless; this is what the reactionaries consider being “whiny rich babies”.

And some people have gleefully mentioned that blacks kill other blacks and also that blacks kill whites. None of which negates the core complaint about police disproportionately targeting blacks.  And the fact that so many white people are so desperately seeking a way to negate it is a further indicator of the problem.

7. False narratives

Not content merely to put a false spin on the facts, reactionaries also have no problem with simply making up facts. One of them is that Black Lives Matter promotes violence. Utterly untrue. Another is that BLM and other anti-racism activists “don’t care about” blacks committing crimes against other blacks. Also not true.  In fact, the very concept of “black on black” crime is more rhetorical than realistic. But the fact that something is untrue doesn’t keep a lot of people from believing it. And repeating it. Over and over again. Alas.

The fact that “black on black crime” is even an issue, while the equally prevalent “white on white crime” is not, is yet another indication of the real problem.

8. The passionate pursuit of absurdity

Veterans are a frequent pawn of reactionaries, who love playing the “I love veterans more than you do” game.  Naturally, then, they have used veterans and military personnel as props to support their rage and hatred directed toward NFL protesters. In doing so, they completely ignore the fact that a great many veterans resent being used as pawns and props, particularly for something like this.

 

take a knee

In fact, a group of 35 veterans posted an open letter in support of Colin Kaepernick — a letter to which many other veterans have added their concurrence — which says, in part:

Far from disrespecting our troops, there is no finer form of appreciation for our sacrifice than for Americans to enthusiastically exercise their freedom of speech.

But the objectors still claim to know better, even though they’ve never quite explained the logic behind the belief that the protest is “disrespectful”. The best they can do is reiterate that veterans have “sacrificed themselves for our freedom”. What they are suggesting, then, is that because veterans have sacrificed themselves for our freedom, we should honor that sacrifice by coercing other people into behaving the way we want them to.

Unfortunately, this type of absurd and self-contradicting premise is all too common in contemporary American discourse. In fact, it seems that the more passionate the argument, the more absurd the premise. And that’s a very dangerous situation. It’s the kind of zeitgeist that might lead to… oh, the election of a president who is a figurehead for neo-Nazism.

A positive note

But let’s end on a positive note. An incident occurred recently that illustrates how possible it is to bridge the gap on even a heated conflict such as this. And it occurred in the unlikeliest of locations: a rally in support of the current White House occupant.

A group of representatives from Black Lives Matter showed up to counter-protest. Predictably, they were met with hostility, and with all the standard pre-programmed soundbites: “All lives matter”; “You hate cops”; “You don’t care about blacks killing blacks”. “If you don’t like America, get out”. Etc., etc.

But then something unexpected happened. For whatever reason, the speaker at the rally invited someone from BLM to take the stage and address the crowd for two whole minutes. Maybe he figured that the BLM speaker would make a fool of himself. But that’s not what happened. The BLM speaker was absolutely masterful, and actually managed to make friends of some of the T—p supporters. It was a stunning achievement that should serve as a sign of hope for us all.

 

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The 12 Worst Responses to Orlando and Dallas (and Baton Rouge…)

Pulse Shooting Orlando

(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

 

This began as a rather belated examination of the reactions to the shootings in Orlando and Dallas, as I also offered for Charleston and Roseburg and others. But right from the beginning, I was thinking that I’d better hurry up and finish it, because given the frequency of such events these days, another one could occur at any moment. And lo and behold. But not to worry, the extremist reactions to all such incidents are fairly standard, with only slight variation. So herewith are the looniest, most hateful, most ignorant, most childish, most bigoted responses to the most recent (at the moment) round of mass murder by firearm.

1. “Muslims and Black Lives Matter”

Since the shooter in Dallas was black and the targets were police officers, it probably shouldn’t surprise you that the reactionaries would seize the opportunity to vilify an organization that draws attention to the disproportionate number of blacks shot by police. After all, they also proclaimed that the lone shooter in Orlando was proof that Muslims were to blame for the violence there. (As comedian Kumail Nanjiani commented, “Must be pretty cool to be white and just represent yourself and not your entire race”).

Following the shooting of the police officers in Dallas, here’s what a perennially pompous and vituperative talk radio personality (let’s not give him any more attention than need be by actually naming him) had to say :

Black Lives Matter was just exactly who they are then as who they are today. They’re a terrorist group. They’re quickly becoming a terrorist group committing hate crimes.

Never mind that there is no indication the gunman was connected with Black Lives Matter — which has solidly condemned the shootings. By drawing attention to police violence against blacks and seeking solutions, so the narrative goes, BLM is encouraging violence against police.

And of course as soon as it became known that the killer in Baton Rouge was black, the reactionaries tried to fit him into the narrative of black thugs killing white cops — never mind that one of the victims was also black, and that there was no indication of racial motivation. Interestingly, they did not try to fit him into a narrative when it came out that he may have been, like the vast majority of homegrown terrorists, associated with a radical right-wing anti-government ideology.

2. “All lives matter”

Before this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game in San Diego, the Canadian quartet known as The Tenors came onto the field and sang the Canadian national anthem. Almost. But unbeknownst to the other three, one of the tenors altered the tenor of the lyrics during the song to say “all lives matter”, thus pissing off two countries at once. His outraged colleagues issued an apology and booted him out of the group.

Disrespectful mangling of a national anthem aside, what exactly is wrong with saying “all lives matter”? After all, all lives clearly do matter.  Well, what’s wrong is that the phrase was coined, or at least co-opted, as a rallying cry for those who want to attack, smear or trivialize Black Lives Matter. It’s a phrase that was uttered, for instance, by a man in Illinois just before he drove his vehicle into a crowd of BLM demonstrators. (No arrests were made.)

3. “Thoughts and prayers”

Once upon a time, it sounded like sincere empathy to say that your thoughts and prayers were with the victims and their families, even though both thought and prayer are notoriously ineffective in healing fatal bullet wounds or preventing future ones. These days, the expression just sounds meaningless and hollow — especially since it’s so often intoned by congresspersons who, being in the pocket of the gun lobby, refuse to take any action on gun violence.

4. “The worst mass shooting in U.S. history”

That was the unanimous verdict of the media about the Orlando massacre. But it wasn’t exactly true. Early in the Twentieth Century, there were mob attacks on African-Americans that left hundreds dead. Some of the victims were lynched or killed by other means, but a great many were shot. (Some people also might count the massacre of Native Americans at Wounded Knee; but while the victims there were civilian, the killers were military personnel — which makes it rather different from what we normally characterize as a mass shooting.) The fact that mass murders of non-whites have slid under the radar of those keeping the tally is a good illustration of the problem — or at least one serious problem.

5. The NRA

If there is any bar of bad taste or poor judgment too low for the National Rifle Association to limbo under, they haven’t stumbled upon it yet. During the week leading up to Independence Day this year, the “gun rights” group aired a political ad (a pro-Trump ad, no less) that used the graves of military personnel as props in a video shot at Arlington National Cemetery without authorization and in clear violation of Arlington’s rules. And every time there is one of those increasingly common mass shootings, you can count on the good ol’ NRA to call for more guns in the streets, and to remind everyone that Obama wants to take away your guns and destroy your freedom (which amount to the same thing, don’t you know) and insist that we shouldn’t “blame the gun” for this carnage because the killers just as easily could have done the same damage using chess pieces or soda straws.

And of course they will blame anything and everything they can for the violence to deflect any share of culpability away from their precious guns. After Orlando, they even pointed the trigger finger at the specter of “political correctness”, whatever that means.

The shooting in Dallas actually prompted a much tamer than usual response from LaPierre and company ; but the promptness of that response was in itself rather incriminating. Why? Because it stands in stark contrast to the group’s glacial pace in commenting on the senseless police killing of civilian Philando Castile.

It’s especially interesting because Castile was a law-abiding licensed gun owner who was armed at the time but fully compliant with police instructions. He was, in short, the exemplary poster boy for so-called “Second Amendment rights” that the NRA normally would rush to defend against government tyranny at breakneck speed. But after Castile’s slaying, they were totally crickets for two days, and even then spoke up in a sanitized, broadly and diplomatically worded statement issued only after they’d been prodded a few times.

Did we mention that Philando Castile was black?

6. Trumpery as usual

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump (did I really just type those words, or is it all just a bizarre nightmare?) Tweeted this about Orlando:

Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!

While the rest of the world was reeling with shock and grief, The Donald was engrossed with the one thing that he’s always been most engrossed with: himself, as he patted himself on the back for supposedly being right about Muslims in general being untrustworthy, and for his supposed “toughness and vigilance”.

In other comments about shootings, he has assailed President Obama’s leadership because he “allowed” these shootings to occur, and even nitpicked the president’s “body language”, implying that he wasn’t really sincere enough in his grief or strong enough in his resolve.

Is this the same Donald Trump who commented on the Roseburg shooting spree that “these things happen”, and there’s nothing you can do to stop them? So a self-described “conservative Republican” goes on a rampage, and it’s just a matter of “shit happens”. But closer to an election, our dark-skinned president should have been able to control all the other dark-skinned people, and it’s a sign of weak leadership that he let them slip through the net.

For what it’s worth, the record shows that President Obama, whether you approve of his polices or not, has been an incredibly effective leader — if you really doubt that, Exhibit A is the way he shepherded the passage of the ACA despite seemingly impossible odds and unprecedented obstruction — while Trump himself has a record of ducking responsibility, pointing fingers and refusing to acknowledge mistakes. But the problem here isn’t just a blowhard egomaniac spouting off. Trump and his like are the price Americans pay for the First Amendment. And the problem isn’t even that he repeats blatant lies, including lies promoted by admirers of Hitler.

The real problem is that his reckless and irresponsible rhetoric actually may be aiding and abetting the enemy. He appears to be doing, in other words, exactly what he baselessly accuses Obama of doing. How’s that leadership thing working out for you, Don?

7.  Religious idiocy

If it is indeed fair to judge an entire demographic sector by the actions of a handful, then Christians are in deep, deep doo-doo. Not only are Christian terrorists more common than Islamic terrorists,  but also while American Muslims uniformly denounce violence, a handful of American Christians — a very large handful, actually — celebrate and encourage it. (At least one Christian pundit in denial tried claiming that unlike Muslim terrorists, Christian terrorists don’t try to justify their actions by citing scripture. Really?)

Pat Robertson, who is nominally a Christian minister, seems nonetheless on a hellbent mission to make Christianity (not to mention political conservatism) look as bad as possible. He once suggested, for example, that Hurricane Katrina was caused by God’s wrath over abortion. And he was true to form when it came to Orlando.

The left is having a dilemma of major proportions and I think for those of us who disagree with some of their policies, the best thing to do is to sit on the sidelines and let them kill themselves.

Maybe not quite as hateful as usual, but just as loony. Meanwhile, a church pastor in Sacramento addressed his congregation thusly:

I think that’s great. I think that helps society. You know, I think Orlando, Fla., is a little safer tonight…The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is — I’m kind of upset that he didn’t finish the job!

That was not, mind you, a spur-of-the-moment Tweet. He actually put it into a sermon. And he’s not alone. A pastor in Arizona seems to have received the same memo from his Loving God:

The good news is that at least 50 of these pedophiles are not going to be harming children anymore. The bad news is that a lot of the homos in the bar are still alive, so they’re going to continue to molest children and recruit people into their filthy homosexual lifestyle.

This particular pastor, by the way, had previously said he would pray that President Obama “dies and goes to hell”, inspiring a member of his faithful flock to show up armed at one of Obama’s appearances. But he probably wouldn’t have been able to cite any Bible verses to justify this move, do you think?

And then there’s always the Westboro Baptist Church. ‘Nuff said.

8. “Civil war”

That was the caption about the Dallas massacre used by a New York rag, and many people took up the cry: It’s cops versus African Americans or their advocates, and ya gotta choose one side or the other. These people presumably flip a coin when they encounter a black cop. And their heads really must explode when they hear about an incident like the one in California when Black Lives Matter activists and police officers shook hands after a demonstration. Or in Wichita when they had a cookout together. Or in Dallas when BLM demonstrators and All Lives Matter demonstrators shook hands, embraced and prayed together.

The Drudge Report ran the headline “Black Lives Kill”. And talk show host and former congressman Joe Walsh Tweeted:

5 cops dead, 7 wounded. This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after.

When Real America came after Walsh instead, he deleted it and replaced it with this:

10 Cops shot. You did this Obama. You did this liberals. You did this . Time to defend our Cops. Wake up.

Presumably, that version was intended to sound slightly less stupid.

9. Alex Jones

It’s tempting to say that Jones belongs in a category all by himself; but obviously there are many people out there who “think” like he does, or else he wouldn’t still be raking in the bucks year after year. In any case, these shootings have given him the opportunity to go full throttle, denouncing not only a “civil war”, but a “globalist, leftist takeover” involving Obama, Clinton, the United Nations, and Media Matters. And maybe those cricket people from the center of the earth.

10. “Hillary and Obama did it”

You may have noticed a common thread in a great many of the reactionary reactions: the first impulse is to blame the big bad black guy in the formerly White House. Because Obama openly and honestly (and accurately) acknowledges that there is a race problem in this country, and hey, because he’s viewed as a race problem himself, the reactionaries proclaim that he is, somehow, fomenting tension between the races. And Hillary Clinton must be doing so too, because… well, just because.

Even John McCain, who was once considered a sane and respectable statesman before he inflicted Sarah Palin on the world, declared that the president was “directly responsible” for Orlando. (Unlike other sufferers from Obama Derangement Syndrome, McCain at least had the decency to offer a half-assed retraction.) Some people have even suggested that the president literally ordered these attacks; evidently he’s supposed to be an impossibly “weak leader” except when it comes to orchestrating terrorism against his own people.

The two lines of assault are that Obama has (a) enabled terrorists, and (b) scorned police officers. In fact, the president has worked very hard to fight terrorism and to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists. If he’s been less than totally effective, it’s in part because he’s had to fight the NRA and the GOP along with ISIS. (See him bitch-slap a “gun rights” advocate who confronts him with the”you’re punishing lawful gun owners” and  “crime is bad in your hometown” narratives.) He’s also been entirely supportive of law enforcement personnel. (See him totally de-pants the lieutenant governor of Texas, who confronts him with the “you don’t care about cops” narrative.)

Here’s an interesting idea for an experiment: let’s take a poll among people who believe Obama was responsible for these shootings, and find out how many of them also believe he is responsible for the death of bin Laden. Chances are the percentage will be a maximum of zero — even though the president verifiably did order that attack.

11. “A middle finger to cops”

Speaking at a memorial service for the fallen officers in Dallas, the president sounded a note of fervent optimism, insisting that “we are not as divided as we seem” despite occasional acts of hatred and racism, and that Americans can and will overcome their differences. But the Obama haters totally ignored the optimism and just zeroed in on the tiny part of his speech where he dared display the honesty and candor to mention the racism at all:

What kind of pathetically self-absorbed asshat hijacks a memorial for cops murdered by a racist to lecture cops on race?

Obama has never stopped being Bill Ayers’ acolyte. He never cared for this nation and never will.

Obama turns into lecture on race – SO DISGUSTING – Probably his MOST OFFENSIVE SPEECH Ever – What a jerk!

Black Lives Matter is a fraud and based on lies. They also promote cop killers. Unreal Obama would credit them at this memorial.

Of course: Divider-in-chief exploits for 5 gunned-down cops to bash police depts. Go home.

 @vadum

At funeral for 5 Dallas cops killed by Obama emphasizes & exaggerates bigotry among police. A middle finger to cops.

12. The Bush dance

 

The Obama Haters were so obsessed with finding something, anything, to smear the president for, that they seem to have overlooked the character a couple of heads to his right. During a rendition of Battle Hymn of the Republic, George W. Bush begins swaying and boogieing and having a grand old time as if he’s flashing back to a drunken frat party. First Lady Michelle Obama at first glares at him in disbelief, then forces an indulgent smile, while his wife Laura shoots him a look that suggests he’s going to be taken to the woodshed when he gets home. I’ve heard people try to offer justifications for his behavior, but there’s no excuse for not realizing that in a memorial service for five people you don’t know, there are bound to be some who might consider it inappropriate. His conduct bespeaks the same kind of boy-in-a-bubble cluelessness that characterized his eight long years in Washington.

 

And there you have it, the worst reactions and responses I’m aware of this time around. If there are any I’ve overlooked, by all means bring them to my attention. But I doubt if anyone will bother. Any day now, there will be another mass shooting to steal the focus.