One of my favorite books was Fritz Stern’s The Politics of Cultural Despair. The author, whose family left Nazi Germany in 1938, tried to explain how a cultured and modern society like Germany could descend to the depravity of the Nazis and then destroy itself by launching a world-wide Holocaust which, among other things, resulted in the extermination of six million Jews. The book was a study of three German political theorists whose writings provided the historical and ideological bedrock for the Nazi regime, in particular its rejection of modern liberalism and all its variants (Socialism, Communism), as well as its virulent anti-Semitism. Basically Stern argued that many Germans felt threatened by the modernism of Weimar and wanted a return to a simpler, more conservative and more traditional life: small villages instead of large urban concentrations, petty craft instead of factory assembly-lines, social and spiritual values supporting hierarchy, discipline and customary family life.
Sound familiar? It should if only because most of these concepts have become watchwords of the political conundrums that appear to be enveloping the Republican party as it stumbles through the primaries leading up to the Cleveland convention which threatens to implode even before it begins. But the rejection of modernism in the form of progressivism has also been the watchword of the NRA in its long battle to fight off any and all threats perceived to weaken the 2nd Amendment, thus preventing consumers from getting their hands on guns.
The funny thing about the 2nd Amendment is that the whole idea of maintaining this sacred text unchanged and unchallenged fits perfectly into what is considered to be the typical mental and cultural view of people who own and like guns. There’s a reason why only Republican politicians show up at the annual NRA meeting; there’s a reason why the NRA posts daily messages reminding its members that Hillary is such a threat; there’s a reason why the NRA calls itself “America’s oldest civil rights organization;” there’s a reason why every Wayne-o video ends with the slogan: “Freedom’s Safest Place.”
There’s only one little problem, however, with all these messages that pretend to equate gun ownership with the traditional, conservative values that Fritz Stern showed coming into collision with the modern German society and state, namely, none of this tells us why some people own guns but more people don’t. The demographics of gun ownership are usually presented as resting on older white men who live in smaller cities and towns that are usually located in the South, Midwest or Mountain states, work in blue-collar occupations, live in traditional marriage/family arrangements and vote Republican every chance they get.
Unfortunately, while this may explain why the NRA annual meeting comes complete this year with a country music jam featuring Brett Eldredge and Jana Kramer (I have absolutely no idea whom either of them are) what it doesn’t explain is the fact that many, in fact perhaps a majority of people who fit the gun-owning demographic don’t own guns at all. And this is a big problem because the GVP community is comprised overwhelmingly of groups and individuals who would certainly consider themselves as being in the progressive or liberal camp. But how can they be sure that someone who claims to be a conservative is necessarily going to disagree with them when it comes to the issue of guns?
The GVP community needs to be careful in assuming that cultural attitudes about one particular thing necessarily flow over into attitudes about anything else. A big hue and cry erupted in 1967 when Dean Rusk’s daughter married a black air force lieutenant. Would anyone other than a schmuck like Cliven Bundy care about an interracial marriage today? I’m not saying that the NRA membership is ready to be converted to the GVP cause. But the fact that someone considers himself/herself to be a keeper of traditional values doesn’t mean they care one bit about guns. The GVP folks should figure out how to talk to them.