Right-wing pundits, particularly those at Fox News, have been scrambling to come up with something, anything that sounded like a somewhat plausible response to the plague of AR-15 massacres, as the Uvalde school shootings this week marked the latest in a mounting list of gut-wrenching atrocities—anything, of course, except gun control. “Schools are soft targets,” so turn them into virtual bunkers with “single-doors entry”; place armed security agents at the door, and hire retirees to do it; blame the schools for their flimsy fencing or their lack of booby traps. Over the course of 24 hours, Fox News posed 50 “solutions” to the problem—none of which, of course, included any kind of gun restrictions.
Naturally leading the gaslight parade at Fox News was Tucker Carlson—continuing last week’s “waving the bloody shirt” response to the Buffalo massacre, loudly proclaiming indignant outrage at the “politicization” and “exploitation” of the tragedy as a greater problem than the violence itself. Carlson, indeed, not only suggested that any attempts to pass gun-control measures would result in “civil war,” he then cynically blamed mental illness and the COVID-19 pandemic measures for the violence.
All the Fox News hosts, and Carlson particularly, denounced Joe Biden’s speech to the nation on Wednesday night, bitterly decrying his “politicization” of the Uvalde murders that left 21 people, 19 of them schoolchildren, dead at the hands of an 18-year-old gunman. Immediately after the speech, Carlson came on and launched into a classic “bloody shirt” denunciation:
The president of the United States—frail, confused, bitterly partisan, desecrating the memory of recently murdered children with tired talking points from the Democratic Party, dividing the country in a moment of deep pain rather than uniting, his voice rising, amplified only as he repeats the talking points he repeated for over 35 years in the United States Senate—partisan politics being the only thing that animates him. Unfit for leadership of this country.
On his own show a little later that evening, he continued in the same mode, again decrying the “politicization” of the massacre as a more egregious problem than the murders of 19 children and two teachers. He also suggested that any effort by Democrats would spark “civil war”:
A person who is intent on committing violence is very hard to stop under any circumstances. An act of Congress isn't going to do it. Neither will gun control. There are more guns in this country than there are people. There always have been. However you feel about that fact, you can acknowledge that you will never get rid of all of those guns. The Constitution prohibits that and you would set off a civil war if you try to do it.
So gun control, whether you find the slogans appealing or not, will not stop Payton Gendron or Salvador Ramos, and every rational person knows it.
Then, after denouncing Biden for politicizing the massacre, Carlson set out to politicize it himself by trying to build a case that the rise in mass shootings is the result of one of his favorite bugaboos: namely, the COVID-19 pandemic measures, which he contends set off a nationwide mental health crisis that is responsible for all these shootings.
“Oh, so the lockdowns dramatically increase the incidence of mental illness among young people and in 10 days, we’ve seen two mass shootings by mentally ill young people. Could there be a connection?” he asked. “Now, that’s not finger-pointing. It’s not to blame [Dr. Anthony] Fauci for yesterday’s shooting. We’re not that low. We’re not Joe Biden. But if people are becoming mentally ill because they’re disconnected from others, what can we do to connect them to others and thereby reduce the incidence of mental illness? That’s a real conversation.”
Of course, the problem of deranged shooters unleashing lethal attacks on schools and other “soft targets” extends to well over 20 years before the pandemic, and studies have demonstrated that only 11% of all mass murderers and only 8% of mass shooters had been diagnosed with serious mental illnesses—but a higher percentage were experiencing undiagnosed mental illnesses.
Carlson’s argument also inaccurately stigmatizes people with mental illnesses, when only 3% to 5% of violent crimes are committed by mentally ill people. Meanwhile, such people are themselves roughly 10 times more likely to be the victims of violence than the general population.
But the chief reason that the eagerness of Carlson and other Republicans—notably Texas Gov. Greg Abbott—to pin the blame on mental illness is, as Matt Gertz of Media Matters puts it, such a cynical dodge is that they have a long track record of gutting the funding for mental health programs that goes back at least 30 years and longer, one that became acute during the Donald Trump administration.
Blaming mass shootings on mental illness, in fact, is an old ploy that Trump and his team trotted out in 2018, even as they were fully engaged in an effort to gut Medicaid in the form of their ill-fated effort to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act, which would have cut Medicaid by more than $800 billion, ended the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, and imposed arbitrary caps on benefits for people still in the program.
Even though the plan lost in Congress and in the court of public opinion, the Trump team continued its vendetta against Medicaid by cutting the program by $800 billion in the 2018 budget, and giving local officials and administrators unprecedented authority to limit coverage and benefits. This meant that states like Kentucky, Indiana, Idaho, Arkansas, and Texas were greenlighted to refuse Medicaid expansion, cutting Medicaid access for people who lose their jobs, and moreover restricting the ability of families to keep the health care they need—physical and mental alike—to get back on their feet.
That’s not all: the Trump administration's 2018 federal budget also included a 26% cut to community health services. So states across the nation responded by slashing their allocations to community-based mental health service providers because of these cuts.
Among them was Texas, which has continued to slash mental health budgets. In April, Abbott cut $211 million from the department overseeing mental health programs. Texas ranks last out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia for overall access to mental health care, according to the report on the 2021 State of Mental Health in America.
Fox News hosts, naturally, would never impart that information to their viewers. Being an unrepentant Republican propaganda operation, their response was to concoct 50 different possible solutions to mass shootings that included a significant number—particularly increasing armed guards—that were proven ineffective in Uvalde. Other solutions included “God” and “prayer.”
It was nonstop politicization of the event, which meant of course that the centerpiece of their response to Biden would, in the great tradition of the “bloody shirt” trope, transform any attempt to build accountability for the violence into an arrogant act of demagoguery and political violence that dwarfed the originating event. Laura Ingraham, on her show, called Biden’s words “despicable.”
“He spoke tonight because politics is selfish. Because in today’s twisted world, it’s considered perfectly appropriate to exploit the massacre of innocent little kids in order to try to turn around your own sagging poll members,” she said.
Carlson and his sidekick Glenn Greenwald—who teamed up last week to denounce the people who dared connect Carlson’s extremist rhetoric to the Buffalo shooting in similar—engaged in a bit of shared right-wing projection at the show’s end, shaming Biden for daring to think that political solutions might be needed. Greenwald seemed to be looking into a mirror as he exuded his thoughts:
I think that the obsession that the people who are doing politics full-time have with seeing the world through this prism of partisan warfare is so consuming that it basically drains their entire souls so that nothing is left but this kind of immediate need to use every situation no matter how tragic to gain some kind of an advantage. …
They don’t wait at all because they want to exploit those emotions that they could be using to unite people, to instead work them to their own advantage. It’s so ghoulish and grotesque to watch.
Republished with permission from Daily Kos.