As the White Rabbit said: "Don't just do something — stand there."
In a podcast the day after the massacre in Las Vegas, Michael Graham asked me what supporters of the Second Amendment ought to do in reaction to such horrifying events. My answer at the time was: nothing. And nothing that has transpired since then has shown me cause to modify that position. It is in the nature of reactionaries to react, but very often the right course of action is inaction.
To my friend Michael, that's cold-fish stuff. What's needed, he argued, is passion: an emotional discharge in the service of a proactive agenda. While bookish types such as myself are mustering evidence and reason behind a dispassionate analysis of the facts, he argued, the gun-grabbers and other demagogues are getting the rubes all riled up (I am rephrasing) to do . . . something. "We have to do something!" he insisted.
Of course his argument is not without some merit, especially if you are running for office. (Consider who is president of these United States in anno Domini 2017.) Passion is helpful if you are trying to animate a crowd, either to vote for you or to tune in to your radio program or television show. Consider how fond Rush Limbaugh is of the word "passion," which he describes as the essential key to success. He is not wrong about that: The love of the thing itself is necessary and irreplaceable for the development of any talent or enterprise. Who doubts that if Rush Limbaugh would give Winslow Homer a run for his money if his passion were watercolor instead of broadcasting, or that LeBron James would be a master cordwainer if his passion were making shoes instead of making shots?
But our passions can run away with us, especially in politics. Politics is not about policy: Politics is about tribe. Turn on Thom Hartmann's radio program some time and, if you can stomach two minutes of it, you'll understand what politics really is for many people: a license to hate. The indulgence of hatred is, for a certain kind of person — not an uncommon type, either — extraordinarily pleasurable, as is the expression of outrage, disgust, and indignation. You probably have seen this, in someone else or in yourself: In the course of detailing some outrage or act of buffoonery, one lists each detail, building up to a crescendo, and then — the smile. A big, wide smile of serene satisfaction announcing that the day's outrage has been duly and deeply savored.
Politicians, and their media minions, have good reason to keep us stirred up, to keep our passions in a state of constant excitation. If we stopped and thought about things for a minute, we'd tar and feather the lot of them.