Op-ed: Guns and Russians

  • By Bob Franken
  • Wednesday, February 21, 2018 9:34am
  • Opinion

Mark the date on your calendar: March 24. It’s a Saturday. It’ll be a test for the up-and-coming generation. For that matter, it will be a test for the United States of America and a system of government that gets many failing grades because it has corruption baked in.

Saturday, March 24, is the day that student organizers have announced a rally in Washington — “March for our Lives.” Anything short of an enormous turnout will reinforce the craven politicians’ belief that they can wait out the outrage that accompanies each regularly occurring mass gun slaughter, such as the latest one in Florida, by uttering a few “thoughts and prayers” statements. That way, they avoid the wrath of the National Rifle Association and its accomplices, who combine intimidation with campaign contributions to those who cower before them.

Only crowds that are even bigger than those that attended President Donald Trump’s inauguration can begin to cure America’s sickness: our irrational attachment to weapons of mass destruction. Even such an outpouring might not be enough. This is a nation with up to 300 million privately owned weapons, many in the hands of millions of people who feel they must jealously guard them with their lives — or more accurately, the lives of the victims of the latest massacre.

It also will be a test for a country where most of us have the attention span of a gnat. Our thinking, or lack thereof, is shaped these days by social media, where it’s easy to take full advantage of our inherent superficiality. A certain president uses Twitter to great effect.

Others prefer Facebook, like the Russian government. The latest indictment from Robert Mueller’s special counsel operation nails Vladimir Putin’s henchmen by detailing the highly organized ways they distorted the 2016 election. True, it did not allege that Trump or his campaign heavies knowingly participated in the Russian operation. That accusation of complicity, if there are such charges, would come in subsequent indictments. What Mueller’s grand jury did was to outline crimes allegedly committed by the Russians. Their next batch might very well specify co-conspirators, Americans who may be charged as willing participants.

Trump, as always, did some distorting of his own. For instance, he insisted that these indictments did not accuse his forces of collusion. That is sort of true, but premature. He chose to you ignore the probability that more indictments will be coming that hit closer to the home, maybe even his home, the White House.

What also is true is that he has not indicated in response that he’ll take on Moscow, even with this new damning bill of particulars. Could this be his continuing collusion?

He also refuses to address the gun issue even in the wake of the horror over the Parkland, Florida, high-school bloodbath. His people now grudgingly allow that he’d support improved background checks, but he’s stayed away from the subject for the most part, emphasizing instead the usual platitudes about mental health. Oh yes, he’s also continuing his campaign to discredit the FBI, which apparently blew a chance to stop the carnage by mishandling tips that Nikolas Cruz, the alleged assailant, was a lethal explosion waiting to ignite.

In one tweet, Trump tried to conflate the tragedy and his ongoing disdain for the Russia investigation. Critics charged that what he said on Twitter was astonishingly self-centered, even for Donald Trump. You decide:

“Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.”

But wait, there’s more: In still another tweet he contended “They are laughing their asses off in Moscow.” Perhaps they are. However, this rally, which is another attempt to take American democracy back from all the foreign and domestic malefactors, can succeed only if it produces a gargantuan turnout in late March. If it is not huge, the Russians will have more reason to laugh.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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