Not too long ago I came across an op-ed in The Washington Post arguing our nation should move toward a “gun-free society.” The author made clear this would be a long-term goal requiring a gradual but seismic shift in public culture and mores. Given standing convictions, a total ban proves both impossible and undesirable, at least from a democratic perspective. But one day, once centuries of uncivilized baggage had been shed, we really could find ourselves in communities liberated from armed mayhem, assuming we take the necessary steps now.
I couldn’t agree more. I found myself nodding like a crazed bobblehead. Had I not already shared upwards to five articles before noon, I probably would have re-posted it then and there. But later on, I noticed something curious. The piece was authored by the paper’s editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt. For those of you less acquainted, Hiatt is an influential Beltway warmonger. He’s rarely seen an American or Israeli military action he didn’t like, and he’s done his damnedest to make sure everyone with power concurs with him (to remarkable effect). That is, the man calling for a gun-free society at home is the same man apologizing for perpetual war abroad. The man concerned about thousands of senseless killings within our borders is unbothered by millions of U.S.-sponsored fatalities beyond our shores. The man so attuned to how big business profiteers have manufactured a culture of fear and exploited a pathetically compensating hyper-masculinity in order to win unconscionable dime is the same man who banks on a parallel culture of fear and pathetically compensating hyper-masculinity in order to sell a long line of bloodstained misadventures.
But it gets worse. To my knowledge, Hiatt has yet to utter a single word against the very global arms trade two of his favorite state actors (the United States and Israel) have played such a central role in expanding. If anything, his page’s function as one of the leading mouthpieces for the U.S. military-industrial complex has rendered the development of this arms trade all the more inevitable. Nor has he demonstrated any awareness of how his favored social and economic policies have devastated the precise inner cities most plagued by gun violence. True to form, Hiatt is a proud and loud defender of the corporate agendas in question. From youth and minority unemployment to stagnant wages to mass incarceration to an overall retrenched social safety net—Hiatt and his team of elite opinion-makers at The Post have courageously served on the front-lines making these nightmares a reality (I’d be remiss if I didn’t except Harold Meyerson, E.J. Dionne, and Eugene Robinson from this indictment).
This isn’t just an attack on the state of Hiatt’s soul, mind you. Or even the soul of The Post‘s editorial page. Although both souls are in need of serious repair. What I consider noteworthy about this cognitive dissonance is its symbolism. Almost to a tee, the ideological blind-spots plaguing Hiatt and company are the blind-spots plaguing professional class liberalism in general. I’m talking about the ersatz liberalism presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did so much to solidify and Hillary Clinton is doing so much to maintain, as well as the liberalism Bernie Sanders and his followers are striving to unseat. It’s an upper-middle-class liberalism that might gesture toward a genuine progressive politics every now and then—as it does in Hiatt’s column on a gun-free society—but otherwise stands comfortably atop a machinery geared toward upward redistributions of wealth and imperialist doublethink. It’s a liberalism that ultimately defers to a neoliberal political economy and a neoconservative foreign policy, neither of which can honestly be deemed “liberal” in either the classical or modern definitions of the word. And in that sense, it’s a liberalism undeserving of its name.