Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

US faces the gun and tax cliffs

By Stephan Richter (China Daily) Updated: 2013-01-24 07:22

The fiscal cliff and the "gun cliff" - the two big tasks US President Barack Obama faces in his second term - are not separate issues. The resolution of both will speak volumes about the true grit of American civilization.

The trouble with the United States is simple: Virtually all the problems it faces, from guns to taxes, are eminently solvable. But solving them requires a basic sense of right and wrong, and that is precisely what is in question.

As its "moral compass", the US relies on an ill-fated, mechanistic concept of splitting the difference. That may sound like pragmatism but is not given that one side regularly negotiates from cynical, extremist positions.

Viewed in a global context, what is at stake is not just a stronger US economy or a tougher gun law. At stake is American civilization itself.

For all the pride that has traditionally been wound up in America's greatness, a society that is fundamentally incapable of agreeing on the most basic issues of fairness and decency at home puts more under threat than just the question of governability. That may sound like a stretch, but only initially, if one asks where is the evidence that the US, considering its level of economic and political development, is any more peaceable and governable than Egypt.

Somehow, the US seems stuck in the concepts of the Old Testament. The perverse self-justification of all those gun buyers who now sheepishly argue "why should my freedom be restricted just because some kids got shot?" attests not just to a level of naivet, but inhumanness that begs disbelief.

It remains to be seen whether, on the gun issue, Obama really achieves more than the customary default position of other US presidents in times of national tragedy. Serving as the sermonizer-in-chief is a far cry from providing effective leadership. And yet one can feel with the US president. Outlawing and collecting all assault weapons would seem to be the most basic measure of civilization in any society.

The crux of the issue is that Americans must abandon their childish ideas of how a society works. No person is an island unto himself or herself. We all live as part of a much, much larger group. The people must understand that using assault weapons for hunting or shooting is not an expression of freedom, but an expression of human sickness or perversion.

The US National Rifle Association has 4 million members, and far from all favor the essentially unrestricted use of assault weapons. And yet American politicians and society are afraid to take on the gun lobby.

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