The Kyle Rittenhouse trial had me reeling and consequently I dashed off a Letter to the Editor of my local Palm Beach Post newspaper, one that had to be limited to 200 words. I sent it to Bruce Rettman, my longest tenured friend from our college years. I’ve written about our friendship in this space before. The first such time I included another terrific essay he wrote.
When I sent my piece to him, he responded with something he wrote, not necessarily for publication, but he just wanted to “let it out,” his own reaction to the Rittenhouse decision. While space made me focus on one aspect, our society’s increasing permissiveness for carrying military style weapons, his is broader, making him ask why he should even stay in this country, the title of his piece, appropriately, I Would Leave.
I thought it was excellent and he agreed to allow me to publish it here. And as my letter to the Post was restricted in length, I take this opportunity to add back what I had to cut out to make the paper’s length restrictions:
The absence of sensible gun control laws led directly to the jury’s decision. They could reach no other verdict in a society which not only allows for the possession of military style weapons but increasingly promotes “Stand Your Ground” laws, either explicit or implied. Our society and its leaders have actively advanced the 2nd amendment to an absurd degree. In this respect our judicial system has been rendered as ineffective as another branch of government, Congress. Gerrymandering and the effort of Republican states to appoint electors to the Electoral College who might be amenable to not certifying future election results also have frightening implications for The Republic’s future.
As students sixty years ago Bruce and I recited John Masefield’s On Growing Old, never imagining it would happen to us. Now we come together in that unimaginable future, and find ourselves in a nation we no longer recognize, one slouching towards autocracy.
I Would Leave
by Bruce Rettman
If I were younger, I would leave the United States of America and make my life in another country. The trial in Kenosha gives us yet another example of our broken, barbaric society giving legitimacy and permission to a person, in this case an adolescent, to carry a military assault weapon on the street and to use it to commit murder. Our judicial system has constructed laws that put such action in the category of reasonable behavior so that a jury must return a verdict of not guilty. A murderer is free to kill again.
I would leave. What kind of society elects Donald Trump as its president and on his behalf attacks the capitol threatening the lives of legislators and bringing death and destruction to the building that stands as a symbol of our democracy? What kind of country elects representatives who become leaders of one of its major political parties and defend such action? We are a society in violent decline plagued by the prejudices that have haunted our history. We have shown ourselves unequal to resolving our national crimes.
I would leave, but where would I go? I would go to a society that does not allow its citizens to bear arms and does not have an armed police force. I would go to a society that offers universal health care. I would go to a society that advocates the end of the use of fossil fuel and not only takes climate change seriously but does what it can to save the planet from the ravages of our wanton destruction. I doubt we will act to save ourselves, and I have little faith the USA will do what decent people should do. We would rather fund what has brought us to prominence. The USA will continue to fund a military that fights to protect wealth.
What decent person does not advocate for free education? Who would support a system that creates elite colleges and preparatory schools attended for the most part by people of substantial means? I would look for a society that housed and fed the poor and the elderly and did not complain that such action constitutes entitlements that burden the rest of us. I would look for a society that offered child care so that the very young and their parents could live healthy lives. I would look for a society that guaranteed food and shelter for all of its citizens.
The USA is over. I know without a reasonable doubt that the United States is not, as most all of its elected leaders feel required to repeat, the greatest country in the world. Rather, it is a country of savage cruelty, at home and abroad, that is responsible for the suffering of people around the globe. We are a military state and have been at war incessantly, war without end. I would look for a society at peace with itself and the world.
I would leave the USA.
My November 25 letter in the Palm Beach Post: