We cannot afford cynicism
Our 11-year-old grandson is with us for the week, and we are having the sort of conversations that indicate the learning has just begun — for me.
He and his parents recently completed a move of more than 2,000 miles. This is quite the adjustment for all involved, including their 4-year-old dog, Rumple. I hadn’t considered how disorienting it might be for a dog born on a tropical island to find himself suddenly in the Midwest, but then I’m not Rumple’s boy. Clayton is mindful of his pup’s moods. When I mentioned how nice it is to have his steadfast companion during this transition, he shook his head and smiled.
“It’s a transition for both of us,” he said. “Rumple and I are more like an ecosystem. We’re helping each other be strong.”
Clayton was talking about his relationship with his beloved dog. I heard a new way to look at the pitfalls of cynicism.
Our conversation occurred only two days after a gunman had killed nine people and injured more than two dozen in a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, about a three-hour drive from our home in Cleveland. The gunman used a .223-caliber high-capacity rifle to shoot into a crowd at a popular nightspot at 1:05 a.m. He would have killed hundreds if not for the quick work of five Dayton police officers and a sergeant. Within 30 seconds, the gunman was dead.
Dayton became the second deadly mass shooting in America in less than a day, and the third in a week. Thirteen hours earlier, a gunman with an assault rifle killed 22 people and injured dozens at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. A few days before that, another gunman with an assault-style killed two children and one adult and injured 13 others at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Northern California.
Investigations are ongoing, as are theories about motives, which is a loathsome word. As if there is ever a reason for innocent people to be gunned down.
My husband, Senator Sherrod Brown, and I spent much of Sunday in Dayton, with various community leaders and residents. I will never forget listening to several members of Dayton’s police force describe for us what it’s like to be first responders at the scene of a mass shooting. It’s war zone triage. Each victim is examined, and responders make split-second decisions about which ones can be saved, sometimes against a backdrop of pleas from victims’ friends and loved ones begging for a second glance.
That evening, during a vigil of hundreds in Dayton, the crowd shouted down Republican Governor Mike DeWine with a simple, profound chant: “Do something.”
Two days later, he announced at a news conference that he would try.
“I understand that anger, for it’s impossible to make sense out of what is senseless,” DeWine said. “Some chanted ‘do something’ and they were absolutely right.”
As NPR’s Andy Chow reported, DeWine introduced a “‘safety protection order'” that would allow a judge “to confiscate firearms from people who pose a threat to themselves or others. His plan would also require background checks for all gun purchases and transfers with some exemptions, strengthen penalties on crimes involving guns, and increase access to mental health treatment.”
Another Ohio Republican, U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, who is a former mayor of Dayton, delivered his own seismic shift, announcing his support “for restricting military-style weapon sales, magazine limits, and red flag legislation.”
DeWine will likely face steep opposition from Republican majorities in the statehouse, where a current bill under consideration would eliminate permits, training and background checks for those who carry concealed guns. So far, Turner is virtually the lone Republican voice of gun reform in Congress.
Both of these Republican men are also on the receiving end of skepticism and outright anger from liberals who’ve long championed gun legislation reform. I understand the cynicism, but I’m not on board. As I’ve written many times in the past, we can’t ask people to change and not give them the chance to do so. They’re going to need us.
For years, I’ve thought of cynicism as just another word for laziness, and a blight on one’s soul. But since that conversation with my grandson about his “ecosystem” of a relationship with his dog, I see it as something far worse.
Cynicism is not just about our mood, or a way to avoid another disappointment. It’s a betrayal of the people who need us, the ones we swear we’re fighting for and the ones we love. It weakens us as a community and a country, and leaves us untethered to hope.
If we keep acting like we expect nothing, that’s exactly what we’ll get.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist.