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Violence inherent

Charles Pierce reflects on a week that began with a bombing and has since seen the release of a report confirming the United States engaged in torture after 9/11, as well as the successful effort bya minority in the U.S. Senate to block a motion on cloture and thus prevent an up-or-down vote on a minor extension of federal background checks on gun purchases that nine out of ten Americans support.

There is a strong, coherent bloc that believes that a certain level of violence is so inherent in this country that it is shielded absolutely by the Constitution, and that it is so essential to who we are as a people that to try to control it let alone eliminate it weakens our national institutions and blights our national character. There is nothing Machiavellian about this. It is what people believe is part of what makes America what it is. It is an essential article of faith. It is unshakable. It is implacable. And it is triumphant.

Aside from what this week has seen so far, it also marks the anniversaries of the Virginia Tech shootings, in which thirty-two people died (April 16, 2007); the Oklahoma City bombing (April 19, 1995), in which one-hundred-sixty-eight people were killed; and the Columbine High School shootings (April 20, 1999), in which thirteen people were killed.Back to Pierce:

Make no mistake. There is a barbarism in the American soul and we must protect some of it by law. To root it out is to endanger our lives on the one hand, and our liberty on the other. We must tolerate the barbarism of the black sites to stay alive, and we must tolerate the occasional mass shooting in order to maintain our liberty. We will find the barbarian who killed and maimed the people along Boylston Street in Boston because his barbarism was not sanctioned, nor was it sanctified by law. That is the simple basic equation of where we are right now.Gabrielle Giffords was told this. The families of the children of Newtown were told this. The 91 percent of the American people who want something that they now have no hope of getting were told this, The president of the United States, fairly shaking with impotent anger in the Rose Garden, was told this. We are a violent people. We are an armed people. We are a people intent on permitting mayhem and slaughter. We are a people intent on providing the means for mayhem and slaughter. And because of all of this, we are a free people.

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Free, schmee. Only an American fool is free to walk in our streets after dark, and some of the streets are dangerous even in the daytime.Madness.

Pierce's essay is as harrowing a piece of political writing as I have seen in a long while. This is what has become of "American Exceptionalism." Maybe we need to revive the chant from the streets of Chicago: "The whole world is watching." When Peggy Noonan expropriated the "shining city on a hill" phrase for Mr. Reagan, she (or at least he) seemed not to recognize its meaning. In Winthop's sermon on the Arbella, the meaning is clearly what it had been in Matthew 5:14 - a warning against arrogance, a reminder that the city on a hill can be seen clearly from far off, so one cannot hide. The transformation of "American Exceptionalism" to what it is popularly conceived to be today is a great tragedy.But we cannot despair: deeds not just words. How shall we respond?Mark