After Buffalo and Uvalde, America feels broken: Where do we go from here?

Feeling grief, confusion and despair right now is normal. How do we turn that into something constructive?

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published May 27, 2022 6:30AM (EDT)

MAY 24: People mourn outside of the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
MAY 24: People mourn outside of the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

America is in big trouble. I think we all feel that way.

The country will not somehow "be fine" or find healing any time soon. Do not listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. They are lying to you. Although the clinical language may not apply perfectly, it feels as though we are experiencing a national nervous breakdown, a collective mental health crisis on a grand scale. It feels both societal and personal.

Less than two weeks ago in Buffalo, an apparent white supremacist terrorist killed 10 Black people at a supermarket. Ten days later in Uvalde, Texas, a deranged gunman attacked an elementary School, killing 19 children and two teachers. In both cases, the shooters used the AR-15 assault-style rifle, for all intents and purposes the same weapon used by the U.S. military. It fires standard 5.56mm bullets, which would typically strike the human body at a speed of 3,251 feet per second with 1,300 foot-pounds of kinetic energy. Some of the parents in Uvalde had to provide DNA samples so their children could be identified.

RELATED: I haven't gotten jaded or cynical about mass shootings — but it's getting harder

Both alleged killers were 18 years old. What personal, social or psychological emptiness leads such a young person to commit such a horrific act? We look for answers and do not find them. 

We know that too many Americans love guns more than they love children, or life itself. They are possessed by the totemic power of the gun and what it represents in American history and society. Guns provide a temporary cure for death anxiety by conferring the ability to deliver death to others. These pathological attachments are camouflaged by all sorts of nonsensical rhetoric about "freedom." It is almost too perverse to be credible: The "freedom" to own as many guns as one wants trumps the freedom to live without reasonable fear of dying by gunfire.

Too many Americans love guns more than they love children. The mass murder of children at their schools is now a feature of American society, which hardly happens anywhere else.

The mass murder of children and young people at their schools is now a feature of American society. No other country experiences such gun violence anywhere near so frequently. It has become something we "must learn to live with" as the price of "freedom."

After the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 — the only school shooting with more dead than in Uvalde — Garry Wills wrote a memorable essay for the New York Review of Books, describing the dead children in Connecticut as "the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god":

We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily — sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children's lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year)….

Adoration of Moloch permeates the country, imposing a hushed silence as he works his will. One cannot question his rites, even as the blood is gushing through the idol's teeth. The White House spokesman invokes the silence of traditional religious ceremony. "It is not the time" to question Moloch. No time is right for showing disrespect for Moloch.

As others have observed, perhaps the only way for America to achieve effective gun control measures, or for gun violence to be treated as a public health emergency is for Black and brown people and Muslims to buy AR-15s and other guns in large numbers, and then carry them openly everywhere it is legal to do so. 

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For many of us who think and write publicly about politics and other social concerns, there is considerable pressure to have "something to say." That punishes contemplation, deep thinking and true expertise, and rewards 30-second soundbites and "hot takes." Sometimes it's better to say simply that we feel lost and broken, that we feel doom and despair, that we feel America's myths, fantasies and falsehoods coming unglued.

For me, that answer is to ask more questions and to be admit that I don't know. I am hurting just like everyone else and I am likely no less confused than most people in America, We are all navigating toward a destination that has not yet been determined. In an effort to orient myself after Buffalo and Texas, amid this moment of apparent implosion in America, I reached out to several people from a range of backgrounds whose voices I greatly respect.

Nate Powell is an American graphic novelist and musician. He illustrated the award-winning "March" trilogy, which was written by the late Rep. John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Powell received the 2016 National Book Award for his work on "March," becoming the first cartoonist to win that award.

It's now considered cliché to state that Americans have been forced to become numb to this atrocity — but that notion is also false. The overwhelming majority of us are absolutely not numb to regular mass shootings in our schools and public spaces. Lawmakers, lobbyists and capital tied to the gun industry want us to be numb to it so badly that they reinforce how we already are — when in fact it's their inaction, their exploitation of fear and violence which reveals the depths of their own numbness, their own cynicism, their own inhumanity.

This is an everyday dread for every parent as their kids go to school. That fear isn't abstract: America has been forced to accept that regularly occurring mass death is unpreventable.

This is an everyday dread for every parent as their kids go to school. That fear isn't abstract. We can go about our daily lives, but we're just waiting for each day to bring the worst news because America has been forced to accept this bleak reality of regularly occurring mass death as unpreventable, making it easier to normalize death and lethal militarized force in every facet of life. If the humans controlling legislation cannot or will not implement measures to prevent this everyday nightmare, they should be expunged from power.

My opinion and experiences here are not unique at all, and that's the point. There's truly nothing left to say. It is fundamentally unacceptable for the young people of America and their loved ones to live in a merciless grinder of death and power.

Jared Yates Sexton is a political commentator and analyst. He is the author of "The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage." His most recent book is "American Rule: How a Nation Conquered the World But Failed Its People."

Yet again, Americans see the consequences of valuing their guns and their conspiracy theories over safety and peace and generally open society. Each of these tragedies takes on a new and awful dimension. Children. Mothers. Friends. Neighbors. And each of them come and go, erasing what little hope there is that something, anything, could be done by those in power.

I'm heartbroken. Because we deserve better. Because these children, these families, deserved so, so much better.

Thomas Lecaque is an associate professor of history at Grand View University where he specializes in apocalyptic religion and political violence. His essays and other writing have been featured in the Washington Post, Religion Dispatches, the Bulwark and Foreign Policy.

We live in a country where half of the 500 or so people who make all the laws that govern this nation are begging the other half to help them save lives, and yet, no matter how many children die in a classroom, no matter how many people are murdered in a grocery store, no matter how many bodies pile up, the other half will say "thoughts and prayers," wash their hands of the whole affair and collect their 30 pieces of silver from the NRA. And we accept that this is a society. That this is a nation worth saving. That the Golden Calf that the Second Amendment has become to the right is worthy of the sacrifice of innocents, day after day, week after week, my entire life.

And when anyone yells at them to do something, they look down over the coffins and tell us not to politicize it, not yet, not now. But there is never a time, because in America in the 21st century, the next mass shooting is already happening before we've had a chance to process and grieve for the last. And so it remains, over and over and over again.

A nation that accepts the murder of children as the reasonable price for people owning a gun is not a nation that gets to claim morality or righteousness. It's not a city on a hill, it's a beacon of horror.

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is president and senior lecturer at Repairers of the Breach. He is also the architect of the Forward Together Moral Movement, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign and author of several books, including his most recent, "We Are Called to Be a Movement." He is a frequent guest on CNN, ABC and MSNBC as well as Democracy Now! His essays and other writing have been featured in leading publications, including the Washington Post and the New York Times.

As a nation, we must connect our tears and pain to a mass movement that creates a flood of transformation. In the Bible, the prophet Jeremiah says, "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." We have to mourn, but like Emmett Till's mother, we have to turn our mourning into organizing and refuse to be consoled until change comes.

The tears of our pain from all this death must be united into a lament that invokes the assistance of God and makes possible the kind of change where justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.

The same extremism that refuses to protect voting rights also refuses to pass common-sense gun laws. It's the same people who refuse health care, a living wage and protection of a woman's right to choose.

The same political extremism that refuses to expand and protect voting rights also refuses to pass common sense gun laws. It's the same politicians who refuse health care, living wages and protection of a woman's right to choose. The same forces that refuse to address poverty also pretend we can ignore the climate crisis. The policies and politicians that create the very context for so many of our tears are the same.

If we know this, we need to come together, unite our tears and refuse to be comforted until change comes. As hard as these moments are, we know that throughout history, great weeping and great mourning often bring about movements that force monumental change — which isn't possible until the heartbroken become the heart of the movement of transformation.

The greatest danger right now is for people to cry for a moment and then put their tears away, or to cry about this and not connect it to the other tears cried by those who have been victims of all the regressive and extreme policies existing today. If we ever needed moral fusion, we sure do need it now. We need the Mass Poor People's and Low-Wage Workers' Assembly and Moral March on Washington. We need a mass nonviolent movement that collectively challenges all this violence with one mighty, long-term chorus of repentance.

Read more on gun violence and mass shootings in America:

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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