This is Dmitriy Andreychenko of Springfield, Missouri. He’s the young man who walked into the Walmart Neighborhood Market yesterday wearing full body-armor, while carrying a loaded rifle and over one hundred rounds of ammo, causing a chaos of fear and panic as his neighbors rightfully assumed he was there to create a slaughter. By initial reports, however, he didn’t intend to kill anyone.
Rather, he did it just because he could.
I suspect this is going to turn out to be some form of “owning the libs” in which a conservative man sees a threat to his identity and his right to bear arms on the teevee. That man then talks with his conservative male friends about that threat, and they all agree that something must be done. Being “brave” Dmitriy Andreychenko decides that he’s the one to do it. He’s a man of action.
So he suits up, loads up, and walks into the closest approximation in his neighborhood of the place where twenty-two Latinx people were murdered three days before. He does it because he can. He does it because Tucker Carlson keeps telling him that if he’s not vigilant, then someday soon he’ll wake up and he’ll no longer have the right to walk into his local Walmart in full body armor, carrying a bump-stocked AR-15 with a drum clip holding a full deck of ammo. He does it because he’s defending his RIGHTS!
So, yeah, in one way, he is just another micro-appendaged white man, terrified of the changes coming to his land. A man out to prove that in America, he can do what he damn-well wants, whenever he damn-well pleases. He thinks that because, in his mind, being an American means that everyone outside of his tribe can go pound sand. He believes the Second Amendment is his trump card over civility. And due to the extremist controtions forced upon the Constitution — and our society — by dimwit, activist Justices over the past half century, he may legally be correct. But any notion that this how the Founders hoped our nation might develop is beyond infantile.
When considering what those Founders wanted, the single most revelatory line in the Declaration of Independence is the one about the self-evidence of inalienable rights:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
In general, scholars marvel at the enumeration of those rights: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, riffing off John Locke’s enunciation of a slightly different list that included Property. But what I feel should stun people into a deeper awareness of what the Founders were actually doing with their Declaration, Revolution, and later their Constitution, is found in the phrasing of those Rights being self-evident.
Fifty years before Jefferson wrote those words, in the 1720s, that statement would have been almost literally unthinkable in Europe or the Colonies. At least among the non-native population of “the New World.” Nearly all societies in “the Old World” held the belief that the exact opposite of equality was self-evident. From the Indian Subcontinent, to the Japanese Imperial House, to the Czars in Russia, to all the Kingdoms of Europe, it was roundly accepted — and strictly enforced — that God in Heaven had ordained the peoples of the world be divided into distinctly unequal ranks. Some were favored — be they Brahmins or Nobles or Daimyo — and some existed to labor and struggle for the glory of the king, the emperor, the feudal lord. The whole of the world was set firmly upon that conviction. It was written into the holy and sanctified belief in the Divine Right of Kings. It was formulated as Dharma. It was, to hammer this home: Self-evident.
The true genius of the Enlightenment — and later the political movements that grew from the Enlightenment — was the overturning, imperfectly of course, of that old mindset. And from that philosophical genius — first inspired by the scientific observations of how the universe truly works — grew a belief that by distributing power throughout the population, by trusting those previously disenfranchised serfs to share the responsibility of self-rule, a new way of being might be brought forth on the Earth.
The new science of the times supported this self-evident equality. Newton’s radical insight that gravity was a universal force acting upon all objects in the same, discernable, mathematical manner undermined the notion that “God had favorites.” If the king stumbled, the king fell, simple as that. And gravity is God’s law. THAT is self-evidence of equality. Those who studied the science — those who read the philosophes, and who parsed their empiricism in politically applicable ways — understood the REASON behind these new beliefs. They could articulate how these equalities were revealed in all their glorious self-evidence. Understanding that, one really has to pause and ponder these questions in light of that self-evidence: “What in the name of heaven and earth is this asshole in the body-armor thinking? How in the hell could he imagine that his actions — actions that clearly will terrorizes his neighbors — are justified under the American system simply because he can get away with them? How can his action be rationalized, while still recognizing the fundamental and supposedly self-evident equality of his neighbors?”
He is simply not acting as a good citizen, he is not behaving under the fundamentals of what Rousseau called the social contract. He is putting himself high above the other members of his community, not unlike the actions of some petty lord who decides it is his right to bed the local bride.
He is saying to his neighbors, through his actions: “I hold THESE truth to be self-evident:
1) I can scare the hell out of you and your children any time I want.
2) I can bring you right up to the brink of horror at my will.
3) I can make a shambles of your pursuit of happiness any damn time I want, because I am a man above.
4) If YOU want equality, then it will only be found in YOUR assertion of a right to terrorize YOUR neighbors, too. And you can’t pass any laws to stop me, because the Second Amendment guarantees my dominance if I so will it.
The whole thing is madness. But what is worse, of course, is that the Supreme Court, by so roundly reading the language of one small, anachronistic part of the Constitution — that Second Amendment — has managed to overturn the very concepts of a civil society formed of equals. Like a man trying to balance on one leg of a chair, they have unbalanced our polity and undermined the great intellectual and social epiphany of the eighteenth century. If some of us must live in mortal fear of others, and we are powerless to change the laws to remove that fear, then we have no right to pursue happiness and the foundational self-evidence of equality is undermined and eroded.
The firepower now available to any one of us is so beyond the nature of what existed in 1776 or 1787 or 1789 that every person in American now has the threatening power of a violent king. We all have the ability, at least until our ammo runs out, to be the emperor. And according to the law — as drafted by the NRA, enacted by a subsidiary Congress along with many pliant state legislatures, and interpreted by the Supreme Court — we must pretend that nothing has changed since the days off three-minute muskets, with ramrods, powder horns, and ball. Remember, this guy, this Walmart Tyrant in body armor is, by the reasoning of the Supreme Court, “a good guy with a gun.” And he remains so right up until the very second AFTER he pulls the trigger and initiates the murder of, potentially, hundreds of his neighbors.
My guess is that in the end Dmitriy Andreychenko of Springfield, Missouri will be slapped with some kind of public menacing charge. And I’ll bet that in Missouri, he’ll never be convicted by a jury of his peers. Because in large swaths of America his argument will carry water. There are plenty of folks in our nation — mostly, for sure, white men terrified of the coming demographic changes — who have lost any sense of connection to the hows and whys of our Revolution against tyranny. And by so doing, they have become the tyrants themselves.
Against them, it is imperative that we assert the self-evidence of our equality and rebel.