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Opinion | Violence is THE American value

So U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, believes that the way to end violence in this country is to “return to American values.”

A Monday column by Byrne on Alabama Political Reporter was so history-challenged that it would have gotten an F on a sophomore history paper.

The American values – self-governance, kindness, virtue – have kept us strong through the years, Byrne claims. We are a nation of religious freedom, where people can believe what they want. Then, in the next paragraph, here’s Byrne being characteristically hypocritical: “However, our nation has increasingly rejected our foundational beliefs in natural rights and moral absolutism – that there is universal right and wrong that does not change.

So believe what you want, Byrne basically says, as long as it’s what I believe.

The biggest flaw is that a return to these so-called American values wouldn’t end violence. One of the most prominent American values that exists IS violence. Brutal, ugly violence.

Our nation was born of violence. And it’s been a violent nation from the start until now. Byrne knows this. But he’s hoping voters in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate are idiots. Indeed, many of the Republican primary candidates depend on Alabama voters to be idiots. It’s the only way they can win.

Violence may be one of the most visible and sacred of all American values. Just look at history. Native Americans were being wiped out long before there was an America, but our values didn’t stop the slaughter or betrayal of indigenous Americans once we became a nation. 

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Many of our people defended slavery with their Bibles – speaking of “God-given rights” like it was the “God-given truth.” Slaves lived violent lives as victims and, sometimes, were murdered when they ran toward freedom.

When an awful Civil War over slavery was won by the Union, black people were still in shackles, even though they were technically free. The birth of the terrorist Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacy movements killed thousands of blacks (and others) throughout the 20th Century. The violence of the civil rights movement is an American value, and especially, an Alabama and Southern value.

We wanted to keep our black people in their place, and one of the first tools used to do that was violence – shootings, lynchings, beatings, drownings.

And killing four little girls with dynamite while they were in church.

We can end violence by returning to “American values”? Violence may be the most important “American value.”

We love our wars, whether it be the two-year war against Mexico in the mid-19th century to steal land or the brief three-month Spanish-American War at the turn of the 20th century to steal land. We’ve had big, important wars like World War II, but even in that war, we violently interred Japanese-Americans; not Italian-Americans or German-Americans, only the Americans with a different skin color, the ones who looked different.

And we’ve had tiny wars like those in Grenada and Panama during the 1980s (maybe just to keep in practice?). Since the 1940s, no decade in the United States has gone by without a war that involved those “American values.”

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We love our values of violence. Our character shows it, and our actions outright scream it.

Byrne’s logic is so ridiculous that it is absurd on its face. We can’t end violence in this country by returning to some abstract notion of what Byrne calls “American values,” because violence is THE American value.

To end violence, we need some new high-priority values like caring for all people more than an abstract, God-given right to own AR-15s or high-capacity mags, or believing in the importance of family enough that we don’t tear them apart at our Southern border and send their children to who knows where.

We know all that, of course. It’s mostly common sense. But if we don’t (or we pretend we don’t, like Byrne and other pretentious politicians, and haters, and Angry White Men), history clearly shows us the god’s truth.

If we just let it, the truth will set us free.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected].

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Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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