CNN has a big town hall with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School kids tonight. I think I'll watch it, but I have to say I'm kind of dreading it.
Today's New York Times has a roundup of the various ways in which pro-gun goons are dismissing the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who have been speaking out for gun control.
… in certain right-wing corners of the web — and, increasingly, from more mainstream voices like Rush Limbaugh and a commentator on CNN … the students are described as “crisis actors,” who travel to the sites of shootings to instigate fury against guns. Or they are called F.B.I. plants, defending the bureau for its failure to catch the shooter. They have been portrayed as puppets being coached and manipulated by the Democratic Party, gun control activists, the so-called antifa movement and the left-wing billionaire George Soros.
Which is bullshit, of course.
But I have another worry. I think the main trouble with relying on these teenagers to shame the politicians into adopting sensible gun laws is not that they're going to be seen as professionals. It's that they're going to be seen as teenagers. And teenagers, as we know, can be pretty fuckin' dumb.
Now: So far, some of the teenagers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S. have been inspiringly eloquent in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, none more so than Emma Gonzalez, whose speech last weekend employed so many rhetorical devices that I had professional speechwriters asking me if I thought she had speechwriting help from a teacher or someone. Based on Gonzalez' emotional ownership of her words and the lack of time she had to prepare, I believe any help she had was minimal. As I told the speechwriters, there are prodigies in our business too.
But if Gonzalez and her classmates are going to last past this week on the public stage—past the crying and shouting stage—they're going to need some help.
Because the pathos they've been riding on will fade. Logos isn't their core competency (and doesn't seem too relevant in the American gun "debate"). And their ethos—their character, which will grant them credibility beyond that of the immediately grief-stricken—is literally adolescent.
The guttural rhetoric that was utterly appropriate and effective in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy will sound a week later like pots and pans.
A week's remove from the funerals will also see the rise of high school thespians and class clowns, like the carrot-topped student I saw on CNN last night who made some crack outside the Florida statehouse about how he has to worry even more because of his red hair, which allows him, especially considering Florida's flat topography, to be a shooter's target "as far as the eye can see." Hilair.
We're going to have more of that—and if I know teenagers, we could also see a parade of self-impressed sophomores, Eddie Haskells and Alex Keatons and all other combinations of earnest bores and preening posers that make up the average population of any high school (and the average split personality of most high schoolers, if a young David Murray was any indication).
The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas did not cleanse these kids of their human nature, or render them immediately mature. (For many teenagers, World War II didn't do that.)
I hope a small handful of remarkable kids—rhetorical and political prodigies—emerge from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas senior class, to serve as the main voice of this movement.
(Delaney Tarr seems like an awfully good candidate.)
I hope those kids get permission from their civics teacher (and their English teacher and their history teacher and their math teacher and their soccer coach) to take the rest of the year as an educational sabbatical where they'll learn far more than they could ever learn in their high school curriculum.
And on that sabbatical, I hope those kids do receive the very best communication coaching, political mentoring and—yes, if they need it, even speechwriting help—so that they may, even in their vast inexperience, remain authentic and grounded as they also adapt their tone and message to different stages and moments of a movement.
I know a lot of really fine people who can help, and I'm happy to put them in touch.
Because these kids are kind of our last hope on this insane gun thing.
Or our first one for awhile, at least.