Peggy Noonan Raps About Guns With Dead Hollywood Legend. No, Not That One.
She could have used some fresh air ... or at least as fresh as it gets on the Upper East Side. For it had been a long week of grief for not just the country, but also for Sister Peggy Noonan of the Order of the Haldol Vagary. First of all, she had been recently told by the city’s new Democratic mayor that New York was a seething viper pit of criminal activity that made the 1970s look like the 1820s. So like many New Yorkers, she didn’t want to leave her pied-à-terre and its innumerable comforts and prescription medications.
Second of all, there was of course the tragedy in Texas. There was the familiar horror that had played out so many times — the shock of the event, the hopelessness at the number of people gunned down, and a new one for Peggy: The police appear to have galactically fucked up their response so badly that the finger-pointing between various law enforcement agencies began almost immediately. Who could have ever imagined that?
So she stayed in. There was a movie on she wanted to watch anyway, that old classic The Green Berets. Now there was a story about manly competent men with guns. Fighting soldiers from the sky. Fearless men who jumped and died. Men who fought by night and day. The brave men of the Green Beret!
What a film! Jim Hutton! Aldo Ray! And of course her second-favorite Republican actor, John Wayne. A man of action, a man of grit, a man with a very narrow range of facial expressions!
And so she settled onto her couch, slippered feet propped on the coffee table, dinner of popcorn and emergency Narcan dose close at hand, to watch the one-time colossus of American cinema win the Vietnam War and redeem America.
I love cops because I love John Wayne … If they’re not John Wayne -- commonsensical, gutsy, quick, able to size up the situation -- I don’t think I love them. I don’t think anyone else does, either.
“Well howdy, pilgrim,” John Wayne said as he plopped down on the couch next to her. He propped his M-1 carbine nearby, removed his, yes, actual green beret, and turned in her direction that famous visage that looked as if it had been scoured by a thousand days and nights riding on horseback through the harsh winds of the great American prairie.
“That’s a right nice compliment, Ms. Noonan,” said the Duke. “Right nice. Of course completely irrelevant, what with me being an actor and all. Aren’t most movie and TV cops gutsy, quick, and able to size up a situation? If they weren’t it wouldn’t be much of a movie, would it? No one wants to watch a knucklehead like Ralph Bellamy cowering under his desk in the precinct for two hours.
“But listen, I haven’t played a cop since 1975, and culturally speaking there have been some changes in the public’s perceptions of the competence and innate heroism of law enforcement since then. Say, you mind if I have some of that popcorn?”
Conservatives were quick to criticize President Joe Biden in his speech the night of the shootings, saying he didn’t “bring us together” and “heal the nation’s wounds.” But what exactly could he say, could any president say at this point, that will bring us together and heal the wounds?
“Ma’am, I may have been a die-hard Republican conservative, and I may have died in 1979, and even I know not to have higher expectations from today’s GOP. If Joe Biden came out in favor of drinking water, they’d all purposely dehydrate and die of organ failure. Have you seen that Ted Cruz character? I’d rather play Charades with Marlon Brando than hang out with that guy.”
But, if I can generalize, it is people of the left whose immediate response to the shootings at Uvalde was indignation and rage. Everyone else was feeling something different, depression and anxiety.
“Now missy.” The Duke was now hanging upside down from her ceiling, his brawny arms replaced by folded bat wings. “I may just be a dead movie star who is turning into a bat for some reason, but even I can tell you that it ain’t just ‘the left’ that’s raging. You make it sound like the vast swath of ‘real’ Americans you’re always talking about isn’t in a rage. But lots of people who don’t know a leftist from a Tootsie Roll are mad and sad and upset. Sometimes that’s what anxiety manifests as. It seems rather small and ungenerous of you to separate out ‘the left’ as if it’s the population of a separate country. Almost like you haven’t changed your perceptions since you worked for our buddy Ronnie forty years ago.
“By the way, how crazy was that? That kid got out-acted by a monkey once, and he still became president! What a world.”
The problem is Americans who feel immediate aversion to gun control because they don’t trust those who would do the controlling. The challenge isn’t “standing up,” it’s persuading…But persuade, do the work. It’s always the hard part of politics.
The Duke was now perched on the arm of the sofa, reaching his tiny bat claws into the sterling silver ice bucket she was using to hold the popcorn. He said, “Ya know, significant majorities of Americans would like to see stricter gun control laws. Why do they have to persuade a dang minority of voters? Did America turn into commie Russia while I’ve been mouldering in my grave?”
Republicans, you are saying every day that there’s a mental-health crisis and, at the same time, that we shouldn’t stop putting long guns in the hands of young men. Policies must evolve to meet circumstances. You must evolve.
“Lordy, woman.” The half-bat, half-John Wayne monstrosity was now sitting back on the couch picking his teeth. “You got any floss? That popcorn sure gets stuck in the choppers. Anyway, Republicans don’t believe in evolution. If it’s real, why did Ronnie Reagan have a monkey for a co-star?”
The Duke stood, stretched, and picked up his M1 in his tiny claws. “Anyway, back to the afterlife for me, pilgrim. Sure it's no fun spending eternity having Indians hunt you down and treat you like a buffalo over and over, what with the disemboweling and the turning my leg bones into clubs and whatnot. But America has 400 million guns in it now. Four hundred million! I can see why most of you these days are more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rockers. If my eternal punishment for being a huge racist is just Indians skinning me and eating my liver, honestly, at least it's predictable."
She awoke then to the credits from The Green Berets scrolling across her TV. I have the weirdest dreams these days, she thought. She clicked off her TV and shuffled off to collapse into bed. It would be days before she noticed the greasy dark streak and pile of guano on the couch in the spot next to where she had been sitting.