What it's like to have a child at a US high school

by Joanne Black / 24 February, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - School shooting Russian indictment

After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February. Photo/Getty Images

Slaughter in a school and Russian social-media mischief: the US is under siege. 

The day after the Florida high-school shootings, the superintendent of schools in our county sent an email to all parents outlining school security precautions, including the lockdown and “shelter in place” drills that every class rehearses.

There was a video of teachers locking their classroom doors, covering the glass panel with a blind or poster and all the students sitting on the floor at the back of the room. I am not sure what else could reasonably be done by a defenceless teacher with vulnerable students in a room with no protection other than a single lock.

A news report a day or two later said that bulletproof backpacks had sold out. I suggested to my daughter that her chemistry textbook, which has the density of a concrete doorstep, might take a bullet and she seemed to think that the rubbish she carries around in her bag might be some protection.

But like all pupils, parents and staff, she and I know that there are no guarantees. She told me she and other pupils had discussed which of their fellow students was most likely to shoot up their school, and it was her casual phrasing that most chilled me.

We live in a state where people are not allowed to carry guns, in a country with the world’s highest rate of gun ownership. President Donald Trump blames school shootings on mental illness. It is a factor, but there are mentally ill people in every country, and most do not have this same scourge. Part of the solution lies in the ballot box, but unfortunately, many Americans do not go there.

The indictment of 13 Russians and three Russian organisations for interference in the 2016 presidential election is a shocking development in the long-running Russian probe. Trump remains insistent that there was no collusion between the alleged perpetrators and his campaign. He may be correct, but it now feels like a distraction from the evidence that Russia, using various guises, deliberately, systematically and cynically engaged in a massive, widespread campaign on social media and at live rallies to influence the outcome of the election.

Exactly why the Russians would have wanted Trump to be President is not clear. But they were keener to see him win than the majority of voting Americans, almost three million more of whom voted for Hillary Clinton.

Many Americans – and others – would be delighted if Trump were to accept an offer of Russian citizenship, but there is no sense that Russia’s real interest is the man himself, unless they know something that can be used to exploit him. He was Moscow’s preferred choice because he was the chaos candidate. A Trump presidency was more likely than a Clinton presidency to create the mayhem that delivers what Russia wants. Trump himself has tweeted that if Russia’s goal was discord, disruption and chaos, it has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams.

So, first points to Russia, but having its preferred candidate elected must have been only a short-term goal. The long-term goal remains undefined, but is no less sinister for that. Instinctively, we all know that it is nothing that will benefit the US – or the West. Equally disturbing is that whatever the goal is, it will not be abandoned just because this part of the campaign has been uncovered.

Maybe this feels less threatening from New Zealand, but here in DC, an attack by a foreign country, even one launched over social media, still feels like an attack.

This Back to Black column was first published in the March 3, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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