On Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018, a man with an AR-15 rifle strolled into a high school in Parkland, Florida, and killed fourteen students and three teachers. Unusually, the event remained in the news for days afterward. In consequence, President Trump made a television appearance in which he hinted that he might be in favor of some form of gun control.

President Trump’s Republican party joined in the mourning. On March 1, Republican strategist Rick Wilson searched his language, found the word “horror,” and gave it a larger meaning by connecting it with other bad things, this way.

Trump has seen the fresh-faced, well-spoken Parkland kids, with stories of the genuine horror they witnessed, their push for strict gun control, including the banning of semiautomatic rifles, particularly AR-15s, and for a general rollback of Second Amendment liberties.

Those who witnessed the killing, Mr. Wilson’s language explained, had experienced, in the recent past, horror. But in the present, those who possess semiautomatic rifles may be about to experience rollback. Read literally, that metaphor rollback refers not to a thing, such as a statute governing the sale of firearms, but to an occurrence taking place across time: a change; something not (for instance) written down but in process of being written down. And if the language of statute teaches itself to contemplate rollback, the Second Amendment, whose “well regulated militia” originated with the slave patrols that prevented liberty and killed those who sought it, will be in peril of losing its unchanging ideal meaning as a liberty an sich. It may prove to be rollable back from that interpretation, like a rock from before a tomb.

That would be a horror far worse than anything merely genuine, for once the rock has been rolled back, what can the changeless idea of the genuine mean? In Mr. Wilson’s sentence, the word, having lost its meaning, makes the whole predication ungenuine. “The horror they witnessed,” with no modifier, would have been simple and clear, and a modifier signaling itself to be a rhetorical limiter, such as “the so-called ‘horror’ they witnessed,” would have established a unity of tone with the rest of the sentence. But in “the genuine horror they witnessed,” the nakedness of “genuine” just looks like a typo. It tells a truth that its speaker himself refuses to think. Abstracted from life and the human, it is a verbal phenomenon reduced to nothing but its physical minimum, sound. It would be a word if it had a referent, but it doesn’t have a referent. It is only a lyrical sound.

The party of semiautomatic rifles throws back its head and howls the lyric. It is a next step in the evolution of music.

Source: Rick Wilson, “When you let a closet Democrat like Trump lead the GOP, this is what you get.” Washington Post, March 1, 2018,

Explanatory annotation

Aufstieg eines Jagdflugzeuges

Monet’s haystacks are a pastoral technology. Unchanged in form since the mummy god Osiris taught men to plant seeds in the earth, they remain still on the earth while the wheeling light passes over them. It is from such stillness under change that we have become aware of time.

This image is a Monet landscape, but its pastoral imagery is now shrunken almost to unnoticeability. High and large in the foreground and, as the image’s title says, ascending, a new technology is sending unchanging shadow back up to the sky from which changing light once descended unchecked, bringing with it life and death in seasonal alteration. Linear Marinetti history is superseding cyclical Monet history. A hundred years ago, says this historical record, death was on the rise.

Source: Aufstieg eines Jagdflugzeuges (“Ascent of a fighter plane”), Austria-Hungary, about 1917. National Library of Austria, Photoshopped.