But there’s something more fundamental at play. This isn’t just about guns. It’s about how we see political action. The implicit, maybe unconscious, but clear premise of the anti-“thoughts and prayers” line is that the only proper response to bad things happening is always political action. But turning everything into a political battle ensures that every single issue will become a conflictual one, leading to the progressive fraying away of social norms and of the belief in shared American values — which is what allows for political debate to begin with. Political debate in a democracy is what happens among groups who agree on more things than they disagree, which is why the losers lose gracefully and the winners don’t press their advantage too much. If you disagree with the other side on everything, then there’s no point in having a debate. The only solution is a civil war.
But the problem here isn’t just political — it’s spiritual. No doubt part of what drives people mad about “thoughts and prayers” is that they think prayer doesn’t do anything, presumably because they don’t believe in God. Of course, there are lots of people who believe that prayer is not only effective, it is, at the end of the day, the only effective thing, and that political action without a connection to a higher power ultimately becomes self-defeating.