What happened last Friday was an act of Americanism. Ours is a country of masks, loners, secret identities and the violence that would purge what it has defiled, and last Friday was Americanism at its most savage but quintessentially American in a way that must be conceded by those of us who consider ourselves patriots. What happened in Aurora is the sort of thing that either happens only in America or, when it does happen elsewhere, makes people say, “I thought this only happened in America.” It’s the sort of thing that makes The Dark Knight Rises a movie that could only be made in America and a movie that could only be about America. The right considers it a slander to say this violence is congenitally American, but when the right makes the case for American innocence, then logic follows that the same thing that happened in Aurora would happen in Canada if Canada had the sort of gun laws we do instead of the sort of gun laws they do, thereby rendering absurd the right’s argument against gun control. On the other hand, when the left is sanctimonious about American violence (“America is a very violent society,” intoned Michael Moore) it offers an argument only a rhetorical tweak short of the right’s fortune-cookie wisdom that guns don’t kill people, people do, because an innate American violence suggests that all the guns could disappear tomorrow and Americans would still find a way to kill each other. We’re left with the American paradox in all its heroism and havoc. The first 15 words of the Constitution speak of forming a “more perfect” union rather than a perfect one, implicitly allowing that perfection isn’t possible. Like Fitzgerald’s first-class intellect that can entertain two contradictory truths at once, the soul of the only country that, since its inception, has stood for something bigger than its borders comprises both the ideal and its bloody failure, pursuing the perfection that’s as doomed to defeat as human nature itself.